Theory of Tectonic Plates Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Dacia Upkins

Dacia has taught all core elementary subjects for 14 years with a Master's degree in Urban Teacher Leadership.

In this lesson, you will learn how the earth and a S'mores are similar! Read on to find out about tectonic plates and how their movement shapes the Earth.

Pass the Plate

Have you ever had a S'mores casserole? It has a layer of graham crackers on the top, then a layer of chocolate, then a layer of marshmallows - all on top of a hard layer of crushed up pecans. Bake this dish and you've got a gooey treat. You've also got something that looks like the Earth's crust! Years ago, scientists theorized, or got an idea based on evidence, that the top layer of the Earth is broken into very large pieces of rock called plates, and that these plates are always moving at a very slow pace. Scientists have named this the theory of plate tectonics.


What Is the Earth Made Of?

The earth is made of several layers, just like the S'mores casserole. If the Earth's uppermost layer, the crust, is like the graham crackers on top of the casserole, the next layer below, called the mantle, is made up of materials like both the melted chocolate and marshmallow layers. The top layer of the mantle is made of molten, or melted, rock. Scientists believe that because those plates of the Earth's crust are floating on top of the mantle, they are allowed to move. The pecan layer of the casserole is like the innermost layer of the Earth called the core. The Earth's core is very hot and pressurized solid metals including iron, which cause the mantle to be in liquid form.


The Earth Is a Puzzle

According to the theory of plate tectonics, millions of years ago Earth was like a completed puzzle with just one supercontinent named Pangea. Because of the movement of the Earth's plates, that one continent broke up into pieces like a puzzle and spread out. Scientists support this theory with evidence from very old plant and animal remains, called fossils, that they have found on different continents, which is like putting the puzzle back together again. For example, as shown on the map, the remains of a reptile millions of years old was found in both South America and Africa. There's no way that animal could swim across the Atlantic Ocean, so scientists believe that these two continents were one once upon a time.

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