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Earth in Motion: A Geologic Journey through Continental Drift

Grade: 6-8th Grade

Duration: 85 minutes


By the end of this lesson, your student will be able to explain the theory of continental drift, identify evidence supporting it, and understand its significance in shaping Earth's surface.

Materials Needed

  • World map or globe

  • Drawing materials (paper, colored pencils, markers)

  • Computer or tablet with internet access

  • Optional: video clips or animations illustrating continental drift

  • Printed maps for Activity 2

Warm-Up (5 minutes)

Let's kick things off with a quick brainstorming session. Close your eyes and imagine you're flying above Earth. What do you see? Are the continents all close together, or are they spread out? Share your thoughts with a partner.

Introduction to Continental Drift (5 minutes)

Earth's crust is like a giant puzzle made up of enormous pieces called continents. These continents aren't glued in place. They're floating on a hot, gooey layer of magma beneath the surface. Like icebergs drifting in the ocean, continents can move around.

Activity 1: Pangaea Puzzle (20 minutes)

(Show your students a world map or globe.) Take a close look at the shapes of the continents. Do you notice anything interesting? (Wait for a few students to respond.)

Now, let's play a game called Pangea Puzzle. 

Using your drawing materials, sketch the outlines of the continents as you think they might have fit together like a jigsaw puzzle when they formed the supercontinent Pangea. 

Compare your drawings with your classmates and discuss any similarities or differences you notice.

(Show how the continents actually fit together and see if anyone came close.)

Evidence of Continental Drift (15 minutes)

So, what proof do we have that continents have actually moved over time? Well, scientists have uncovered some pretty cool clues. 

Fossilized plants and animals that lived millions of years ago have been found on continents that are now separated by vast oceans. How do you think they got there? Hint: continental drift! 

Matching rock formations and mountain ranges on opposite sides of oceans suggests that these areas were also connected. (Show examples of fossils, mountains, etc.)

The Significance of Continental Drift (10 minutes)

So, why does continental drift matter? 

It allows us to understand the forces that shape our planet. Scientists can better predict earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and even climate patterns by studying continental drift. Plus, it helps us piece together the story of Earth's evolution over billions of years.

Introduction to Tectonic Plates (5 minutes):

Before we dive into our activity, let's take a quick detour to explore the concept of tectonic plates. Earth's crust is divided into several large, moving parts called tectonic plates.

Tectonic plates come in different sizes and shapes, ranging from small to gigantic. Some plates carry entire continents, while others are beneath the ocean. These plates are in constant motion. As they move, they interact with each other at their boundaries, creating an ever-changing landscape.

Activity 2: Tectonic Plate Maps (20 minutes)

In this activity, each group will receive a map showing the current positions of the Earth's tectonic plates. (Pass out maps and put your students into groups.)

Step 1: Plate Identification

Using the map provided, work together to identify and label each tectonic plate. Use different colors or symbols to distinguish one plate from another.

Step 2: Plate Movement

Using arrows or lines, draw on the map to show the direction each tectonic plate is moving. Some plates are moving away from each other (divergent boundaries), some are moving toward each other (convergent boundaries), and some are sliding past each other (transform boundaries).

Step 3: Evidence of Plate Movement

Once you've mapped out the movement of the tectonic plates, discuss and identify any evidence of plate movement, such as earthquakes, volcanic activity, or the formation of mountain ranges. How does this evidence support continental drift?

Step 4: Reflection

As a group, reflect on what you've learned about plate tectonics and its role in continental drift. How does understanding plate tectonics help us understand Earth's surface? Share your insights with the class.

Lesson Conclusion (5 minutes)

Congratulations, explorers, you've journeyed through the twists and turns of continental drift. The Earth is always in motion, and understanding its past can help us navigate future challenges.


To gauge understanding, students will complete a short written reflection summarizing the key concepts of continental drift and its significance. 

They will also be assessed based on their participation in group discussions and activities and the accuracy of their Pangea Puzzle and Tectonic Plate Maps.

Written by Brooke Lektorich
Education World Contributor
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