Introduction to Plate Tectonics

Contributor: Anthony Pecora. Lesson ID: 13003

Have you ever experienced, or at least read about, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes? Pretty scary stuff! You know what else is scary? The cause of these terrors could be right under your feet!


Earth Science

learning style
personality style
Lion, Otter, Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


When was the last time you put a puzzle together? Do you know that a puzzle and the earth's crust are similar? To find out how, check out this lesson about plate tectonics.

  • Have you ever put an entire jigsaw puzzle together?

When all of the pieces are in place, they form a complete picture. However, the picture is actually a collection of individual pieces.

The outermost layer of the earth, called the crust, is similar to a jigsaw puzzle. Yes, the crust is a complete layer surrounding the entire surface of the earth. However, similar to a puzzle, the crust is actually divided into sections called plates. Plate tectonics is the theory describing the earth's crust divided into sections (or plates).

  • Have you ever tried to pick up a puzzle piece? What happened?
  • Have you ever pushed on the outside pieces of a puzzle? What happened?
  • What do you think happens if one of the plates (pieces of the earth's crust) moves?

There are seven major plates. Ten minor plates also exist. Look at the plate tectonic map below.

  • Can you count seven major plates?
  • Can you find the plate you live on?

tectonic plates

  • Have you heard about volcanic eruptions or earthquakes on the news?
  • Do you live near a mountain chain, such as the Appalachian Mountains in the northeastern United States, or the Rocky Mountains? Plate tectonics is responsible for each.

Move on to the Got It! section to understand this puzzle.

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