NAGT > Teaching Resources > Teaching Activities > Geology Map Observations

Geology Map Observations

Stephanie S. Erickson
Saint Paul Public Schools, Washington Technology Magnet Middle School
Author Profile

Students construct the Earth's tectonic plates using geologic maps. The jigsaw method of collaborative group work is used. Skills such as careful observation, presentation, and synthesis are used to create a map that shows the type and location the plates.



Required 8th grade Earth Science Class

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

Identify countries, oceans, and continents on any map. Read a key to a map. Know the layers of the earth and the location of convection currents in earth's layers. Understand how convection works. Identify mountains and trenches on a map. Identify various landforms such as trenches, mountains, and islands

How the activity is situated in the course:

Beginning activity of a unit on plate tectonics, which includes past plate movement, types of boundaries, volcanoes and earthquakes.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:

Minnesota State Standards (8th grade Science)

History and Nature of Science - Scientific World View
The student will understand that science is a way of knowing about the world that is characterized by empirical criteria, logical argument and skeptical review. The student will explain the development, usefulness and limitations of scientific models in the explanation and prediction of natural phenomena.

History and Nature of Science - Scientific Inquiry
The student will understand that scientific inquiry is used by scientists to investigate the natural world in systematic ways.
1. The student will know that scientific investigations involve the common elements of systematic observations, the careful collection of relevant evidence, logical reasoning and innovation in developing hypotheses and explanations.
2. The student will describe how scientists can conduct investigations in a simple system and make generalizations to more complex systems.

Earth and Space Science - Earth Structure and Processes
The student will identify Earth's composition, structure and processes.
1. The student will explain how earthquakes, volcanoes, sea-floor spreading and mountain building are evidence of the movement of crustal plates.
2. The student will describe how features on the Earth's surface are created and constantly changing through a combination of slow and rapid processes of weathering, erosion, sediment deposition, landslides, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

National Standards (5-8 Science Content Standards)
Content Standard A
Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
Develop Descriptions, Explanations, Predictions, And Model Using Evidence
Think Critically And Logically To Make The Relationships Between Evidence And Explanations.
Recognize And Analyze Alternative Explanations And Predictions
Communicate Scientific Procedures And Explanations
Understandings about scientific inquiry
Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.
Content Standard D
Structure of the earth system
The solid earth is layered with a lithosphere; hot, convecting mantle; and dense, metallic core.

Lithospheric plates on the scales of continents and oceans constantly move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle. Major geological events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from these plate motions.

Landforms are the result of a combination of constructive and destructive forces. Constructive forces include crustal deformation, volcanic eruption, and deposition of sediment, while destructive forces include weathering and erosion.

Earth's history
The earth processes we see today, including erosion, movement of lithospheric plates, and changes in atmospheric composition, are similar to those that occurred in the past. Earth history is also influenced by occasional catastrophes, such as the impact of an asteroid or comet.


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

Identify locations of earthquakes and volcanoes around the world; observe that the age of the ocean gets older symmetrically away from the center. Identify the relationship between landforms such as mountains, islands, and ocean trenches and the location of earthquakes and volcanoes. Locate the boundaries of the lithospheric plates on a map using relationships between earthquakes, volcanoes, topography/bathymetry, and geochronology.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

Defend the location of the plates to classmates. Evaluate the location of the plate boundaries constructed by other groups. Synthesize multiple data sources to draw conclusions. Analyze data from a map and identify patterns. Explain patterns to classmates. Infer location of the plate boundaries.

Other skills goals for this activity:

Map Reading, presentation, and oral discussion among group members

Description of the activity/assignment

This is a lesson that asks students to create the current tectonic plate boundaries using world maps of earthquakes, volcanoes, topography, and sea-floor age. It is a modification of a lesson titled Discovering Plate Boundaries designed by Dale S. Sawyer of Rice University in Houston, Texas. This lesson has taken advantage of the maps provided by Sawyer as well as the 'jigsaw' method of group collaboration. However, substantial changes have been made to make it appropriate to middle school students. It is now titled "Geology Map Observations" and it incorporates best practices in inquiry science education as well as techniques appropriate for English Language Learners (ELL).
The lesson has three parts that in total take 3 50-minute class periods or 2 1 1/2 hour block classes. Part one asks students to get into groups of 3-4 and become 'experts' on a particular map type. They look at one of the maps on geography, volcanology, seismology or geochronology. They are asked to make observations about the map as well as become familiar with the key and the type of information on the map. In the second part, the students 'jigsaw' and get into groups where each person is an expert in a different map. They share their observations with their group and find similarities among the observations. The students are then given a copy of the world and asked to draw in the plate boundaries. In part 3 each group is presenting where they think the plate boundaries are located. The worksheets created for this lesson guide students through the process as well as give examples of the type of observations they should be making. This lesson is the first in a sequence of lessons on plate tectonics where students in the end will construct a map, which includes the type and location of the major plate boundaries.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students will be graded on the quality of the answers provided on the worksheet, the ability to share their ideas with their group members, the quality of their presentation, and their ability to draw the plate boundaries on a blank map of the world

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Plate Boundary:
Mantel convection, convergent boundaries visualization:
Pangaea visualization:
Plate boundary visualization:
Write-on student desk maps:

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Tectonics
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity:Jigsaw
Grade Level: Middle (6-8)
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Topics: Earth surface, Solid Earth:Tectonics

See more Teaching Activities »