Title of Lesson Plan:

Snackin Plate Tectonics


Length of Lesson:

Two 65 minute class periods


First day:  Set up and discussion:  10 minutes

                 Modeling the plate movement lab:  45 minutes

                 Clean-up:  5 minutes

                 Closure:  5 minutes


Second day:  Review of previous days model:  5 minutes

                      Discussion of required written and graphic activities:  5 minutes

                     Writing and drawing assignment:  50 minutes

                     Closure:  5 minutes


Grade Level:

5th to 8th grade


Subject Area:


Earth Processes: Physical Geology




National Standards: 

Science as Inquiry content standard A: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry and understandings about scientific inquiry.  Earth Science content standard D:  structure of the earth system.

Math:  Students will be able to develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data.

State Standards:

  GA QCC:   Science 5.27; 5.1; 5.4 

                     Math 5.27; 5.28

  GA GPS:    S5CS8; S5E1

                     M5D; M5P 



Students will:


  1. Students will describe convergent and divergent plate margins.
  2. Model how the plates ride upon the soft rock of the mantel with drawing what happens at plate boundaries in cross section.
  3. Students will measure the displacement of soft rock in model and translate that information to real life damages.
  4. Describe in writing the process by which the earths plates float and how they interact with each other.



For each student:


      Plate Tectonic Graphic Organizer

      One large graham cracker broken in half

      Two fruit roll-up pieces cut into approximately 3 inch square pieces

      Cup of water


      Sheet of wax paper (approximately 12 inches square)

      Plastic knife or spoon

      Metric rule


      Main Idea/Detail Sentence Graphic Organizer (optional)

      Vocabulary Word Search (extender)


For the teacher:


      Earthquake Video cued to damage sequence


Essential Question:

Why does the earth shake, rattle, and roll?


Activating Strategy:

As students enter classroom have Plate Tectonic Graphic Organizer on desk. Turn on TV and start video showing the effects of a major earthquake.  Have students discuss what they saw in the video.  Ask a couple of the following questions to keep discussion flowing for about 5 minutes.  Quickly write their answers on the board in web format.


  1. What damage did you see during and after the earthquake?
  2. What could have happened to cause the earthquake?
  3. What kind of plate movement do you think occurred?
  4. Has anyone ever felt the earth shake?
  5. What did you experience?  How did it make you feel?


Introduce the essential question. Tell students that they will be conducting a lab into what happens when our earths plates collide, pull apart, and slide against each other.




1.  Review with students the background information that the main force that shapes our planets surface over a long period of time is the movement of Earths outer layer by the process of plate tectonics.


The rigid outer layer of the Earth, called the lithosphere, is made of plates that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.  These plates are made of rock, but the rock is, generally lighter in weight compared to the denser, fluid layer underneath.  This allows the plates to float on top of the denser material.  I always mention that this is much like lying on a raft in the pool, floating on the water.  The dense, fluid material is called the asthenosphere and in this activity is represented by the frosting.  However, plates are not all the same.  Plates made of continental crust are thicker but less dense than plates made of ocean crust, which are denser but thinner.  In this activity, ocean plates are represented by fruit roll-ups and continental crust is represented by graham crackers.


Movements deep within the Earth, which carry heat from the hot interior to the cooler surface, cause the plates to move very slowly on the surface, about one to two centimeters per year on average.  There are several different hypotheses to explain exactly how these motions allow plates to move.


Interesting things happen at the edges of plates.  At divergent plate boundaries, rift valleys and spreading ridges form as plates pull away from each other.  At convergent plate boundaries, where plates are coming together, subduction zones form when an oceanic plate and continental plate collide and mountains build when two continental plates collide.  Large faults from when plates slide past each other making the Earth tremble with earthquakes.


  1. Have students make the model of the plates:


      Hand out Graphic Organizer for students to write notes on their observations to the lab.

      Give each student about a square foot of wax paper and a large dollop of frosting.  Instruct the students to spread frosting into a layer about a quarter of an inch thick.

      Tell students that the frosting in this model represents the asthenosphere, the viscous layer on which Earths plates ride.  The plates in this model are represented by fruit roll-up (oceanic crust which is thin and dense) and graham crackers (continental crust which is thick but less dense).


  1. First activity will be the divergent plate boundary


      Instruct students to pace the two squares of fruit roll-up (oceanic plates) onto the frosting right next to each other.

      Press down slowly on the roll-ups as you slowly push them apart about a half a cm.  Remind the students that the oceanic plates are denser and will sink a bit into the asthenosphere.

      Have students note how the frosting is exposed and pushed up where the plates are separated.  (The students should make written notes on the graphic organizer about their observations.)  This is much like how magma comes to the surface where real plates are moving apart at divergent plate boundaries.  Most divergent plate boundaries are located within oceanic crust.  When plates begin to pull apart at continents, rift valleys form, like the Great Rift Valley in Africa, which can become the bottom of the sea floor if the plates continue to pull apart. 

      Have the students measure the separation of the plates and note this on the graphic organizer.


  1. Second activity will be the continental-oceanic collision


      Instruct students to remove one of the fruit roll-ups from the frosting.  (They may eat it, if they wish!)

      Tell students to place on of the graham cracker halves lightly onto the frosting asthenosphere next to the remaining fruit roll-up.  The graham cracker represents continental crust, which is thicker and less dense than oceanic crust (fruit roll-up).  It floats high up on the asthenosphere, so dont push it down.

      Gently push the continent (graham cracker) towards the ocean plate (fruit roll-up) until the two overlap and the graham cracker is on top.  The oceanic plate is subducted below the continental one.

      Have the students take note, on the graphic organizer, of what happened in this collision of plates.  Students will also measure and record the displacement of the continent plate over the oceanic plate.


  1. Third activity will be the continent-continent collision


      Tell the students that they will next model what happens when two continents collide.  Have them remove the remaining fruit roll-up (yes! They can eat it too!)

      Place one edge of both crackers into the glass of water for just a few seconds.

      Place the graham crackers onto the frosting with the wet edges next to each other.  Again do not press down on the graham crackers.  The continental plates float on top of the frosting asthenosphere.

      Slowly push the graham crackers toward each other.

      Have the students take note, on graphic organizer, as to what happens.  Notice how the wet edges crumple?  This is how mountains are made at convergent plate boundaries.  When continents move towards each other there is nowhere for the rock to go but up! 

      Have the students measure the uprising of the crackers and record this on the graphic organizer.



  1. Fourth activity will be to observe transform plate boundaries


      Pick the two crackers up off the frosting and turn them around so that two dry edges are next to each other.

      Push one cracker past (sliding it) the other to simulate a transform plate boundary like the San Andreas fault in California.

      Have students take note of what happens as the two plates slide past each other on graphic organizer.


  1. Finally have students eat the remaining model materials (with exception to the wax paper and the plastic knife or spoon). 



First day:  Ticket out the door:  Give each student a small piece of paper (a page from an earth shaped and colored notepad is awesome!) and have them write, in one sentence, what was the most interesting item they learned in lab today.  They must turn into the teacher as they leave.


Second day:  Turn in essay and drawings.



The students will use the previous days graphic organizer to prepare and write a short essay discussing how the earths plates interact when they move.  All four activities will be discussed with diagrams with labels detailing what type plates are used and depicting what each interaction looked like in cross-section format.




Attached Rubric can be used to evaluate the graphic organizers, drawings, and essay.



A third day working on the essay and diagrams may be needed for learners that need extra time to formulate detailed paragraphs.  A main idea/detail sentence organizer can be used to help below-level learners to organizer their thoughts easier.



If time permits have the students complete the snackin plate tectonics word search.




Lesson plan adapted from:  Windows to the Universe Website.  www.windows.ucar.edu




Rubric for Snackin' Plate Tectonics Lab
  Star Geologist Up and Coming Geologist Amateur Geologist
Essay Complete and Detailed Information  Mostly Complete and Detailed Little to no detail and is not complete
All plate movement activities discussed Most of plate movement activities discussed Little to no discussion of the plate movement activities
50 points 43 points 38 points
Organization of Thoughts Graphic Organizer used extensively Graphic Organizer used partially Graphic Organizer rarely used
Well organized, demonstrates logical sequencing and sentence  Well organized, but demonstrates some illogical sequencing or sentence structure Weakly organized and sentence structure is illogical
15 points 12 points 7 points
Grammar 3 or less spelling errors  and grammatical mistakes 4 to 6 spelling errors and grammatical mistakes More than 7 spelling errors and grammatical mistakes
5 points 3 points 1 point
Diagrams All 4 plate movements are drawn and labeled 2 to 3 plate movements are drawn or some labeling is not included  1 or less plate movements are drawn or little to no labeling is included
20 points 15 points 10 points
Managed Time Wisely Completed lab and worked cooperatively with others Most of lab completed or had some trouble working cooperatively with others Did not finish lab or had considerable trouble working cooperatively with others
5 points 4 points 3 points
Quality of Overall Work Neat Somewhat neat Messy
Word processed or neatly hand-written Hand-written with a few messy erasure marks Hard to read with heavy erasure marks or words scratched out
5 points 4 points 3 points
    Total points:__________________