Professional Learning, Science
Material Type:
Activity/Lab, Interactive, Lesson Plan, Media Object, Reading
Upper Elementary, Middle School
  • Earthquakes
  • Geologic Features
  • Lesson Plan
  • Science
  • april23
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Media Formats:
    Text/HTML, Video

    Education Standards




    Students will gain a basic understanding of earthquakes, how and why they happen, and how they can change the landforms.


    Students will learn about earthquakes through viewing a movie and participating in a simple demonstration. 

    30-45 minute face-to-face lesson 

    Background for Teachers

    To best teach this lesson, you will need a basic understanding of techtonic plates, fault lines, epicenter, and what causes an earthquake.  This  Gale link may be helpful.

    *Additional supplies needed for a hands-on demonstration in this lesson:  Each group of 3-4 students will need a paper plate, 5-6 large marshmallows, and one sheet of graham cracker, broken into about 10 pieces.  Access to a microwave will also be necessary.

    Step 1 - Goals and Outcomes

    Learning Intentions: Students will be able to identify specific geological features created by earthquakes and will be able to describe how earthquakes change landforms.

    Learning Success: Students will describe a geological landform that can be formed because of an earthquake and briefly explain how this change happens during the earthquake.

    Step 2 - Planning Instruction


    Student Background Knowledge

    Prior to this lesson, students will need to have an understanding of what landforms are (ie mountains, valleys, canyons, etc.) and know that these landforms change over time.

    Strategies for Diverse Learners

    Teachers can have books available for students to go deeper or to reference if they have additional questions.

    Students can work in groups when modeling an earthquake. Students can explain discoveries and thoughts to each other.

    Step 3 - Instruction


    Review landforms with students. Make sure students know a few of the major landforms and review the idea that landforms change over time.  Some of these changes take place over a long period of time and others over a shorter period of time.  Today we will be talking about earthquakes, what causes them, and how they affect the land.

    Questions to pose to students: Have you ever experienced an earthquake? What do you know about earthquakes? What questions do you have about earthquakes?  Take time to discuss these and other questions.

    Video options: Use one or both of these short video options to teach about earthquakes.  Take time to pause the video and ask questions to assess understanding as needed throughout the video.

    Earthquake overview video

    What causes earthquakes?

    Additional video option:

    Bill Nye Earthquakes

    After watching these videos, take time to refer back to the questions discussed earlier in the lesson and allow students time to talk about what they have learned and what questions they still have.

    Research: Use the following links to contine to explore and learn about earthquakes.

    Gale Earthquakes Level 1

    Gale Earthquakes Level 2

    I Survived an Earthquake! Scholastic story

    Kids Britannica

    Hands on demonstration: Students will get to see a little of how earthquakes can change landforms.  For this demonstration, each group of 3-4 students will need a paper plate, 5-6 large marshmallows, and one sheet of graham cracker, broken into about 10 pieces.  Access to a microwave will also be necessary.

    1. Microwave the marshmallows on the paper plate until they expand and become soft.
    2. In their groups, students will place the graham cracker pieces on top of the marshmallows.  
    3. Students will slide the graham crackers around on the marshmallows.  Have them think of the graham cracker as the land and the pieces as the techtonic plates.  Have them model an earthquake.  What are some of the different ways an earthquake can happen? How could these plates bumping into each other cause changes to the land? 
    4. Discuss the students' observations and findings together as a class.

    Write: In their science journals (or wherever you have students write and record things) have the students write about what they have learned today.  What did you see and learn from the movies, from the demonstration, and/or from our class discussions?  What is a landform that could be created because of an earthquake? Use words and pictures to show your understanding of earthquakes. 

    Step 4 - Assessments

    The assessments for this lesson are built right into the lesson itself.  A review of the assessments will be listed below:

    • Questions and discussions-there are several places throughout the lesson where questions are posed.  Seek to have as many students as possible share their thoughts and questions.
    • Performance-as the students are moving their tectonic plates (graham cracker pieces) the teacher can listen to the discoveries that are being made by the different students and groups.
    • Writing-students will use words and pictures to explain their understanding of earthquakes and how they can change the landforms.