Lesson 13: Plate Tectonics I
Lesson 13 introduces students to geological oceanography
by presenting the basic structure of the Earth and the
properties of Earth’s primary layers. Students learn the
structure and composition of oceanic and continental crust
and the theory of plate tectonics. In the activity, students calculate the rate of movement of the Pacific Plate using
information about the age of the Hawaiian Islands.
1. Describe the basic characteristics of Earth’s three
layers: crust, mantle and core
2. Define the lithosphere and asthenosphere
Unifying concepts and
Earth and space science
The Earth has one big
ocean with many
DCPS, High School
ES.7. Plate tectonics
operating over geologic time
has altered the features of
land, sea and mountains on
the Earth’s surface
3. Calculate the rate of movement of the Pacific Plate
1. Teaching Lesson 13
b. Lecture Notes
c. Additional Resources
2. Teacher’s Edition: How Fast Does the Pacific Plate
3. Student Activity: How Fast Does the Pacific Plate
4. Student Handout
5. Mock Bowl Quiz
Teaching Lesson 13
Introduce the lesson using a demonstration of Earth’s internal layers. You can use an apple, or any other type of fruit with a thin outer skin, relatively thick center and a core. For example, an avocado, plum or peach would also work2.
1. Show the students the uncut apple. Tell them
that the apple is a model that can demonstrate
how Earth actually has different layers, though it
may appear to be one uniform substance.
Explain that understanding these basic layers
will help them understand the geology of the
Earth and its oceans.
2. Make a triangular slice in the apple so that you remove ¼ of the apple all the way down to the core. Show the students the apple while you explain the layers. 3. The Earth is composed of three layers: the crust, mantle and the core. The Earth's crust is like the skin of the apple, very thin in comparison to the other three layers. There are two types of crust: continental crust (beneath Earth’s land surface) and oceanic crust (beneath the ocean floor). The continental crust is lighter (similar to granite) and the oceanic crust is denser (more like basalt).
4. The mantle is the relatively thicker layer beneath the crust, represented by the flesh of the apple. It is composed of molten rock similar in composition to very hot asphalt. The crust and the rigid, outer zone of the mantle make up a layer that is called the lithosphere.
5. The zone directly under the lithosphere is made of a flowing, denser layer called the asthenosphere. The outer core, represented by the core of the apple, is composed of very hot liquid metals, nickel and iron. The inner core is composed of the same nickel and iron but in a solid state because of intense pressure.
II. Lecture Notes
Present the following information using the PowerPoint for Lesson 13 (File:Lesson 13 – Plate Tectonics I.ppt). Distribute the Student Handout before you begin for students to take notes on key information.
Unless otherwise indicated, all websites provided or referenced in this guide were last accessed in November 2010. Photo: International Trade Organization,
Teaching Lesson 13
Visualizing Earth’s layers (slide 4)
1. The Earth is composed of three primary layers: the core, the liquid-like mantle and the rigid outer crust.
2. If you took a cross-section of the Earth you would see that the crust lays on top of the mantle and is very thin relative to the mantle
There are two types of crust: oceanic crust and continental crust...
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