By third grade, students can use images to describe Earth’s features, including mountains, volcanoes, and oceans. Models, such as maps, provide an alternate representation of Earth’s features through the use of symbols that students can use to locate, observe, and analyze phenomena. In this lesson, students will explore patterns in the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes as well as land and ocean boundaries across the globe, with particular attention to the phenomena in Alaska and the Ring of Fire.
Grade Level: 3–5
Standard: ESS2.B: Plate Tectonics and Large-scale System Interactions
- The locations of mountain ranges, deep ocean trenches, ocean floor structures, earthquakes, and volcanoes occur in patterns. Most earthquakes and volcanoes occur in bands that are often along the boundaries between continents and oceans. Major mountain chains form inside continents or near their edges. Maps can help locate the different land and water features areas of Earth. (4-ESS2-2)
Two 45-minute class periods
- Students will be able to analyze different media representations to explain the relationship between earthquakes and volcanoes around the globe.
- Students will be able to use data visualizations, such as maps, to formulate claims about earthquakes and volcanoes.
- Students will be able to recognize and describe patterns in the prevalence and locations of earthquakes and volcanoes relative to mountain ranges and to the edges of continents.
Prep for Teachers
Before the Lesson
- Preview the media resources and work through Ruff’s Ring of Fire Travel Guide game and the Global Earthquakes and Volcanoes Map so you can gain familiarity with the content and functionality and anticipate students’ questions.
- Prepare two copies of the Earthquakes and Volcanoes Graphic Organizer for each student for the Explore activities. (Alternatively, to avoid making photocopies, have students use their science notebooks instead and set up the same sections that appear in the handout.)
- Prepare a copy of the Earthquakes and Volcanoes Exit Ticket for each student to be distributed in the Evaluate stage.
- Computer or tablet access
- Alaska Volcano and Earthquake Case Study
- Ruff’s Ring of Fire Travel Guide
- Global Earthquakes and Volcanoes Map
Part 1: Engaging with Earthquake and Volcano Phenomena
(45-minute class session)
This part of the lesson aims to activate students’ prior knowledge and create interest in learning about the locations and relationships between earthquakes and volcanoes. To do this, students will explore the Alaska Earthquake and Volcano Case Study slideshow as well as play an interactive game.
Begin by asking students two questions: Where do you think earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur on Earth? Are there patterns in the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes? Write their responses on a chart and keep it displayed.
Continue to generate curiosity and interest in volcanoes and earthquakes by showing the Alaska Volcano and Earthquake Case Study media resource. Prior to showing it, explain to students that a case study is a way of learning about a broad topic by looking at one particular instance of it. Display the slideshow for the whole class; have students view it simultaneously on their own device, if available. Read the text together. Encourage discussion by asking students to respond to the slideshow questions. Before moving on, ensure that students have understood that the case study is just a snapshot of one small area of volcanic and earthquake activity in Alaska and that there are many earthquakes and volcanoes in that state.
After students have finished viewing the media, ask: What questions do you have about the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes? Add their questions to the chart. Explain that today they will be focusing on the questions related to the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes. Write this question on the board or chart: Where do earthquakes and volcanoes occur on Earth? Keep the question prominently displayed throughout the lesson. Also explain that along the way, they may find answers to some of the other questions.
Inform students that they will play a game in which they explore the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes in the Ring of Fire, an area in the Pacific Rim that has a lot of volcanic and earthquake activity both on land and in the ocean. Ruff’s Ring of Fire Travel Guide game, produced by WGBH, includes PBS Kids character Ruff Ruffman, with whom some students may be familiar. Students progress through the game by using their knowledge and analytical and research skills to distinguish between some accurate and inaccurate information about earthquakes and volcanoes on land that Ruff’s grandmother found when using his travel guide. Students cross-reference information about the phenomena in Ruff’s travel guide with the four sources he used to create the guide. In addition to using and testing their current knowledge about the phenomena, students should notice relationships between earthquakes and volcanoes and interpret patterns regarding their relative locations to each other as well as to nearby mountain ranges.
Students should play the game independently, if possible. Distribute the Earthquakes and Volcanoes Graphic Organizer to all students. Explain that as they play the game, they should use the “Observations” and “Questions” sections on page 1 to record what they notice and wonder about earthquakes and volcanoes in different locations.
Turn and Talk
Break students up into pairs. Have them articulate to their partner the observations and questions they recorded on page 1 of their graphic organizer prior to class discussion. This partner work grants all students the opportunity to express their own ideas and learn from each other in an unintimidating context. Instruct students to listen critically to their partner and ask questions of him or her to ensure they understand each other’s ideas. Ask these questions if students do not provide such details within the course of their discussion:
- What patterns did you notice about the locations of volcanoes?
- What patterns did you notice about the locations of earthquakes?
- What relationship between the locations of volcanoes and earthquakes did you notice? (This question connects to the focus question.) If further prompting is needed, ask: How did your explorations in the game help you gather information about the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes on Earth?
Students should write answers to any questions that can be answered from the pair discussion. Then have them work together to complete page 2 of the graphic organizer; they will write at least one claim based on what they have learned after having explored both the case study and the game.
Part 2: Testing Predictions and Confirming Patterns About Earthquakes and Volcanoes
(45-minute class session)
Students reinforce their understanding of how earthquakes and volcanoes relate and generalize that through a larger dataset. Students continue analyzing the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes on an interactive global map.
Inform students that they will continue to explore the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes using another resource: an interactive global map. Have students work with a partner to explore the Global Earthquakes and Volcanoes Map media resource. Provide each student with another copy of the Earthquakes and Volcanoes Graphic Organizer to complete for the interactive map exploration.
Display the interactive map for the class. Review the sidebar that has the data layers and how to use the map. Instead of describing the media to students, ask:
- What does this map represent? (Sample answers: The locations of earthquakes on land and in the ocean; the locations of volcanoes above sea level; the number of earthquakes and volcanoes on Earth; topography of Earth.) How do you know?
- Note: The data for volcanoes above sea level (volcanoes also occur under water), shown as red dots, includes eruptions from 1900–2016. The data for earthquakes, shown as green dots, includes events with magnitudes 5 through 9 on the Richter scale from 2000–2016. Magnitude 5 describes a moderate earthquake that can be felt and causes damage to buildings. As the magnitude increases, the intensity of the earthquake increases tenfold. For example, a magnitude 6 earthquake is 10 times stronger than a magnitude 5 earthquake. A magnitude 9 earthquake causes severe damage over a larger area and can completely destroy a community near the epicenter.
As students use the map, have partners collaborate to gather information about earthquakes and volcanoes. Have them interpret and analyze the map together and tell each other what they notice. For example, are there patterns in the interactive map that also appeared in the case study and the Ruff game? Do they notice new patterns? They should write their observations and questions on page 1 of the graphic organizer. Also, make sure that both students in a pair have the opportunity to use the interactive features of the map as they work together.
After pairs have explored the interactive map and completed page 1 of the graphic organizer, ask them to review their notes and discuss ideas about the locations and relationships of earthquakes and volcanoes. Instruct pairs to think about the relationship between the locations of volcanoes and earthquakes as well as their relationship to any other Earth features. For example, in addition to noticing that many volcanoes and earthquakes occur along the borders of continents and oceans and that they tend to occur within close proximity to each other, some students might suggest that earthquakes and volcanoes often occur in or near mountain ranges, which also mostly occur along the borders of continents and oceans.
After pairs discuss the observations that they recorded on page 1, they should write additional questions and/or answers to previous questions. Then students should write at least one claim on page 2 based on their work with the interactive map. Inform students that they should prepare to share their observations and claims with the class.
Reconvene as a class and have pairs share their findings. Prior to the discussion, remind students to listen critically to each other’s explanations and to ask questions as appropriate to the content. Encourage them to critique each other’s explanations by asking questions such as:
- What is your evidence?
- Why do you think that?
- I wonder if that's enough evidence to make a strong claim?
To begin the discussion, you might ask:
- Did you notice any new patterns regarding earthquake locations? Volcano locations? Explain.
- How do the patterns that you noticed using this media compare with the patterns you saw when exploring Ruff’s Ring of Fire Travel Guide game and the Alaska Volcano and Earthquake Case Study? Students should be noticing patterns such as:
- Earthquakes and volcanoes occur mostly along borders of continents and oceans.
- Earthquakes and volcanoes often occur near each other.
- Earthquakes and volcanoes are not as prevalent in the interior of continents as they are along continental edges.
- What relationship between volcanoes and earthquakes did you notice? What evidence supports that relationship?
- How does using different media, like the case study, the Ruff game, and the interactive map, help support a scientific claim? (Sample answer: The more evidence you have from different, reliable sources, the stronger your claim is.)
Help students gauge new learning and understand how their thinking has changed by asking them to write their final claim on the Earthquake and Volcanoes Lesson Exit Ticket. You may also choose to discuss and record any answers to questions on the class chart that was created at the start of the lesson.
Observing and analyzing the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes in different media helps challenge preexisting ideas about the phenomena. As a follow-up to this lesson, consider having students apply and expand their new learning. Ask:
- Based on what we learned, what do you think about the locations of mountain ranges in relation to earthquakes and volcanoes?
The interactive map in this lesson includes topography that students can use to locate mountain ranges; they can then compare the locations and prevalence of earthquakes and volcanoes in relation to those mountain ranges on each continent.