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Structure of the Earth

Teacher Guide by Oliver Smith

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Earth Structure Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Structure of the Earth Include:

Earth as it is hasn’t always looked it as it does in modern day. Movement in tectonic plates due to convection currents in the mantle has shaped and changed the land masses of Earth. Use storyboards to show the layers of the Earth and how the tectonic plates move.

Structure of the Earth Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Structure of the Earth


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In this activity students will label a model of the Earth. They will look at the different layers that the earth is comprised of. As well as giving the locations of the different parts, students will also give a description of each parts.


PartDescription
CrustThe crust is a solid layer of rock on the surface of the planet. The thickness varies between 3 and 30 miles.
MantleThe mantle is a semi-liquid layer of magma, or molten rock, that moves due to convection currents.
Outer CoreThe liquid part of the core which has a similar composition to the inner core.
Inner CoreThe inner core is the solid part at the center of the Earth. It is made of iron and nickel and has temperatures reaching 5,500°C.

To scaffold this activity for students who need support, provide labels to add to the diagram. To stretch your more able students, have them compare the structure of Earth to the structure of another planet in our solar system like Jupiter.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

You are going to identify the parts of the Earth in a storyboard.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Search for "earth" or "globe" and pull down the Earth item. Click on "Image Options" to change to the diagram.
  3. Label the parts of the Earth using Textables and arrows.
  4. Describe the different sections of the Earth.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Vocabulary for Structure of the Earth


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Have your students put key vocabulary into practice. One of the things students can find really difficult is using scientific vocabulary correctly and in the appropriate context. Using a visual representation or visual examples as well as a written one can really help students understand abstract concepts.


Example Structure of the Earth Vocabulary


Tectonic Plates

Parts of the Earth’s lithosphere that float on the mantle and move independently


Convection Currents

Circular currents in fluids that are caused by uneven heating. When the fluid is heated, it becomes less dense and rises. As it cools, it becomes more dense and sinks.


Oceanic Crust

Parts of the Earth's crust which are found under oceans


Continental Crust

The thickest parts of the crust which form continents


Lithosphere

The outer rigid layer of the mantle where the magma cools and begin to harden and the crust


Other terms include:

  • Continent
  • Convergent Boundary
  • Core
  • Crust
  • Divergent Boundary
  • Earthquake
  • Igneous Rock
  • Inner Core
  • Iron
  • Lava
  • Layers
  • Liquid
  • Magma
  • Mantle
  • Metamorphic Rock
  • Ocean
  • Outer Core
  • Rock
  • Sedimentary Rock
  • Seismometer
  • Silicon
  • Solid
  • Transform Boundary
  • Volcano

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of key scientific vocabulary by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose five vocabulary words and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary and write it under the cell.
  3. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to give examples of the words.
  4. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Structure of the Earth Discussion Storyboard


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Discussion storyboards are a great way to get your students talking about their ideas in Science. They allow students to critique and evaluate different viewpoints without upsetting other students. This activity can be used at the start of the topic to elicit any misconceptions students may have.

At first, show students a discussion storyboard like the one below. Ask them to look at the problem on the discussion storyboard. It shows four students who all have an idea about the problem in front of them. Students should think about whom they think is the most correct and be prepared to explain why that person is correct.

Here are some other ideas to use these discussion storyboards in your lessons.

  1. Students add another cell on the end of the example you’ve given them to explain whom they think is correct and why.
  2. Students create their own discussion storyboards to share with peers on the current topic.

Note that the template in this assignment is blank. After clicking "Copy Assignment", add your desired problem and solutions to match the needs of your students.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Read the discussion storyboard that shows four students who all have an idea about the problem in front of them. You are going to give your opinion on whom you think is correct and explain why.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Add another cell at the end of the row.
  3. Use text and images to explain whom you think is correct and why.
  4. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Earth Tectonic Plates


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Students are going to label the tectonic plates on a map of the world which shows the plate boundaries. Please note the map available through Storyboard That only covers the major tectonic plates. It doesn’t cover some of the smaller plates.


Tectonic PlateLocation
African Plate The African Plate contains the whole of the continent of Africa and the southeastern part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Antarctic Plate Contains the continent of Antarctica and the surrounding seas and oceans.
Arabian PlateThe Arabian Plate contains the Arabian peninsula. It is bordered by the Indian, African, and the Eurasian Plates.
Australian Plate The Australian Plate contains Australia and New Zealand.
Caribbean Plate The Caribbean Plate runs from the north coast of South America up to the south coast of Cuba. It borders the North and South American Plates and the Cocos Plate.
Cocos PlateThe Cocos Plate is a tectonic plate that lies under the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Central America.
Eurasian Plate The Eurasian Plate contains most of the continents of Europe and Asia. The plate also contains some of the northeast region of the Atlantic Ocean.
Indian Plate The Indian Plate contains the country of India and some of the Indian Ocean. It borders with the Eurasian, Arabian, and Australian Plates.
Nazca Plate The Nazca Plate lies off the western coast of continental South America under the Pacific Ocean. It is bounded on the east by the Pacific Plate.
North American Plate The North American Plate covers most of the continent of North America, Greenland, and some of Iceland. It covers the northwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Pacific Plate The Pacific Plate is the largest plate and is under the Pacific Ocean.
Philippine Sea PlateThe Philippine Sea Plate lies beneath the Philippine Sea.
Scotia Plate The Scotia Plate is a minor plate between the South American Plate and the Antarctic Plate in the Southern Ocean.
South American PlateThe South American Plate covers the majority of continental South America. It is bordered by the Nazca Plate to the west and the African Plate in the east.

Students should also identify a convergent, divergent, and transform boundary and show their movement with arrows. A example of a divergent boundary is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between the African and South American Plate. An example of a transform boundary is the San Andreas Fault between the North American and the Pacific Plate. An example of a convergent boundary is the boundary between the Indian and the Eurasian Plate, at the Himalayas.

To support less able students, give them the names of the plates and then ask to put them in the correct places, or leave out labeling altogether. To challenge your more able students, have them label the direction that all the plates are travelling in, and have them predict what the world will look like millions of years in the future.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Label the positions of the different major tectonic plates.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Search for ‘tectonic plates’ and drag and drop the tectonic plate map into the storyboard.
  3. Label the tectonic plates.
  4. Identify a convergent, divergent, and transform boundary and show movement with arrows.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Interaction Between Tectonic Plates


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The relative movement of adjacent tectonic plates can be categorized as either a divergent, convergent or transform boundary.

At a divergent boundary, the plates move apart from each other. This is also know as a constructive boundary because new lithosphere is made. This occurs due to magma rising through the space between the plates and cooling.

At a convergent boundary, the plates move closer together. When the boundary is between a continental plate and oceanic plate or between two oceanic plates, the denser oceanic plate will travel underneath the less dense plate. This is called subduction. An example of subduction occurs at the Ryukyu Trench between the Pacific and Eurasian Plates. If two continental plates meet each other at a boundary, then they collide and push each other up. An example of this is the Himalayas at the boundary between the Indian and Eurasian Plates. In the example storyboard, subduction is used as an example for an interaction at a convergent boundary. To stretch your more able students, also have them create a diagram for the boundary between two continental plates.

At a transform plate boundary, the plates don’t move closer together or further away, but move past each other. An example of this is the San Andreas Fault between the Pacific and the North American Plates.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows the different types of interactions that can occur when two tectonic plates meet.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. In each cell, use shapes to describe the three types of interactions that can occur at a boundary between two tectonic plates.
  3. Add a title to identify each of the interactions.
  4. Describe the interaction underneath each cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Structure of the Earth Background Information

Earth is roughly a sphere shape. It is made up different layers: inner core, outer core, mantle, crust, and atmosphere. The average radius is around 4,000 miles, and about 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, having an average depth of 2.5 miles. The rocky planet is surrounded by a layer of gases known as the atmosphere. The atmosphere is made up of mainly nitrogen, but also contains oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide.

The core is at the center of the Earth. It is split up into the outer core and the inner core. The inner core is solid and composed of an iron-nickel alloy. It is very hot with a temperature believed to be about 5,500°C. The outer core is also made of iron and nickel and surrounds the inner core. The outer core is under less pressure than the inner core and is in a liquid state.

The mantle sits underneath the crust and is the thickest layer in the structure of the Earth with an average thickness of 1,800 miles and makes up nearly 85% for the Earth’s volume. It is composed of silicate rocks which are rich in magnesium and iron. The mantle is semi-molten and moves. Uneven heat in the mantle causes convection currents means a constant movement of magma: hot magma rises towards the crust, then cools off, and sinks back down.

The crust is a thin rocky layer that surrounds the planet. It is different from the mantle underneath it. It is made up of lots of different types of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. The crust is not uniformly thick and varies from 3-30 miles thick. The thickest part of the Earth’s crust is known as continental crust and is found where there is land. The thinnest part of the crust is known as oceanic crust and is found under oceans. The temperature of the crust varies with depth: the deeper you go, the hotter it is.

The surface of the Earth is split up into pieces known as tectonic plates. The line where two plates meet is called a boundary, or a fault line. The largest of all the tectonic plates is the Pacific Plate which sits under the Pacific Ocean and has an area of 103 million km2. These plates are constantly moving, though not very quickly; they only move a few centimeters every year. They move due to the movement of magma in the mantle; the plates “float” on top of the mantle. Sometimes these plates get stuck and don’t move slowly past each other. This stores up elastic potential potential energy and when the plates slip, this energy is released as seismic waves. If the energy released is large enough, these seismic waves can be very large and are known as earthquakes.

The interactions between plates can be categorized as convergent, divergent, or transform. At a convergent boundary, plates move towards each other. If the boundary is between oceanic crust and continental crust, then the oceanic crust will travel underneath (subduct) the continental plate as the oceanic crust is more dense. If two oceanic plates meet, the denser plate will subduct under the less dense plate. When two continental plates meet, they push up against each other, which can form mountain ranges. At a divergent boundary, plates move away from each other. New crust is formed by hot magma rising and pushing up from the mantle through the space between the plates. An example of this is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Each year the width of the Atlantic Ocean grows by 2.5 cm due to new lithosphere being created. At a transform boundary, plates move past each other. The boundary between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate is an example of this interaction.


Essential Questions for the Structure of the Earth

  1. What is the Earth made of?
  2. Why do tectonic plates move?
  3. How are the parts of the Earth organized?

Other Lesson Plan Ideas for the Structure of the Earth

  1. Compare the structure of the Earth with the structure of another planet in our solar system.
  2. Create a timeline storyboard describing the major milestones of the understanding of the structure of the Earth. (Note: the timeline storyboards will only got back 250,00 years, so you will have to scale it down by having 1 billion years to equal 1 year)
  3. Create a narrative comic imagining what it would be like to journey to the center of the Earth.

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•   (English) Structure of the Earth   •   (Español) Estructura de la Tierra   •   (Français) Structure de la Terre   •   (Deutsch) Struktur der Erde   •   (Italiana) Struttura Della Terra   •   (Nederlands) Structuur van de Aarde   •   (Português) Estrutura da Terra   •   (עברית) מבנה כדור הארץ   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) هيكل الأرض   •   (हिन्दी) पृथ्वी की संरचना   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Структура Земли   •   (Dansk) Jordens Struktur   •   (Svenska) Jordens Struktur   •   (Suomi) Maapallon Rakenne   •   (Norsk) Jordens Struktur   •   (Türkçe) Dünyanın Yapısı   •   (Polski) Struktura Ziemi   •   (Româna) Structura Pământului   •   (Ceština) Struktura Země   •   (Slovenský) Štruktúra Zeme   •   (Magyar) A Föld Felépítése   •   (Hrvatski) Struktura Zemlje   •   (български) Структура на Земята   •   (Lietuvos) Žemės Struktūra   •   (Slovenščina) Struktura Zemlje   •   (Latvijas) Zemes Struktūra   •   (eesti) Maa Struktuur