Activity Details



Students will

  • Learn that the Earth’s surface is made up of tectonic plates,
  • Which collide and shift
  • Causing earthquakes and producing volcanoes.




  • One orange
  • 1 box of round toothpicks



  • Think and Discuss:The Earth is spherical like an orange, but because the Earth is so large we cannot see the roundness of our own planet unless we see it from outer space.
  • Peel the orangewithout the use of a knife into at least five pieces.
    Note: This peel represents the part of the Earth called the CRUST. Each segment of the peel represents a TECTONIC PLATE.
  • Think and Discuss:Note the “flatness” of each section of peel. The peel does not appear to be as round as when it was wrapped around the orange in one piece.
  • Replace the peel on the orange, securing it with toothpicks. Think of this as a spherical jigsaw puzzle.
    Note: Once the pieces of the peel are placed back on the orange, it is now a more accurate representation of the EARTH’S CRUST.
  • Think and Discuss:The concept of plate tectonics.
    Note: The cracks in the orange peel represent PLATE BOUNDARIES, “FAULTS” or “SPREADING CENTERS” or “SUBDUCTION ZONES” where the EARTH’S PLATES (pieces of orange peel) shift and collide.
  • Think and Discuss:The relationship between plate boundaries and the present-day distribution of earthquake and volcanic activity.



Q1.The Earth’s surface is divided into more than 12 rigid crustal plates. List the names of these tectonic plates.






Q2.What types of boundaries does each crustal plate have?




Q3.In which oceans are OCEAN RIDGES or SPREADING CENTERS found?




Q4. In which oceans are CONVERGENT or COLLISIONAL BOUNDARIES found?




Q5.What is the relationship between PLATE BOUNDARIES and the distribution of EARTHQUAKES?




Q6. What is the relationship between PLATE BOUNDARIES and the distribution of VOLCANOES?




Teacher Notes



  • Foods are commonly used as instructional tools and in many hands-on activities presented here. A review of food use to demonstrate Earth-science concepts is presented by Francek and Winstanley (2004); however, they also note that there are potential problems associated with using food as an instructional tool. One of the main safety issues is that some foods, such as chocolate or peanut butter, could cause a student to have an allergic reaction. It is important that the instructor inform students and parents that you will be conducting a class activity that involves food, so that they can tell you if there are any health problems that should be addressed. Students with allergies to certain food groups may participate in the activities through observation, as long as their allergies are not induced by touch or smell of the food items used.
  • Remember, when doing any activity that involves the use of chemicals, be sure to use the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gloves, safety glasses, and laboratory coats.


Tips and Tricks:


  • The process of finding or exploring for a mineral deposit, extracting or mining the resource, recovering the resource, also known as beneficiation, and reclaiming the land mined can be described as the “life cycle” of a mineral deposit.
  • Mineral deposits are the source of many important commodities, such as copper and gold, used by our society, but it is important to realize that mineral deposits are a nonrenewable resource. Once mined, they are exhausted, and another source must be found. New mineral deposits are being continuously created by the Earth but may take millions of years to form.
  • Mineral deposits differ from renewable resources, such as agricultural and timber products, which may be replenished within a few months to several years.
  • The technical definition of a mineral is a naturally occurring, inorganic, homogeneous solid with a definite chemical composition and an ordered atomic arrangement. In more general terms, a mineral is a substance that is:
    (1) made of a single element like gold (Au) or a compound of elements like salt (NaCl) and/ or
    (2) a building block of rock (for example, granite is composed primarily of the minerals quartz and feldspar).
  • Minerals may be metallic, like gold, or nonmetallic, such as talc.
  • Oil, natural gas, and coal are generally considered to be “energy minerals” and are not discussed in this report.
  • A mineral deposit is a mineral occurrence of sufficient size and grade (concentration) to enable extraction under the most favorable conditions.
  • Two cycles determine how mineral deposits are formed— the ROCK CYCLE and the TECTONIC CYCLE.
  • Heat from the Earth’s interior melts some of the rocks in the crust (the upper part of the lithosphere).
  • Molten rocks lower in density than the surrounding cooler material rise toward the Earth’s surface and eventually cool and harden near to or on the surface.
  • The composition, temperature, pressure, and cooling process of the molten material determine the minerals and rock types formed.
  • These are called IGNEOUS ROCKS and contain original or primary minerals.
  • When these rocks are subjected to chemical and physical processes, such as freezing and thawing, they break apart into smaller fragments forming sediments.
  • These smaller particles that compose the sediments can be physically transported and re-deposited by gravity, water, and wind.
  • If the re-deposited particles are bound together by compaction or cementation (formation of new secondary minerals in the spaces between the loose particles), SEDIMENTARY ROCKS are formed.
  • In regions where the Earth’s interior temperature and pressure are high enough to change the chemical composition and mineralogy of buried igneous or sedimentary rocks, without completely melting them, METAMORPHIC ROCKS are formed.
  • Distinct groups or assemblages of minerals are typically associated with the formation of each of the three major rock types—igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.
  • PLATE TECTONICS play a major role in the processes of mineral and rock formation.
  • In geologic terms, a plate is a large, “rigid” slab of solid rock.
  • The word tectonics comes from the Greek root “to build.”
  • The term plate tectonics refers to the process by which the Earth’s crust is formed and moved.
  • The theory of plate tectonics states that the Earth’s outermost layer, the crust, is fragmented into a dozen or more plates of various sizes that are moving relative to one another as they are slowly transported on top of and by hotter, more mobile material (Kious and Tilling, 1996).
  • Scientists now have a fairly good understanding of how the plates move and how earthquake activity relates to such movement.
  • Most movement occurs along narrow zones between plates where the effects of tectonic forces are most evident.

There are four types of plate boundaries:

  • Divergent boundaries—where new crust is generated as the plates pull away from each other.
  • Convergent boundaries—where crust is destroyed as one plate dives under another.
  • Transform boundaries—where crust is neither produced nor destroyed as the plates slide horizontally past each other.
  • Plate boundary zones—broad belts in which boundaries are not well defined and the effects of plate interaction are unclear (Kious and Tilling, 1996).

Hands-On Activities

  • This activity is one of a set of activities designed to educate students about geology, plate tectonics, and mineral resources and how mineral resources are found, extracted, processed, and used.
  • These activities are suited for the entire K-12 grade level range, but some may be best suited for the 5-8 or 9-12 grade levels (table 3). The activities are as follows:

Basic Geology—Concepts

Exploring for Minerals

Extracting Minerals

Uses of Minerals

Mineral Resources and Economics

Answers to questions – in this activity and additional information on plate tectonics can be found in:

  •  “This Dynamic Planet” (Simkin and others, 1994) - a USGS map -
    The map “This Dynamic Planet” shows the Earth’s physiographic features, the current movements of its major tectonic plates, and the locations of its volcanoes, earthquakes, and impact craters. The use of color and shaded relief helps the reader to identify significant features of the land surface and the ocean floor. More than 1,500 volcanoes active during the past 10,000 years are plotted on the map in four age categories. The locations (epicenters) of more than 24,000 earthquakes, largely from 1960 through 1990, are plotted in three magnitude categories and in two depth ranges.
    and in
  •  “This Dynamic Earth: the Story of Plate Tectonics” (Kious and Tilling, 1996)






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