In order to develop a solid understanding of how our planet works, students must comprehend continental drift and plate tectonics. This lesson plan gives students a hands-on opportunity to discover this process and research the positions of the continents throughout Earth’s history.
The lesson begins with an activity involving newspaper puzzles. Either as teams or individuals, students create a puzzle by cutting up an old newspaper. Once the puzzle is complete, students exchange their puzzles with classmates challenging them to reassemble the pieces. Every time I conduct this activity in my classroom, my students are fully engaged and excited about the process. They are eager to use their reasoning skills to reassemble the pieces and take pride in their abilities in creating their puzzles. I typically allow my students most of the class period to complete this activity, leaving enough room at the end of class to reconvene for a class discussion. During this discussion, the goal is to identify the strategies used to reassemble the newspaper and how this process relates to the processes scientists used to develop the theory of continental drift. In order to complete the puzzle, students must use clues from the shapes and the images on the pieces, just as scientists used clues from the shapes of Africa and South America and the whereabouts of fossil remains.
Following this activity, the students discovered the main content of this lesson. They read the comics about Alfred Wegner and convection currents. We examined specific periods, such as the Jurassic Period, and discussed the continents’ locations and the conditions present at that time. All of this information was meant to serve as a foundation for the main activity at the end of this lesson.
To conclude the Continental Drift Lesson Plan, students embarked on a research project based on a specific era in Earth’s history. Their mission was to choose a specific era, such as the Jurassic or Cretaceous, and follow the criteria listed on the rubric. Criteria included researching the climate conditions, the wildlife present at that time and the locations of the continents. To communicate their scientific findings, the students created a giant poster that included a visual representation of the continents’ locations, the information they discovered about their era and a definition of continental drift. When all of the projects were complete, we hung the posters in the hallway in chronological order, creating a visual model of the history of the continents’ motion.
Each year, this lesson proves to be an effective introduction to the concepts behind our planet’s formation. My students develop a lasting foundational understanding of the basic concepts and easily build on this foundation throughout the Earth science unit. Download the Continental Drift Lesson Plan and Activity on this site and on Teachers Pay Teachers.