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Science > Geology


Explore the relationship between volcanoes, earthquakes, and Earth's interior layers as you uncover the attributes of real-life formations and events!

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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



This activity is centered around the second level in Puzzling Plates, “Earthquakes and Volcanoes.” Students first play this level’s main activity to expose them to the general location of volcanoes and earthquakes around the world. Since the app briefly discusses their relationship with plates, this gap in knowledge encourages students to question how these natural occurrences relate and why they emerge in a particular pattern, leading to a student-driven discussion about these topics. Students then play the bonus round involving the Earth’s interior layers, encouraging them to further question and understand the connection between the Earth’s layers, volcanoes, earthquakes, and plates. Students can also master these concepts with the activity’s recommended diagrams and topic overviews.

To further bring these concepts to life, students are then tasked with selecting an actual volcano and earthquake that they will investigate and present on. By having students lead their own research projects and prepare oral presentations, they can really delve into these concepts and further grasp them with specific, real-life examples.

Learning Objectives

  • Examine the location of volcanoes and earthquakes to be able to identify and discuss the role of plates in their formations.
  • Differentiate the interior layers of the Earth and recognize their contributions to volcanic eruptions and other related topics.
  • Create original presentations on the attributes of actual volcanoes and earthquakes, applying concepts learned from the app and independent research.

LESSON steps

We envision this activity to be the second module of a curriculum for plate tectonics (the first one can be accessed here.) It will be beneficial that students understand the concept of plate tectonics before moving on to this activity.

Step 1: Have students get into groups of 4-5 individuals. Then, have each student play the second level in Puzzling Plates, but not the bonus round yet. Calculate the total number of volcanoes and earthquakes uncovered by each group to see which one found the most.


Completion of Level 2. Notice that the red dots represent volcanoes, yellow dots represent shallow-focus earthquakes, and blue dots represent deep-focus earthquakes.

Step 2: If students have their plate map from the previous module, we recommend that they label their maps with the location of most volcanoes and earthquakes. If they don’t, hand out a blank map of the modern world’s plates to have students label these locations. This will supplement the discussion in the next step.

  • NOTE: To replicate the color coding in the app, have students use different colors when they label their maps (e.g. red for volcanoes and yellow/blue for earthquakes.)

An example of a student's worksheet for labelling volcanoes and earthquakes.

Step 3: Lead a discussion about what students noticed about the location of volcanoes and earthquakes. Some questions can include:

  • What did you notice about the distribution of volcanoes? What did you notice about earthquakes?
  • Where were the majority of volcanoes and earthquakes?
  • Why do you think that they emerge around plate boundaries? (By this point, students should have already recognized the pattern of volcanoes and earthquakes emerging around plate boundaries)

Step 4: With this discussion, students can begin to identify the relationship between the movement of plates and the emergence of volcanoes/earthquakes. Make sure to emphasize the similarities and differences between volcanoes and earthquakes. Some questions relating to this include:

  • How do volcanoes form? How do earthquakes form?
  • How are these processes similar? How are they different?
  • Why do you believe volcanoes formed in one area, but not earthquakes (and vice versa)?
Step 5: Follow this discussion with an overview of how volcanoes form and why earthquakes occur. This discussion should then lead into a brief introduction of the role of Earth’s interior layers in the formation of volcanoes.

  • NOTE: Make sure to clarify the difference between shallow-focus and deep-focus earthquakes, since these concepts are briefly mentioned in the app. For instance, shallow-focus earthquakes tend to occur 0-70 km below the surface and have a larger area of effect (although most are not felt). On the other hand, deep-focus earthquakes tend to occur 300-700 km deep and have smaller areas of effect but larger magnitudes from the impact of plate collisions.
Step 6: Have students play the bonus round of the second level of Puzzling Plates to further familiarize themselves with the layers of the Earth.

Bonus Round for Level 2. Students must drag and match the correct yellow term with its corresponding layer.

Step 7: Provide a blank diagram of the Earth’s layers for students to fill in while they play the bonus round. This will reinforce the prior introductory lesson on this topic.

An example of a worksheet for the Earth's layers activity.

Step 8: After students complete the bonus round, clarify any questions that they may have about the role of the Earth’s interior layers with the formation of volcanoes.

Step 9: To bring these concepts to real life, have students choose one volcano located anywhere around the world and one earthquake that happened any time in history to research and make a presentation on. Students can highlight the following subject areas for volcanoes and earthquakes:

  • History of volcano
  • Type of volcano
  • Location
  • Last eruption or dormant
  • Video
  • Plates & fault involved
  • Epicenter
  • Social impact on countries
  • Video

  • NOTE: Depending on the size of the class, try to make it so that students do not replicate others' choices of volcanoes and earthquakes. Also, for more efficiency reasons, you may want to have students work with partners or in groups.
Step 10: Have students present on their assigned volcanos and earthquakes.

Photo credit (for banner) to Reuters


Next Generation Science


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

disciplinary core ideas

Plate Tectonics and Large-Scale System Interactions: The locations of mountain ranges, deep ocean trenches, ocean floor structures, earthquakes, and volcanoes occur in patterns. Most earthquakes and volcanoes occur in bands that are often along the boundaries between continents and oceans. Major mountain chains form inside continents or near their edges. Maps can help locate the different land and water features areas of Earth.


Earth Materials and Systems: Earth's systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes.

Common Core - English Language Arts

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
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.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
Science & Technical Subjects

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).

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.
Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media
Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats
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
Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks
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.
Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation
Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.
Exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity
6. Technology Operations and Concepts
Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations.
Understand and use technology systems
Select and use applications effectively and productively
topic discussion
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