Monday, October 10, 2011

Unit Resource Portfolio: Volcanoes and Plate Tectonics

Volcanoes and Tectonic Plate Movement:
What is up with the Earth?

I. Introduction

In this post you will find websites, books, assessment guides, foldable
resources and lesson plans for teaching fifth graders about volcanoes. This post explores the background of what makes volcanoes, such as layers of the earth's crust, what and where are the tectonic plates, how do they move, how does this impact volcanoes, how lava is made, where lava is made, what are the different kind of volcanoes, where are volcanoes found and how volcanoes affect the earth.

A. The Virginia Standards of Learning for this section are:
5.7 The student will investigate and understand how Earth’s surface is constantly changing. Key concepts include
d) the basic structure of Earth’s interior;
e) changes in Earth’s crust due to plate tectonics.

B. The Virginia Curriculum Framework for SOL 5.7 are:
  • Scientific evidence indicates that Earth is composed of four concentric layers — crust, mantle, outer core, and inner core — each with its own distinct characteristics. The outer two layers are composed primarily of rocky material. The innermost layers are composed mostly of iron and nickel. Pressure and temperature increase with depth beneath the surface.
  • Earth’s thermal energy causes movement of material within Earth. Large continent-size blocks (plates) move slowly about Earth’s surface, driven by that thermal energy.
  • Geological features in the oceans (including trenches and mid-ocean ridges) and on the continents (mountain ranges, including the Appalachian Mountains) are caused by current and past plate movements.
  • Most earthquakes and volcanoes are located at the boundaries of the plates (faults). Plates can move together (convergent boundaries), apart (divergent boundaries), or slip past each other horizontally (transform boundaries, also called strike-slip or sliding boundaries).

To teach these ideas, we begin with the basic layers of the earth's crust and how they affect volcanoes, we then move on to what are tectonic plates, what do they do and how do they impact volcanoes, then we go to what is a volcano made of and why do some have lava and some don't, then we describe the different kinds of volcanoes and where they are, then we go to the locations of volcanoes and how these are directly a result of tectonic plate movement. Finally, we discuss where volcanoes are going, where new eruptions may be and why.

C. The basic vocabulary for this section is:

1) Convection currents-a circular current caused by the difference in temperatures from the bottom to the top of the mantle. It is because of these currents that the plates of the Earth have moved in the past and are moving today. These plate movements cause earthquakes, mountain building, and volcanism.
2) Eruption-When magma and gas from under a volcano reaches the Earth's surface.
3) Fault-Cracks or fractures in the earth's crust.
a)Types of movement at faults
  • Convergent -A boundary in which two plates collide causing
    1) immense mountain building (Ex: Indian plate and the Eurasian plate forming the Himalayan Mountains) and
    2) one plate riding above the other driving the thinner denser plate down into the mantle creating a subduction zone.
  • Divergent -A boundary in which two plates are separating. The two plates are moving in opposite directions and as they spread apart magma fills the void causing the formation of new crust. Divergent boundaries cause the oceans to spread apart while convergent boundaries cause the oceans to shrink.
  • Transform -A boundary in which two plates scrape and slide past each other. Transform boundaries are like tears in the Earth's crust. An example is the San Andreas Fault in California.
    4) Geologist-Scientist who studies the Earth.
    5) Lava-What magma is called when it flows on the earth's surface, can be a liquid or cooled to solid rock.
    6) Layers of the earth
    a) Inner core-860 mile thick layer which is a ball of solid metal, nickel and iron at the center of the earth.b) Outer core-1400 mile thick layer which is mixture of melted rock and iron.c) Mantle-middle layer of earth made of flowing rock that is 1800 miles thick.d) Crust-Earth's rocky outer layer. It is 2-5 miles thick under the ocean and 5-25 miles thick on land.

    7) Magma-hot, melted rock below the earth's surface.
    8) Magma chamber-a huge space under a volcano, filled with hot melted rock.
    9) Mid-ocean ridges-Formed at a divergent plate boundary. The world’s longest continuous mountain range over 40,000 miles long. Where the two plates separate lava fills the void causing new crust to be produced. Mid-ocean ridges are ocean spreading zones.
    10) Pangaea-Super continent 250 million years ago. The seven continents were all connected together into one huge land mass.

    11) Pyroclastic flow-pyroclastic flow is a fluidized mixture of solid to semi-solid fragments and hot, expanding gases that flows down the sides of a volcano. These awesome features are heavier-than-air emulsions that move much like a snow avalanche, except that they are fiercely hot, contain toxic gases, and move at phenomenal, hurricane-force speeds. They are the most deadly of all volcanic phenomena.

    Weather Whiz Kids. (2011). [Picture of pyroclastic flow from a stratovolcano]. Weather Whiz Kids: Information on Volcanoes. Retrieved from

    12) Pacific Ring of fire-an area of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions encircling the basin of the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 50% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes. Ninety percent of the world's earthquakes and 81% of the world's largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire.

    Weather Whiz Kids. (2011). [Map of Pacific Ring of Fire around Pacific Ocean] Weather Whiz Kids: Information on Volcanoes. Retrieved from

    13) Subduction zone-Formed at a convergent plate boundary. One plate is lighter and thicker than the other causing the thinner denser plate to be driven down into the mantle. Subduction zones are areas of the world in which high amounts of earthquakes and volcanism is present. Subduction zones are ocean shrinking zones.
    14) Tectonic plate-Areas where the earth’s crust has combined with the fluid upper part of the mantle that have formed 12 huge plates that are moving at a very slow pace across the surface of the earth.
    15) Trenches-Form at subduction zones. They are the deepest part of the oceans and the lowest points on the crust of the Earth.
    16) Volcano-mountains that emit hot gases and melted rock from deep within the earth.
    a) Dormant volcano-volcano that has not erupted for a long time but may erupt in the future. 
    b) Types of volcanoes
    • Stratovolcano-Classic cone shaped volcano that are formed in subduction zones, the place where two tectonic plates meet and where the heavier oceanic plate slides beneath the lighter continental plate, such as Mount St. Helens. Also called a composite volcano.
    • Rift Volcano-Volcano caused when two tectonic plates slide away from each other, creating an opening in the crust that allows magma to flow to the surface, such as Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
    • Hot Spot Volcano-These occur within a tectonic plate instead of at its edges are look like holes punched in the middle of a pie crust, such as Mount Kilauea in Hawaii. Also called shield volcanoes.
    • Cinder Cone-small volcano with steep sides and a cylindrical shape built from ejected rock fragments.

    II. Instructional Plan

    Below is a set of 10 lesson plans to use for exploring the world of plate tectonics and volcanoes. They include activities, handouts and foldables. The lessons are sequential for ease of use.

    A. Day 1-Layers of the Earth
    This lesson discusses the four layers of the Earth: the crust, the mantle, the outer core and the inner core. The lesson also covers the contents of the layers. It discusses how within the mantle there is a fluid outer mantle and a more hard inner mantle. The fluid outer mantle and the earth's crust make up a layer called the lithosphere. The lithosphere is broken into 12 plates that move on top of the harder inner mantle and are the basis for the theory of plate tectonics. The students will use a hands-on activity with and apple to better understand the layers of the Earth.
    1) What are the four layers of the Earth?
    2) Identify the main minerals each layer is made of?
    3) How did scientists determine there were four layers in the earth?
    Links to lesson information and hands-on activity
    B. Day 2-Pangaea to the Present
    This lesson takes students on a historical carpet ride through millions of years of plate movement. Utilizing the concept of the lithosphere, it introduces the concept of continental drift and what may happen in the future with the continents. It also contains a hands-on activity to have the students make the movement of the continents themselves.
    1) Demonstrate how the Earth's plates have moved.
    2) Describe the processes that cause plate movement.

    Links to lesson

    C. Day 3-How and why do tectonic plates move?
    Students take the historical lesson of day 2 and see how it works today as the tectonic plates are continuing to move around the earth. Students will learn about the engine that drives plate movement, convection currents in the mantle, and will see the results of different types of plates colliding with, moving away from and sliding next to each other. Also included with this lesson is a Earth map foldable which opens to show where the tectonic plates are on the Earth.

    1) Become familiar with and be able to demonstrate the process of folding;
    2) Become familiar with the process of convection current movement in the asthenosphere;
    3) Become familiar with processes that produce convergent, divergent, and transform plate boundaries.

    Links to lesson
    a) Informational session for students on plate movement.
    b) Questions for Students after review of plate movement section.

    D. Day 4-How to enjoy plate tectonics as a snackfood.
    Students use snackfoods to create a model of plate tectonics. Using icing as the hard mantle layer(asthenosphere), students move thinner oceanic plates of fruit roll-ups into harder continental plates of graham crackers. Students explore all of the boundaries that exist in the Earth and have a snack in the process.

    • Students learn how Earth's tectonic plates (lithosphere) ride atop the slow flowing asthenosphere layer.
    • Students understand how plates interact at their boundaries.

    Links to Lesson Plan

    E. Day 5-How are volcanoes created?
    This lesson gives the historic background of the word "volcano" and where some of the oldest volcanoes in the world are. It also details the three ways a volcano can form, how geologists can predict eruptions and discussion questions for the unit. When you are finished with this review, test the students’ knowledge with a baseball game where students move around the bases if they know the answers to the volcano questions. I have attached a set of questions and answers.


    1) Become familiar with the 3 ways that volcanoes form;
    2) Become familiar with legends and myths associated with volcanoes;
    3) Become familar with and be able to use vocabulary associated with volcanism

    Links to the lesson

    F. Day 6-Volcano Experiment Day
    At the midway point of this unit, a few experiments will break up the teaching. Below, I have included two experiments that teachers can use to demonstrate the concepts used in the lessons from the previous days. Students will be creating two volcanoes, an erupting volcano and a lava dome volcano.

    1) To have the students understand the relationship gases have to an eruption, i.e. the more gases the bigger the eruption.
    2) Observe and understand that eruptions of lava can also occur slowly and stop and start.

    Links to the Lesson
    a) Materials and experiment for two types of lava explosions.

    G. Day 7-Understanding lava flows-Cake Batter Experiment
    This lesson takes the concept of lava that students learned about in lesson 4 and demonstrates how lava works. Students form data tables to catalog the differing measurements of lava flow based on content and angle.

    1) To understand some of the geological processes and the structures that form as lava flows across planetary landscapes by using cake batter as an analog for lava.

    Links to Lesson

    H. Day 8-Volcano Vocabulary
    This lesson goes through a diagram of a volcano, outlining each key part. It also gives real pictures of volcanoes with these attributes.

    1) Become familiar with the processes and concepts that create and build volcanoes;
    2) Become familiar with the vocabulary terms associated with volcanic processes;
    Links to Lesson

    I. Day 9-Lava flows and Pyroclasts
    Presentation demonstrating lava flows and what come out of volcanic eruptions into the air. Lesson is a reemphasis on the prior lessons of what comprises a volcano and volcano vocabulary. However, this lesson is focused on what is left after the lava flow or pyroclast explosion.

    1) Become familiar with the processes and concepts that create and build volcanoes;
    2) Become familiar with the terms associated with volcanic processes;
    3) Become familiar with the vocabulary associated with the structure of a volcano.

    Links for Lesson

    Day 10-Volcanologist Emergency Day

    This is a great wrap-up to your volcano unit. This lesson has the students being volcanologists during a world volcano crisis. A large Indonesian volcano has just had the worst eruption ever recorded and three other critical volcanoes in the world, Mt. Pinatubo, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Vesuvius have also re-erupted. Their task from the President is to go to four erupting volcanoes around the world to report back on their findings.


    1. Volcanic eruptions that take place near populated areas can be disastrous.
    2. The level of destruction caused by a volcanic eruption depends on several factors, including the kind of volcano eruption and the speed at which the lava or ash flows.
    3. Volcanic eruptions can often be predicted.
    4. Measures can be taken to help people cope with the disaster of a volcanic eruption.

    Links to Lesson

    III. Foldable Resources
    A. Foldable with map of Earth that opens to Tectonic Plate map of Earth. Also contains plate tectonic facts on either side of tectonic map. See Lesson 3.
    B. Set of definitions and answers for Volcano baseball fact game. See Lesson 4.

    IV. Literature Connections

    A. An Island Grows. By Lola M. Schaefer. Illus. by Cathie Felstead. 2006. 31p. Greenwillow Books, (978-0-06-623931-6). Gr. 3-5.
    Beautifully illustrated book vividly describing an island being created from a volcano. Simplistic poetry style with an informational section at the end of the book.

    Earth's Crust. by Conrad J. Storad. Illus. by Laura Westlund. 2007. 48 p. Learner Publication Company, (978-0-8225-5944-3). Gr. 4-5.
    Excellent informational basic text with pictures and illustrations of volcanoes, magma, layers of the earth's crust and easy to
    read descriptions of how the Earth's crust works.

    C. Jump into Science: Volcano! By Ellen J. Prager. Illus. by Nancy Woodman. 2001. 31p. National Geographic Society, (978-1-4263-0091-2). Gr. 4-6.
    How do volcanoes erupt? What is lava and what happens when it cools? Where are the world's biggest volcanoes? Just stay cool—and let Volcano Vulcan, Dragon Explorer, take you around the hot-spots!

    D. The Magic School Bus Blows its Top: A Book About Volcanoes! By Gail Herman. Illus. by Bob Ostrom. 1989. 40p. Scholastic Press, (978-0590407601). Gr. 2-5.
    Cole and Degen have struck at the core once again to produce an exciting, attractive, and informative science book for young readers. This time, it's to the center of the earth. Surprises abound through each strata down to the very inner core where it is hot, hot, hot. The class collects rock samples before the bus is expelled from the earth's core in a volcanic eruption. A tongue-in-cheek section at the end discusses the real and fantasy aspects of the book.

    E. Volcano-National Geographic Nature Library. By Catherine H. Howell. 2001. 60p. National Geographic Society, (0-7922-7580-2). Gr. 4-7.
    Vivid book with good explanat
    ions of what is a volcano? and where they occur. Amazing pictures of active and dormant volcanoes with discussions of what may be yet to come.

    F. Volcano!: The 1980 Mount St. Helens Eruption. (Extreme Disasters That Changed America). By Gail B. Riley. 2006. 32p. Bearport Publishing Co., Inc., (978-1597160728). Gr. 4-6.
    Story and pictures of Mount St. Helens prior to the eruption, during the eruption and what was left after the eruption. Extended discussion of the aftermath of the explosion.

    G. Volcano Wakes Up! By Lisa W. Peters. Illus. by Steve Jenkins. 2010. 30p. Henry Holt and Company, LLC, (978-0-8050-8287-6). Gr. 3-6.
    Book of poems illustrating a day from sunrise to moonrise on an imaginary Hawaiian volcano as told by the things on or near the volcano, such as ferns, roads, crickets and the sun and moon.

    H. Volcanoes! By Anne Schreiber. 2008. 32p. National Geographic Children's Books,(978-1426302855). Gr. 3-5.
    The cool story of volcanoes will intrigue kids and adults alike. Anne Schreiber’s narrative gives readers a little of the science, a little of the history, and a lot of the action. National Geographic photography fires the imagination on dramatic spreads alive with vivid images of lava, ash, molten rock, weird rocks, and steaming seawater.

    I. Volcanoes: Witness to Disaster. By Judith B. Fradin and Dennis B. Fradin. 2007. 48p. National Geographic Society, (978-0-7922-5376-1). Gr. 5-7.
    Informational text on different witness accounts of volcanoes, eye-opening photos and drawing of volcanic explosions in the past, and the damage caused by volcanoes.

    J. Will it Blow?: Become a Volcano Detective at Mount St. Helens. By Elizabeth Rusch. Illus. by K.E. Lewis. 2007. 47p. Sasquatch Books, (978-1570615092). Gr. 5-7.
    Outstanding book for kids where students use a series of clues to solve the mystery of whether Mount St. Helens will erupt again. It is illustrated in an eye-catching way for students and includes experiments to do with every clue. Students will love becoming a volcano adventurer.

    V. Web Resources
    A. Plate Tectonics.
    Superior website related to book on plate tectonics. Site has amazing pictures and explanantions of Pangaea, movement of the plates in the past and how the plates are still moving today. Details the key parts of earth's movement today, such as the ring of fire, the mid-atlantic ridge, hot spots and subduction zones.

    The Magic School Bus: Blows its Top Books and Games.
    This site is a fun romp through the inner workings of a volcano as described in the book noted above, "The Magic School Bus Blows its Top: A Book About Volcanoes!" Students get to navigate the magma from the magma chamber under a volcano to help the volcano blow its top. In following the path, the site discusses the layers of the earth. Once you have conquered the volcano, the site gives the history of volcanoes and other volcanco factoids.

    C. Volcano Explorer. Site from Discovery Kids that has students build a volcano and erupt a volcano. The type of volcano they create is based upon the viscosity and gas settings they input for the magma.

    D. Can We Predict Volcano Eruptions? Website from Annenberg Media detailing how scientists predict when a volcano may erupt.

    E. National Geographic-Volcanoes. Site with vivid videos and pictures of volcanoes in eruption and the aftermath. The before and after eruption photos of Mount St. Helens are worth viewing alone. Easy to navigate for kids and is definietly an attention-grabber!

    VI. Assessment Resources

    A. Assesment for the layers of the Earth. This is a short set of discussion questions designed to determine if students have grasped not only the layers of the earth, but what composes them as well.

    B. Assessment for the layers of the earth and the movement of tectonic plates. These are discussions question regarding the layers of the earth and the movement of the tectonic plates from Pangaea to the present that will assess whether students have grasped the concept taught.

    C. Assessment for how a volcano is created and volcano vocabulary. Good test of concepts taught in lessons 4, 5 and 7. This is the answer key.

    D.Students do cross-section drawing of snackfood experiment. Assessment for Day 4 experiment with plate tectonics and snackfood.

    E. Assessment for Volcanologist Emergency Day 10. At the end of the lesson plan for Volcanologist Emergency, there is are discussion questions and an assessment/rubric for the lesson.

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