A Lesson for Fifth and Sixth Grades
Caddo Hills School District
Marilyn Adcock, Linda Gardner, and Barbara Smith
Lake Hamilton School District
Strand 3 Earth/Space Systems,
Content Standard 1: Students will demonstrate an
understanding of the inquiry process through the study of Earth
and space systems.
ES 1.4 Interpret scientific information from graphs and charts.
Content Standard 2: Knowledge of properties of Earth and
ES 2.3: Investigating how earth’s internal processes affect
external features (volcanoes, earthquakes, mountain formation).
National Geography Standards
Standard 7: The physical processes that shape the patterns
of Earth’s surface.
Standard 15: How Physical Systems Affect Human Systems
Standard 18: How to apply geography to interpret the present
and plan for the future.
The above picture is a replica of a seismograph and its reading signaling the
eruption of Mt. St. Helens. It is on display at the Mt. St. Helen’s Visitor Center.
The reflection of Mt. St. Helens may be seen in the background.
Lesson Plans and Activities:
1. Background Information on earthquakes may be viewed at this
2 Pre-teach: Layers of the earth and tectonic plates
3. Activity: As an introduction to earthquakes, have students perform a re-
enactment of the Online News Hour broadcast of the Seattle Earthquake of
February 28, 2001. The script is located at the following site:
4. Teaching the Lesson: Use ―Earthquakes – Whose Fault Are They?‖ and/or
―Quake Questions‖ to teach the lesson.
Students are required to take notes.
5. Assignment: Write the definitions for the vocabulary words.
6. Optional activity: Word search using vocabulary words
7. Test on vocabulary words
8. If students have access to the internet, assign
Student Activity and Research Sites relating to Arkansas and the
9. Students complete the study guide.
10.Test on earthquakes
Background Information for Teachers and Students
An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the earth caused by the release
of energy stored in rocks. Most quakes are associated with faults, or fractures in
the earth’s crust along which masses of rock move. Movement along a fault is
often so gradual that its only means of detection is by the use of sensitive scientific
instruments. When the movement of rock under stress is sudden, it causes an
earthquake. Energy is released as seismic waves, or vibrations. The waves move
through the earth, causing a quake.
Alaska has the highest number of earthquakes, followed by California with
the second highest in number of quakes, thus causing the state of California to be
designated “earthquake country”. Even though the central part of North America
is seldom considered susceptible to earthquakes, the largest earthquakes in the
Continental United States have occurred along the New Madrid Fault Zone in the
southeastern part of Missouri and the northeastern part of Arkansas. The intensity
of an earthquake and the amount of damage it causes depend on three things: the
amount of energy released, the distance from the epicenter, and the type of rock
found in the area where the earthquake occurred.
Scientists who study earthquakes and keep an eye on active faults are called
seismologists. They use seismographs to measure the magnitudes of
earthquakes. Seismologists also try to answer questions about the size of
earthquakes, apart from the damage they cause. This earthquake measurement is
called magnitude. The Richter scale is used to describe magnitude. A zero or
“0” on the Richter scale means that no earthquake waves are being measured.
The process of plates moving across the earth is continuous. Movements of
the mantle below the crust probably drive this process. Tectonic plates build and
rebuild the surface of the earth as they move over the shifting mantle. The study
of moving plates is called plate tectonics.
According to the theory of plate tectonics, the surface of the earth is broken
into more than twenty plates that are several hundred miles thick. These plates
float on pliable rocks in the mantle of the earth. The plates, carrying the
continents, move and collide with one another due to the currents within the hot,
pliable mantle. As edges of plates move against each other, intense geological
activity such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain building occur. When a
continental plate and an oceanic plate collide, the oceanic plate slips under the
continental plate. This process is called subduction. The continuing motion of
the earth’s crust formed the North American continent and will continue to reshape
Write the definition for each vocabulary word:
Continental Drift Theory
Definition for each vocabulary word:
Continental crust – The exterior portion of the earth’s continents
Continental Drift Theory – The idea that the continents have moved and are
still moving today
Continental plate – The tectonic plate upon which a continent sits
Core – The central part of the earth
Crust – The outer layer of Earth
Earthquake – A sudden, rapid shaking of the earth caused by the
release of energy stored in rocks
Epicenter – The point directly above the focus on the surface of the Earth
Fault – Weak, broken areas in the earth’s crust
Focus – The point of the actual rock rupture
Intensity – The amount of energy involved in an earthquake
Magnitude – The size or greatness of an earthquake
Mantle – The middle layer of the earth located beneath the upper crust
Oceanic crust – The exterior portion of the earth which forms the ocean floor
Oceanic plate – The tectonic plate upon which the ocean floor lies
Pangea – The name given to the single, giant, continental land mass that
some scientists believe later split apart to form the 7 continents.
Plate boundary – The place where two plates come together
Plate tectonics – The study of moving tectonic plates
Richter scale – Numbers used to measure the strength of an earthquake
Seismic waves – Vibrations that move through the earth
Seismograph – An instrument that measures the amount of ground motion
that an earthquake produces
Subduction zone – The boundary in which an oceanic plate is driven down
and destroyed by a continental plate
Surface waves – Earthquake’s slowest shock waves that travel only along
the surface of the earth and produce the most destruction
Tectonic plates – The 12 rigid pieces that the earth’s crust is broken into
Tsunami – A huge sea wave resulting from a seaquake or submarine
1. Most earthquakes are associated with ___.
2. During an earthquake ___ is released as seismic waves.
3. Which state has the highest number of earthquakes?
4. Which state is known as “earthquake country”?
5. A great earthquake along what fault line shook Arkansas?
6. The intensity of an earthquake and the amount of damage it causes depend on
what three things?
7. Name three intense geological activities that result from the movement of
tectonic plates against each other.
8. ___ ___ build and rebuild the earth’s surface as they move over the shifting
9. What causes an earthquake?
10.The surface of the earth is divided like a jigsaw puzzle into giant pieces
called ___ ___.
11.The ___ ___ zone that runs through Arkansas is different from most
faults in that it occurs within a mid-plate area.
12.Approximately every ___ ___ an earthquake is occurring somewhere in
13.Where and when was the largest earthquake in the Continental
14.What is the largest earthquake ever recorded?
15.How deep are earthquakes?
16.Why can earthquakes be so destructive?
17. Because of its geological makeup, a large scale earthquake in the
New Madrid area would create destruction that would cover ___ times
the area as that of a West Coast quake.
18.About how often does a damaging earthquake occur in the
New Madrid area?
19.When did the last earthquake of damaging magnitude occur in the
New Madrid area?
20.A quake of 6.0 magnitude on the New Madrid Fault would likely cause
measurable damage in more than ___ states.
21.When one tectonic plate slides under another plate, what is this process called?
22.How is the earthquake activity in the Pacific Northwest like and different from
that along the New Madrid Fault?
1. Faults, or fractures, in the earth’s crust
5. New Madrid Fault Line
6. The amount of energy released, the distance from the epicenter,
and the type of rock
7. Earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain building
8. Tectonic plates
9. The stress from tectonic forces causes the earth’s crust to break or
move into a new position.
10. Tectonic plates
11. New Madrid
12. 30 seconds
13. Along the New Madrid Fault Line during the winter of
1811 – 1812
14. Earthquake of 9.5 magnitude in China in 1960
15. An earthquake can be as shallow as the surface of the crust to
500 miles deep into the mantle of the earth.
16. Earthquakes can produce a lot of energy, equal to many tons
18. About every 80 years
22. New Madrid: Fault is within a mid-plate area
Pacific Northwest: Fault is along edges of tectonic plates.
NM: Infrequent earthquakes; PN: Frequent earthquakes
NM earthquake would affect more states than those in PN.
NM has produced largest earthquake in Continental USA.
There are web sites that show how seismologists and geologists describe different
types of faults. There are strike-slip, normal, thrust, and oblique, to name the
basic types. However these animations do not show how the crust of the earth is
slowly deformed by slow plate motion prior to "snapping back" during an
The animation below of a subduction zone, where an oceanic plate is converging
with a continental plate, attempts in cartoon fashion to show the deformation of
the continental plate that precedes each earthquake.
Savage Earth: Restless Planet
Get the inside story on why we have such a "restless planet" at this site, which helps students
understand why earthquakes happen in the first place. Have kids explore the action of faults by
clicking on the different animations. You'll need the "Flash Plug-in" to make them run. If you
don't have it, simply load this plug-in at the first animation. Using the second set of animations,
kids can explore the three different types of earthquake waves and discover why some are more
dangerous than others.
NEIC: Current Seismicity — World
Once kids have gotten the scoop on the cause of earthquakes, check out the current seismicity of
the world. This U.S. Geological Survey site gives you up-to-the-minute plots of the most recent
earthquakes around the world. Have students check out the map to see how close they are to the
last big temblor. How do the recent quakes match up with the seismic zones from the first stop
on our journey? Are any of the recent quakes bigger than Magnitude 5? How might a map like
this be used to predict future earthquakes?