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Volcanoes and Plate Tectonics

free lesson plan and resources about volcanoes and plate tectonics

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  • Students will be able to explain the relationship between volcanoes and tectonic plates.

Questions that encompasses the objective:

  • Why do you think most of the world’s volcanoes are located in the “Ring of Fire?”

Prepare the Learner: Activating Prior Knowledge. 

How will students prior knowledge be activated?

Warm up by asking students:

  • What do you already know about how volcanoes are formed?

Common Core State Standards:









Materials and Free Resources to Download for this Lesson: 

What is the most important content in this lesson?
To reach this lesson’s objective, students need to understand:

  • The definition of a tectonic plate.

  • How tectonic plates help volcanoes form.

How will the learning of this content be facilitated?

  • In this lesson, students will first be introduced to the relationship between volcanoes and tectonic plates through a visual gallery walk. As they participate in this activity, they will make written individual and group observations. Following the gallery walk, students will watch a brief video that more clearly defines how tectonic plates and volcanoes are related and debrief through discussion.


  • To close the lesson, students will be asked to use information from all parts of the lesson to determine why most of the world’s volcanoes are located around the “Ring of Fire;” they will answer the final assessment question independently in written form.

3-5 minutes
Guided Introduction

Review the class/ agenda with the students:

  1. Gallery Walk

  2. Share Out Session/Discussion

  3. Mini-Lesson Video/Debrief

  4. Final Assessment

5 minutes

Mini-lesson: Bill Nye The Science Guy Plate Tectonics Video Clip

  1. Students will watch a 2.5-minute video clip that explains the basics of plate tectonics.

15-18 Minutes

Guided Gallery Walk Activity:

  • After they are given written and verbal procedural directions, students will travel around the room in groups of 3-4, stopping at each numbered station for 1 minute to observe 1 map. They will transfer to the next numbered station as a group when they hear the timer. This will be repeated 5 times.

  • At each station, they will briefly discuss each question as a group, then individually write their answer on their graphic organizers:

  1. Write down one specific thing you notice on this map.

  2. Write down one question you have about this map.

15 Minutes

Guided Mini-Lesson:

Part 1:

  • Students will have a Share Out Session to debrief the observations made/questions that arose from the Gallery Walk. One student will share 1 observation he or she made on the Gallery Walk Graphic Organizer with the rest of the class, and one student will share 1 question he or she wrote with the class.

  • If possible, the question should be answered by other students. If the questions are not answered by students in the Share Out Session, they may be addressed at the closing portion of the lesson.

15 Minutes

Guided Mini-Lesson:

Part 2:

  • Students will watch a 3-minute BrainPOP video on plate tectonics (or one of the other videos). Encourage students to take notes as they watch. Debrief with the following verbal discussion questions.  

  • What is Pangaea?

  • What are plate tectonics?

  • How do plate tectonics affect volcanoes?

10 minutes

  • To close, students need to provide a written answer the following question on the bottom on their graphic organizer. Project the maps of the “Ring of Fire” and Pangaea so students can view them again as they write:

    • Why do you think most of the world’s volcanoes are located in the “Ring of Fire?”

Note: Students should answer (with approximations accepted) that the “Ring of Fire” was created through the shifting of tectonic plates.

  • After all students have completed the final written assessment, if there is time, address more unanswered questions from the Gallery Walk activity. If time does not permit, provide each student with an index card, and ask that they write their most burning question on it. Collect the cards as Exit Slips, and use them to begin the following day’s lesson.


Individualized Instruction/Scaffolding

English Language Learners will be supported in this lesson through data-based heterogeneous grouping, verbal and written repetition of new vocabulary words, and multiple representation of vocabulary words through printed images and video.

Ecosystems, Biomes, and Habitats PowerPoint and Activities
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