K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • Define key concepts and terms associated with earthquakes.
  • Recognize the cause and effect relationships present in nature.
  • Make predictions and hypotheses.
  • Recognize the value of historical scientific information.
  • Build a model.
  • Enjoy a hands-on learning experience.
  • Use computers as tools for accessing information.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

2 hours


Materials for each student:

  • one eleven-by-eight-inch piece of cardboard (cut in half)
  • one larger piece of cardboard to serve as platform (for transport)
  • scissors
  • four cups of dirt
  • water to mix with dirt
  • several small twigs
  • earthquake research sheet/assessment

Technology resources

  • computer with internet access


  • Discussion of various natural disasters around the globe.
  • Discuss with students what they already know about earthquakes and determine what they want to learn more about.
  • Visit seismograph at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science.


  1. Create a student generated list of vocabulary terms.
  2. Provide opportunities for students to define vocabulary and/or teacher defines unfamiliar terms.
  3. If possible, take students outdoors to collect dirt and twigs. Otherwise, pass out materials to students.
  4. Mix dirt and water to form mud. Spread mud over two pieces of cardboard lying side by side (placed on top of larger piece of cardboard to make transport possible). Form a landscape, valleys and hills. Place twigs to represent trees.
  5. Let dry overnight.
  6. Review of vocabulary terms.
  7. Conduct class discussion of predictions and hypotheses, “What will happen to the models when simulated earthquake or tremors occur?” Include concepts of building and landscape changes and safety.
  8. Divide class into groups. Assign one group to simulate vertical plate movement and the other to simulate horizontal plate movement. During their simulated earthquakes individual students can be assigned different numbers of plate movements to make, as well as differing amounts of force to apply to their plate movements.
  9. Facilitate class discussion. Students report observed differences and similarities in plate movement damage. Discuss the importance of historical scientific knowledge and implications for changes in building design and safety planning.
  10. Students visit relevant earthquake-related websites to answer earthquake questions.


  • oral answers/predictions/inferences from class discussions of vocabulary and key concepts
  • observations of individual student participation in model activity
  • completion of earthquake questions/research

Supplemental information


The North Carolina Museum of Life and Science is located at 433 Murray Avenue between Duke Street and Roxboro Road in Durham. Phone number: 919-220-5429. Call ahead to make reservations for student groups.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Grade 6

        • 6.E.2 Understand the structure of the earth and how interactions of constructive and destructive forces have resulted in changes in the surface of the Earth over time and the effects of the lithosphere on humans. 6.E.2.1 Summarize the structure of the earth,...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 6

  • Goal 3: The learner will build an understanding of the geological cycles, forces, processes, and agents which shape the lithosphere.
    • Objective 3.01: Evaluate the forces that shape the lithosphere including:
      • Crustal plate movement.
      • Folding and faulting.
      • Deposition.
      • Volcanic Activity.
      • Earthquakes.
    • Objective 3.02: Examine earthquake and volcano patterns.