This week long lesson uses a three dimensional model to help teach the Earth’s layers, longitude/latitude, and plate tectonics. The activity allows students to build a scaled 3D model of the Earth, which they use and interact with to complete activity sheets. The model is constructed using basic materials (paper, cardboard, string, and glue) and can be broken down to fit into a folder. Finally, the lesson is broken into four daily activities, each day focusing on different material. Worksheets and PowerPoints are provided for each daily activity.

  • Students construct a scaled model of the Earth using basic materials.
  • Using the model, students learn about Earth’s layers, latitude/longitude, and plate tectonics.
  • Students develop an ability to visualize and understand geologic processes in three dimensions.
  • This lesson was designed for introductory Earth science (grade 6-9). The goal of the activity is for the students to build their own Earth model and use this model to understand the Earth’s layers and what drives plate tectonics. Students will also learn about latitude and longitude and map projection. The lesson also helps students visualize structures and processes in three dimensions.
  • This activity covers standards based on the structure of the Earth and plate tectonics.
  • This activity starts with building the model. Teachers should build the model first. Click on the links above for model print-outs and instructions on how to build the model. Depending on class size, teachers should have each student or group start building the model. The model is based on 8.5” x 11” print outs, which students will cutout and glue onto the appropriate material. The model will probably take about 2 class periods (50 min) to build. After each student or group has a completed model the lesson shifts to using short PowerPoints and activity sheets. The teacher will lead the students through the activity sheet, using the model as the guide to answer the questions. The activity ends with an overview of topics covered and exam. Students will be provided an overview sheet, which will be slowly filled in each day. This sheet will serve (in combination with the model) as an overview study guide for the students. The overview sheet is broken into four quadrants that represent the four days of activities. Students fill in the overview sheet clockwise.
  • 8.5” x 11” sheets of paper (thirteen).
  • Printer (color or black and white).
  • Cardboard (three 8.5”x11” pieces).
  • Manila Folder (three 8.5”x11” pieces).
  • Glue.
  • String (4 “student” arm lengths).
  • Paper Clips (three).
  • Day 1: Earth’s Layers.
  • Day 2: Latitude and Longitude.
  • Day 3: Rheology and Heat Flow.
  • Day 4: Plate Tectonics.
  • Day 5: Review and Test.
  • It is suggested that teachers give the pre-test at the beginning of Day 1 activities. The post-test of Day 5 is a variation of the same questions and material. Grading of the model itself is highly recommended. Evaluation should include completion and quality of model construction. The checklist can be used as a guide for model assessment.
  • It is suggested that students read the appropriate textbook chapter each day prior to PowerPoints, activity sheets, and overview sheet. All four (PowerPoint, text-book reading, activity sheet, and overview sheet) should take up a 50-minute period each day. Additional time should be allotted if students are required to build and breakdown the model each day for easy storage. This activity is meant to setup concepts to teach plate tectonics. Plate tectonics and associated geological phenomena should be taught in more detail after the lesson.
  • A Glossary is also provided for vocabulary review.
  • Prior to starting the activity students should complete the building of the model. This can take up to 2 full days depending on the length of the period and focus of the students. Each student can use a checklist while building the model. Students should also practice building and tearing down the model before the start of daily activities. We also suggest that each student has a folder or “pouch” to store all the pieces/worksheets and completed model.
  • Two different versions of the model are available: Color and No Color. If you wish for the students to color the model (to show heat flow… etc) print out the No Color version (warning: coloring the model can be very time consuming).
  • The activity demands a substantial mount of materials (although cheap) and groups might be more feasible for teachers with limited materials and funds.
This section describes the topics that are covered each day of the week. Each day begins with a short PowerPoint introducing the students to the material that is being covered. Activity sheets are then handed out and students use the model as a 3D reference to answer the questions. The teacher should demonstrate the activities using the model they built. Below are the daily PowerPoints, activity sheets, teacher keys, and instructions.
  • The students learn the basics of the Earth's layers.
  • Teacher first gives out the pre-test for assessment purposes.
  • After the exam, the teacher hands out the overview sheet for students to keep for the whole week. The students will add information to it daily.
  • Present the provided powerpoint on the Earth’s Layers and Structure.
  • Students should unpack the model pieces and review sheet. Have them build the model.
  • Present the provided PowerPoint on Latitude and Longitude.
  • Hand out activity sheet and have students complete the sheet. They should use the model for reference.
  • Present the provided PowerPoint on the Earth’s Rheology and Heat Flow.
  • Students should work on provided activity sheet on Rheology and Heat Flow and hand it in.
  • Present the provided PowerPoint on the Introduction to Plate Tectonics.
  • Students should work on the activity sheet on Plate Tectonics and hand it in.
  • Hand out models and overview sheets and allow students to study for at least 10 minutes.
  • Gather model materials and overview sheet.
  • Present the provided PowerPoint that covers the test material.
  • Hand out test and provide 10-15 minutes for the exam.

Earth's Layers

Plate Tectonics and Convection

Building the 3D Model
Daily Lessons
Movies and Poster
Lesson Specifics
  • Grade Level: 6-9
  • Time Frame: 1 week (50 minute periods)

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