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!

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Quickly rub your hands together.

  • What happens?

Rubbing your hands together creates friction, heat, and a sense of movement. Imagine if the earth's tectonic plates could do the same thing.

In this exciting lesson on transform boundaries, explore what happens when two plates slide past each other in opposite directions, like when you rub your hands together.

Learn about the powerful forces of friction and pressure that build up along these boundaries, resulting in earthquakes and sometimes even creating new landforms. Discover the incredible impact of transform boundaries and how they unexpectedly shape the earth's surface.

Get ready to feel the power of plate tectonics in action!

The third and final tectonic plate movement is transform boundaries.

In a transform boundary, the earth's plates do not move toward 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 stream beds or valleys.

The greatest threat posed by transform boundaries are earthquakes.

Rub your hands together quickly again.

  • 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 how 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.

Read about Transform Boundaries to learn more.

The most well-known transform boundary is the San Andreas Fault, which is 800 miles long and runs through California. While the boundary has only produced a few large-scale earthquakes, it produces thousands of small ones yearly.

Read about The San Andreas Fault to learn more.


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?

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

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