Torn Pieces of a Newspaper

Christopher Roemmele, Purdue University-Main Campus
Author Profile


A successful unit on plate tectonics begins with engaging learners about the puzzle of the continents. Using "torn pieces of a newspaper" (Wegener's actual words), students recreate the newspaper page torn up by their classmates to launch into discussion about puzzle solving, changing views of the Earth and the nature of science, and Wegener himself.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



middle and high school earth science, introductory geology classes in college

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

Used as an engagement piece or hook into a unit on plate tectonics


Content/concepts goals for this activity

the Nature of Science - changing views of the Earth

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Puzzle solving - analytical thinking.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

Teacher Notes:
Pass out a single page of newspaper to each student, along with a large paper clip or small binder clip.

On the board or screen have these directions:
Tear the full page of newspaper into 12-15 random pieces, any size or shape will do!
Clip pieces together.
I will collect when you are finished.

Collect each clipped pack and place in a cardboard box or bin. Be sure to do this orderly by group or row in your classroom or lab.
Then, pass out the clipped torn pieces, making sure that each student has someone else's clipping.
Then verbally tell the class (and/or change the slide) to put the page they now have back together again.
Give the class up to about 4 to 5 minutes.
It may help if you complete one yourself as the teacher (yours can be given to a student).
After time is called, assess how far along everyone is.
Then, ask (and change the side):
What helped you put the page back together? Let's make a list:
Use the board/smartboard to write a student generated list. Likely answers will include: the shape of the pieces, words, headlines, the straight edges, pictures/ads, colors. Take all acceptable answers.
Then direct students' attention to a world map or globe in the classroom, and have them look at the continents and landmasses, as if they were the newspaper pieces, and how geologists look at them as a puzzle. And the features they used to put the torn pieces of their newspaper back together have analogies to the features on the continents that geologists use to solve this puzzle.
Then change the slide, and read aloud.
"It is just as if we were to refit the torn pieces of a newspaper by matching their edges and then check whether the lines of print run smoothly across. If they do, then there is nothing left but to conclude that the pieces were in fact joined in this way."
Alfred Wegener,
The Origin of Continents and Oceans

You can then launch into your tectonics unit, and discuss Wegener and how science changed as result of his ideas. What was his evidence, and why was his hypothesis of continental drift rejected?
The quote works perfectly with the activity, as Wegener is one who changed the way we view Earth and its history, which is important for students to understand the nature of science. Thus, a background on Wegener is a good place to start.
This activity is a great engagement piece for beginning a unit on plate tectonics and Earth history. I've used this with students as young as 4th and 5th grade up to adults.
Torn Pieces of a Newspaper (Microsoft Word 30kB May30 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Have a single page of newspaper for each student. One paper clip/binder clip for each student. Box or bin to collect.
Be sure to recycle the torn newspaper!


References and Resources
This includes some good background on Wegener and his hypothesis.