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Science > Geology


See the history of the Earth in motion as you construct your own flip-book of Earth's surface in the past, present, and future!

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Created by
Nicole Weinstein


Puzzling Plates is an interactive app that allows users to engage with various Earth science concepts, including plate tectonics, volcanoes, earthquakes, and plate boundaries. In order to become master geologists, users must earn points by completing three levels. Users can earn points by solving plate puzzles, uncovering volcanoes and earthquakes, and labeling plate boundaries. Bonus rounds provide additional activities for users to learn about plate names, the Earth’s interior layers, and the interaction at plate boundaries. Through the digital manipulation of plate tectonics and surface formation, students gain a better understanding of the processes that shape the Earth.
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Experience breakdown



Since Puzzling Plates is divided into three levels, we created three separate lesson plans focused on each level’s theme. However, you can still combine all three levels into one learning experience, such as a trivia game (e.g. Jeopardy.)


Map of the plates. The red arrows might be helpful for this activity when students have to predict the future of Earth's surface.

In this activity, students label and personalize their own maps of today’s plates as they play Level One. By locating big cities on the map and coloring the pieces in, students become familiar with the plates in relation to themselves. It is also beneficial for students to keep and interact with physical copies of the plate map in addition to the digital experience.


An example of labeling cities on a map of the plates.

To go even beyond today’s plates, this activity asks students to work together in groups and decipher the chronological order of the plates’ movements by evaluating their progression over various maps. With these analytical skills, students can also predict  and draw the Earth’s surface in the future. Students can then organize their maps together into a flip-book to illustrate the constant movement of the Earth’s surface. In addition to this hands-on detective work, students can grasp these concepts in motion as they watch videos of the plates’ past and future movements.


Progression of the Earth's surface

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize the role of plate tectonics in causing continental drift and shaping Earth’s surface.
  • Construct their own book on the history of continental drift to understand Earth’s constant transformation.
  • Analyze the movements of Earth’s plates in the past and predict the future of Earth’s surface.


Step 1: First give the students an introduction to tectonic plates and continental drift. Briefly define the two concepts and explain the role of tectonic plates in continental drift. Make sure to emphasize how the Earth is constantly changing and that our modern world has been shaped by the plates’ movements. To supplement this introduction, display a map of the modern world and highlight how the continents can fit together like pieces of a puzzle.


Step 2: Have students play the first level of Puzzling Plates, but not the bonus round yet. It might be difficult for the students at first to understand how to move the plates around with their fingers, so it might be helpful to give them a brief demonstration of how to use the game.


Level 1 of Puzzling Plates

  • NOTE: Remind students that these pieces are not continents, but plates. However, the continents are located on the plates and can be used to place the pieces in the correct location on the map.

Step 3: Once students have completed this level and are ready to move on to the bonus round, have them collect a blank map of today’s plates and correctly label the plates on their physical map as they play. For more advanced students, have them label some of the big cities around the world, especially the ones they are currently living in (e.g. Los Angeles, London, Beijing, Buenos Aires).


Step 4: After students have finished filling in their physical maps, divide them into groups of four or five (depending on the class size) and have each student collect their own plate tectonic packet. This packet will include a number of maps of the plates throughout the ages that will be out of chronological order. It should also include a blank paper for students to draw their predictions of Earth’s surface in the future. This task will take place later in the activity.

  • NOTE: The maps should not have time ranges on them since students will have to put the maps in chronological order. However, they can have the name of the time period and of the land forms.

Step 5: As a group, students are challenged to identify the correct order of the maps. Once they think they have the correct order, they can consult with the teacher.


An example of maps of Earth's plates throughout the ages.

Step 6: If the group is correct, students should then label each map with the correct time range using the teacher’s answer key. They should staple their maps all together (including the blank page in the back) to make a mini plate history book or flip-book. If they finish early, have them color in their new books.

Step 7: Once most of the groups have finished this task, play a video that demonstrates visually how the plates have moved for millions of years. It will be helpful to have a video that includes the names of the time periods. Here is one video that may work for this activity.

History of Earth's Surface

Step 8: Lead a discussion on what the students have learned from Puzzling Plates, the group project, and video. Some questions can include the following:

  • How did the Earth’s surface become what is it today?
  • What role do plates play in shaping the Earth’s surface?
  • What plate are we currently on?
  • What made you put the maps in this order?

Step 9: Then, direct the discussion more about the future of the Earth’s surface. Some questions can include the following:

  • What patterns did you notice when placing the maps in order? Could that help us predict the Earth’s surface in the future?
  • How will the movements of the plates affect the surface of the Earth in the future?

  • What do you think Earth will look like in x number of years?

  • NOTE: Make sure that students understand particular patterns in continental drift before moving on to the next step.

Step 10: Using their knowledge about plate movements, have them each draw a map on their blank page of what they believe Earth’s surface will look like in x number of years (e.g. 250 million years.)

Step 11: After they draw their maps of Earth’s surface, play a video that shows what scientists predict will be the Earth’s surface in 250 million years.



Next Generation Science


disciplinary core ideas

The History of Planet Earth: Some events happen very quickly; others occur very slowly, over a time period much longer than one can observe.

Plate Tectonics and Large-Scale System Interactions: Maps show where things are located. One can map the shapes and kinds of land and water in any area.


4-ESS2-2. Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.


MS-ESS2-2. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales.


Earth's Materials and Systems: The planet's systems interact over scales that range from microscopic to global in size, and they operate over fractions of a second to billions of years. These interactions have shaped Earth's history and will determine its future.


Plate Tectonics and Large-Scale System Interactions: Plate tectonics is the unifying theory that explains the past and current movements of the rocks at Earth's surface and provides a framework for understanding its geologic history.

Common Core - English Language Arts


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Speaking and Listening
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

ISTE NETS - Digital Age Skills

1. Creativity and Innovation
Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes
Create original works as a means of personal or group expression
Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues
Identify trends and forecast possibilities
2. Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems
3. Research and Information Fluency
Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.
Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media
Process data and report results
4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.
Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions
Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions
topic discussion
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