Transform Boundaries

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11123

The earth's plates are restless! They move apart, bump into each other, and sideswipe each other! The San Andreas Fault just can't sit still; find out what happens when plates rub against each other!


Earth Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Quickly rub your hands together. What happens? What do you think happens when the Earth’s plates mimic this motion?

In the previous Related Lessons, found in the right-hand sidebar, you have learned about convergent and divergent boundaries.

On a piece of paper, draw what a convergent boundary and a divergent boundary look like. Write a few sentences explaining what happens when these boundaries occur. Review your responses with a teacher or parent.

In this lesson, you will learn about the third and final tectonic plate movement: transform boundaries. In a transform boundary, the earth's plates do not move towards or away from one another. Rather, the plates slide past each other in opposite directions. These boundaries typically do not create large geological structures such as mountains and rifts, although they can create small streambeds or valleys.

The greatest threat posed by transform boundaries are earthquakes.

Rub your hands together quickly. When you rub your hands together, do your hands move exactly in a straight line? The palms of our hands are not perfectly flat, so there should be a slight shift in the way your hands move.

Tectonic plates are similar. They are not perfectly smooth along the edges. Therefore, as the plates slide past one another, they can shift, or sometimes pieces can break off. When these plates shift or break, that can cause an earthquake. To learn more about transform boundaries, read Wheeling Jesuit University's Transform Boundaries.

The most well-known transform boundary is the San Andreas Fault. The San Andreas Fault is an 800-mile transform boundary that runs through California. While the boundary has only produced a few large-scale earthquakes, it produces thousands of small earthquakes every year.

To learn more about the San Andreas Fault, read's The San Andreas Fault.


Image courtesy of U.S. National Park Service and is, therefore, in the public domain.

Look at the map above.

  • Where do you see examples of transform boundaries?
  • Is there an increase in earthquakes in these locations?
  • Can you find the San Andreas Fault on the map?
  • Do you live near a transform boundary?
  • Discuss your responses with a teacher or parent.

When you are ready, move on to the Got It? section to assess what you have learned.

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