Continental Drift Activities

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

This lesson offers group and individual activities to allow students to get actively engaged in investigating continental drifts. These activities help students explore the past, present and future of land mass movement.

Learning Through Play

When students are engaged in the learning process, they internalize more information than they would if they were simply passive participants in the process. Studies have shown that getting students moving while learning helps to solidify concepts more concretely than when they are not moving. The idea is: the more senses you can get active in the learning process, the more strongly the information will be processed.

This lesson offers multiple games and activities designed to get your students actively engaged in learning about continental drifts. Some of the activities involve students working in groups, while others encourage individual exploration of concepts. Still, others could be used as group or individual activities depending on your own determination of need or class ability.

Group Activities

In order to get your students moving and actively interacting with the concept of continental drift, these group activities are designed to take up space. You may want to consider doing these activities outside or moving the desks to the sides of the room to leave lots of open space for the groups to work.

Wind Drift

For this activity, you will need a full set of poster board sized continents for each group. Try to have enough students in each group so that each student controls one continent or major land mass.

After studying Pangaea, groups should stand together and hold their land masses so that their pieces form Pangaea. At a signal, the students should drop/toss/twist their pieces toward the ground so that they drift on the air current until they land. The group whose pieces fall in a pattern that most closely resembles the actual current formation of land masses wins. Students may like to play this game multiple times experimenting with the height at which they start, direction of drop, and force behind the drop to get closer to today's Earth formation.

Move It

The whole class can get in on this game. Use brown sheets to represent continents (make sure to use a different sheet for each tectonic plate). Have some students stand on the sheets to form the continents. Other students can stand around the continents and create the tectonic plate movements seen on Earth by pushing the landmasses together, pulling them apart, or pulling them in contrasting directions (such as north and south). What happens as the tectonic plate movement works on the land masses? Which tectonic plate movement causes the most impact on the students/continents? Allow students to swap places.

Activities for Groups or Individuals

You may have a group of students that really enjoy working together or a group that would prefer to work alone. Older students may wish to work individually, while younger students may benefit from group work. These activities can be easily adapted to fit either group or individual work.

How They Know

Scientist's theory of Pangaea is a great illustration of the results of continental drift. But, why do scientists believe that all the land masses were once together? Patterns of both animal and plant fossils show clear patterns of distribution between continents that match up almost like puzzle pieces when the continents are formed into Pangaea.

In this same vein, encourage students (or groups) to use a single piece of poster board to create an irregular shape. Then they should draw patterns on their shape (their own version of Pangaea). After finishing their patterns, they should cut the large shape into seven distinct continents. Swap continental puzzles with other students/groups and see if students can use the pattern clues (fossils evidence) to piece the original shapes back together.

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