What Are Plates?

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11120

Not only are we spinning and flying in space, but the Earth is moving under our feet! Hold on tight, get out your crayons and hot water for a fun experiment, and study the puzzle of plate tectonics!


Earth Science

learning style
Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Did you know the Earth is a giant puzzle? Its pieces are literally moving beneath you right now!

The Earth’s surface is composed of many pieces, similar to a puzzle.

The lithosphere, or top layer of the Earth, is broken into several large, continent-sized blocks. These blocks are referred to as tectonic plates. Energy from within the Earth causes these plates to constantly move. You cannot feel the surface of the Earth moving because it is moving very slowly. The plates are moving so slowly that most only travel a few centimeters per year.

As the plates move, they cause changes in the Earth’s geography. You will learn more about these changes in the other four lessons that are a part of "The Earth’s Surface" series.

Look at the map pictured below. This map illustrates the major and minor plates that make up the surface of the Earth. There are seven major, or large, plates and several minor, or small, plates. The lines that run between the plates are called faults or boundaries.

Find where you live on the map. What plate is your home located on? Is your home near a fault? Discuss your responses with a teacher or parent.

To learn more about the Earth’s plates and how they move, watch MinuteEarth’s Plate Tectonics Explained:


After you watch the video, explain to a teacher or parent what causes the Earth’s plates to move. Does it surprise you to find out that the Earth’s surface is comprised of many moving pieces? Did you realize that the Earth is literally moving beneath your feet? Discuss your thoughts with a teacher or parent.

When you feel like you have a thorough understanding of what tectonic plates are and why they move, move on to the Got It? section.

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