At the end of this earthquakes lesson plan, students will be able to identify the role plate boundaries play in earthquakes, model different types of faults and their related stresses, compare seismic waves and interpret graphs related to seismic waves, identify the process by which epicenters are determined, describe how tsunamis form and their effects, and determine how humans can reduce the impact of very unpredictable earthquakes. Each lesson is designed using the 5E method of instruction to ensure maximum comprehension by the students.

The following post will walk you through each of the steps and activities from the earthquakes lesson plan.


Objective Introduction

At the beginning of the lesson, the class will do a Think-Pair-Share to discuss the objective.

Class Activity

  1. Watch the video using the link provided.
  2. Draw a square on the whiteboard. Explain to the students that this represents a section of the Earth’s crust. Because of plate tectonics, this block is constantly being stressed. (Hopefully, the students have some prior knowledge of this topic.)
  3. Discuss the word stress as a class. In what other context have they heard of this word?
  4. Tell them they are going to be learning about three types of stress that cause rocks to shift, which sometimes leads to an earthquake.
  5. Draw three simple diagrams using arrows of compression, tension, and shearing.

Student Activity

  1. Based on prior knowledge ask students to match the three stress words: compression, tension, and shearing to the correct diagram.
  2. They can draw and write this in the INB or a piece of paper.
  3. Discuss the correct answers. A-Compression, B-Shearing, C-Tension
  4. Ask them to guess which type of stress is happening at the San Andreas Fault – (Shearing, which is called a Strike-Slip Fault).
  5. Help them make connections between these words and their action; ex. a tension headache might make you want to pull your hair out. Or let the kids stand up and model the movements.
  6. Explain that these are important terms in studying earthquakes.

Earthquakes 5E LessonEarthquakes 5E Lesson

The teacher will help to clear up any misconceptions about the earthquakes. A major misconception students think is that earthquakes are likely to happen anywhere on Earth.

Estimated Class Time for the Engagement: 20-30 minutes


This student-centered station lab is set up so students can begin to explore earthquakes. Four of the stations are considered input stations where students are learning new information about earthquakes and four of the stations are output stations where students will be demonstrating their mastery of the input stations.  Each of the stations is differentiated to challenge students using a different learning style.  You can read more about how I set up the station labs here.


Students will be working in pairs to better understand how stress can cause the plates to move. Students will be using a land model to show the three types of stresses, compression, tension, and shearing. Students will be using this model to make a few observations and to answer related questions listed on the task cards.

Earthquakes 5E Lesson - Kesler Science


At this station, students will be watching a short video explaining a brief introduction to earthquakes. Students will then answer some questions related to the video and record their answers on their lab station sheet. For example: Describe the difference between the epicenter and the focus of an earthquake. What causes earthquakes? Where do most earthquakes occur? Why do we sometimes have earthquakes away from plate boundaries?


The research station will allow students to find out more information about earthquakes. While at this site, students will also be able to create a virtual earthquake in one of four given locations. Students will become seismologists and input data about S and P-waves, also where the epicenter would be located.Earthquakes 5E Lesson


This station will provide students with a one page reading about earthquakes. In the reading students will learn about seismology and the two types of waves that earthquakes produce, P-waves and S-waves. There are 4 follow-up questions that the students will answer to show reading comprehension of the subject.


The assess it station is where students will go to prove mastery over the concepts they learned in the lab.  The questions are set up in a standardized format with multiple choice answers.  Some questions include: Where do earthquakes generally originate? What does the image represent? Which statement is incorrect about earthquakes? Where is the epicenter?

Earthquakes 5E Lesson


Students who can answer open-ended questions about the lab truly understand the concepts that are being taught.  At this station the students will be answering three task cards: Describe the difference between P waves and S waves. How do scientists use data to determine the epicenter of an earthquake? How are plate boundaries and faults related to earthquakes?


Your visual students will love this station. Students will label three diagrams with missing information about the three main types of stresses that rocks undergo at plate boundaries.

Earthquakes 5E Lesson


The organize it station allows your students to organize key vocabulary terms with the correct definition. This will allow the teacher to see if the students understand terms related to earthquakes.

Estimated Class Time for the Exploration: 1-2, 45 minute class periods


The explanation activities will become much more engaging for the class once they have completed the exploration station lab.  During the explanation piece, the teacher will be clearing up any misconceptions about earthquakes with an interactive PowerPoint, anchor charts, and interactive notebook activities. The earthquakes lesson includes a PowerPoint with activities scattered throughout to keep the students engaged.Earthquakes 5E LessonEarthquakes 5E Lesson

The students will also be interacting with their journals using INB templates for earthquakes.  Each INB activity is designed to help students compartmentalize information for a greater understanding of the concept.  The earthquakes INB templates allow students to focus their notes on the three main differential stresses on rocks at plate boundaries.Earthquakes 5E Lesson Estimated Class Time for the Exploration: 2-3, 45 minute class periods


The elaboration section of the 5E method of instruction is intended to give students choice on how they can prove mastery of the concept.  When students are given choice the ‘buy-in’ is much greater than when the teacher tells them the project they will have to create.  The elaboration project will allow students to create a presentation to teach about earthquakes.Earthquakes 5E Lesson Estimated Class Time for the Elaboration: 2-3, 45 minute class periods (can also be used as an at-home project)


The final piece of the 5E model is to evaluate student comprehension.  Included in every 5E lesson is a homework assignment, assessment, and modified assessment.  Research has shown that homework needs to be meaningful and applicable to real-world activities in order to be effective.  When possible, I like to give open-ended assessments to truly gauge the student’s comprehension.

Estimated Class Time for the Elaboration: 1, 45 minute class period


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