Earth Science: Plate Movement Hands-On Activities

We just love hands-on activities! We’ve been studying Earth Science this fall.  Back several weeks ago, we explained how we started this unit… with an overview of our solar system, then a closer look at Earth’s geologic timeline talking about the age of the Earth (4.6 billion years) and the appearance of various critters in the geologic timeline (trilobites, sharks, dinosaurs, ants and more). We also l learned about latitude, longitude and how to use a compass.

As I was going back through my pictures, I realized that I never shared our pictures from when we learning about finding compass points. When the weather was nice in October, we went outside and the kids practiced making their own compass rose: CompassRose Here are some step-by-step pictures of the kids making the compass rose. You can see some of our previous activities here in htis post: Latitude, Longitude and Using a Compass. (Obviously these weren’t taken this week with temperatures plummeting into the 20s and 30s!!)
Making-Compass-Rose-675x482After that, we started looking at plate tectonics. According to a theory developed in the early 20th century, the super-continent Pangaea formed about 300 million years ago.  The continent began breaking apart about 100 million years ago.  We traced and cut out the continents and moved them around to see how they best fit together. Then we looked closely at the picture of Pangaea (on a notebook page I made for the kids… which I’ll share once it’s polished and ready!). Each of the kids had their own set of continents (which is why there are yellow and white continents in the picture below): Pangaea-675x588 When we studied plate tectonics several years ago, we did this activity with paper to show how the continents could move without our touching them.  This was perfect for the kids at that age (DD was about 5 and LD was 7), since it let them “see” the continents move without our touching them. I cut the continents out of foam. The kids folded construction paper. First we set the continents close together with a piece of playdough to weight the continents down. As the kids pulled each side of the construction paper, they could see the continents move apart. We got this idea from Robert Gardners” Earth-Shaking Science Projects About Planet Earth. PlateTectonics-withPaper1-675x300 We did this activity again with several of the continents and of course the kids took turns “moving” the continents apart over and over! PlateTectonics-2-675x263 The tectonic plate map, puzzle and flip cards are included in our Earth Science Packet below.Plate-Boundaries-PangaeaThis is included in our 75+ page Earth Science Packet (more details below). Earth-Science-Packet-75+pages This time around, we into much more depth about the mechanics of plate tectonics. We went over the evidence for there having been a super-continent (geologic evidence, fossil evidence and climate studies).  We also talked in some depth about convection currents that occur deep within the Earth as the heated rock rises cools, sinks and is heated again.  We did a couple of activities to help the kids really understand how this movement of heated rock helped geologists develop the theory of plate tectonics. Materials to have on hand: 

  • 2 sponges cut into the shape of South America and Africa
  • 3 push pins
  • 1 aluminum pan
  • 2 or 3 small tea candles
  • 2 thick books

We poured water into the pan and let it sit until the water stopped moving around. Then we carefully put the sponges in place. We read that one of the sponges should have push pins placed in the side. I’m not sure whether this was to weight it down or keep the sponges from touching.  Then we set the experiment up as follows (with books holding the pan up). DSC03236plate-tectonics-675x431

Once the water stopped moving, we lit the tea candles beneath the pan. We made sure the candles were in between the two continents. It was pretty neat watching the continents drift apart!


Plate-TectonicsActivity-675x151 We spent several days talking about convection currents and looking at various diagrams.  After we watched the continents drift apart, we carefully dropped dye into the water to see convection currents in action. The dye dropped to the bottom of the pan and then moved upward and outward with the heated water. I should have videoed this since the series of pictures isn’t terribly exciting to look at, but at any rate, with the dye, the kids could see how the water moved with the heat source (candles) underneath and it gave them a better understanding of convection currents and how they work.

ConvectionCurrents-1-675x466We also talked quite a bit about Earth’s convection currents and how that affects the plates. This blank worksheet about convection currents is included in the Earth Science packet.

 Convection Currents in the Mantle WorksheetYou may want to find out more about our Earth Science Packet below.  It now includes more than 100 pages! Plate-Boundaries-Worksheets Convergent Divergent Transform xx Faults Earthquake Waves WorksheetsWe read about plate tectonics in several different resources. Two that we found especially helpful were The Changing Earth (A middle school science text by McDougal Littel) and Plate Tectonics by Linda George. Both worked well for my kids (ages 6, 9, 11). PlateTectonicsBooks I kept adding and adding to our Earth Science Notebook Pages Packet as we went through this unit… and then added to it again when we covered this material with out Science Club. Here are a few more of the pages we worked on for our science notebook: PlateTectonicNotebookPages-675x330 Be sure to check out our 100+ page Earth Science Packet! (Lots of new resources have been added recently!) Our Earth Science Unit (post) is here to find out more!!

Learn how to make a earthquake shake table, more than a dozen hands-on activities on the layers of the earth, volcanoes, earthquakes, plate movement, convection currents and more!

Topics include: Solar System, Layers of the Earth, Earth’s Axis and the Seasons, Latitude and Longitude, Plate Tectonics, Faults, Earthquakes, Volcanoes, 4 Types of Mountains

The Earth Science Packet is $7.99. It is now well over 100 pages (as we added a lot of new materials recently when we covered did this unit again). It includes all the materials you saw above (notebook pages, hands-on activity ideas, and more). You can scroll down below for more pictures of what is included (or click on the link above to visit another post that goes into detail about the contents!).

Purchase the Earth Science Packet

Cost: $7.99

Don’t forget to check your PayPal email address for the download link.

When you click on the Buy Now button below, it will take you to Paypal. Upon receipt of payment you will immediately get a link to download this pdf in your browser. You will also receive an email from SendOwl Downloads which will give you a link to download. (Check the email linked to your PayPal account.) Of course, if you have any issues just email me at — liesl at homeschoolden dot com.  You can also reach me by using the contact form. ~Liesl


More pictures of what is included:

Earth Science Worksheets

Earth Science Unit - Layers of the Earth Activities Types of Volcanoes Worksheets - Interactive Notebook Pages

Earth Science - Earthquake VibrationsVolcano Worksheets-Notebook Pages- Volcanic Hazards
Volcano Worksheets Notebook Pages
Earth Science Activities
:)  Again, if you have any questions or problems, just contact me (liesl at homeschoolden dot com)! ~Liesl
Again, our Earth Science Unit Packet (post) is here!!

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2 Responses

  1. I’m trying this activity, but the sponges suck up the water as soon as I put them in, so they just sink and sit there. How do they move?

    • homeschooldenadmin says:

      Hi Morgen,

      Sorry not to get back to you sooner, I’ve been at a homeschool conference this weekend. We re-did this experiment in the fall with our science club and that happened with one of the groups when they didn’t have enough water in the pan… or maybe if the sponges were damp, but then wrung out so they weren’t sopping wet they would move like ours did away from one another. Another option is just to do it with two pieces of construction paper… same principle, but they definitely won’t sink! 🙂

      And then the other thing is to be sure to do the experiment about convection currents because when you do it with the immersion heater and ice bag, you can definitely see the dye moving through the water!

      I hope that helps!!


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