Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Activities > Simple Landslide Demo

Simple Landslide Demo

Kate Scharer
Appalachian State University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Apr 30, 2008


Demonstration of control of surface friction on slope stability. Simple analogue model uses a wooden board (the slope), a large rock (the landslide), and transparency and rough sand paper. Students anticipate how material roughness changes slope at which rock will slide.

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Large (50-100 students) lecture section of environmental geology course for non-majors (largely non-science majors). Class has separate 2 hr/week lab.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Types of mass wasting, force, stress, normal and shear stress, simplified slope stability equation, resisting and driving forces.

How the activity is situated in the course

In-class demonstration, ~5 minutes.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Role of friction in slope stability

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Formulation of hypothesis: will rock move at larger or smaller angle compared to other experimental set up?

Translation of force balance diagram and slope stability equation into physical model.

Other skills goals for this activity


Description of the activity/assignment

After brief introduction to landslides and slope stability maps, I prompt students to identify factors that control slope stability. I then explain force balance diagram and a slope stability equation I have modified for this audience:

Critical shear stress = friction * [(weight stress*cos (slope angle))—fluid stress]

And discuss the physical properties encompassed by each of the terms. This in-class demonstration was designed to illustrate some of the physical properties encompassed in "friction" term. [I also go through many calculations and effects of changing terms on critical shearing stress.]

  • 2 boards connected by door hinge
  • Large rock (or brick)
  • 50-grit (course) sandpaper (1 sheet)
  • 1 sheet of overhead transparency
  • String
  • Portable white board or sheet of cardboard
  • Marker
Procedure Start with rock on board, raise board. When rock slides, stop raising board and trace slope of board on whiteboard/cardboard (see picture in supplementary materials). Discuss concept of maximum slope angle. Show students sandpaper, prompt for hypothesis on change in maximum slope angle. Tie sandpaper around rock (quick and easiest method), run experiment again. Repeat with transparency. Discuss difference in smoothness/material properties on maximum slope angle.

Determining whether students have met the goals

None; demonstration only.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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