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Plate Kinematics

David Steer and Kyle Gray, University of Akron
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. GEO-0506518.


Plate Kinematics Demonstration
While working in groups to facilitate peer tutoring, students manipulate a hands-on, physical model to better comprehend the dynamics of plate kinematics. Students use the model to observe key characteristics of plate formation and subduction. Students can also model different tectonic scenarios such as continental rifting.

Learning Goals

Students will understand:

Context for Use

This model works best during a unit on plate tectonics. It can be used at the beginning of the unit as an inquiry tool where students piece together the evidence for plate tectonics and explore how plate movements correspond to the data. Alternatively, this model can be used at the end of a unit as a summative review of has already been learned. The model can be used in a variety of instructional settings including large lecture classes and small laboratory classes. Student manipulation of the model requires more than one person, thus it works best when students are grouped together.

Teaching Materials

Each student model consists of the following materials:

Plate Kinematics Model Templates (Acrobat (PDF) 52kB Apr29 08)

During a lecture, have the students assemble the model and move the strips to observe the basic kinematics of plate movement. Students also plot the locations of volcanoes, earthquakes, and high heat flow on the cardstock and observe the relationship between plate geometry and the data. By using the strips with continental lithosphere, students can model the breakup of a continent and formation of a new ocean.

Teaching Notes and Tips


Several different assessment techniques can be used depending on time and the needs of your class.

References and Resources

ConcepTest questions used with this model:



Resource Type

Activities:Classroom Activity:Short Activity:Demonstration

Grade Level

Middle (6-8), College Lower (13-14), High School (9-12)

Earth System Topics

Solid Earth:Plate Tectonics




Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Plate Tectonics

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