Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas
Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas

Teaching Earthquakes by MJ Krech
Teaching Earthquakes by MJ Krech

Teaching Earthquakes Packet is available here. Click here for the Table of Contents. The Packet contains over 100 pages of ready-to-run materials covering: Seismic Waves, Richter/Mercalli Scales, Earthquake Zones, and more... The CD of Email-Delivered Packetcontains: Detailed lesson plans & ideas, bellwork and journal suggestions, labs and worksheets with answers, tests & quizzes with answers, active learning suggestions including a Seismic Waves Foldable©, and many Team Game suggestions you can run off on colored paper. Also includes: Seismic Waves PowerPoint & Earthquake Sound Effects! Can be purchased as a Download or a CD. Several items from this Packet are also available below at NO CHARGE!
You are welcome to use these ideas in your classroom, within your science department, within your school district, or to distribute to any teacher who may find these lessons useful. I only ask that:
1. You cannot sell these lessons or make a profit on them in any way.
2. You cite the lessons original source, and do not white-out the copyright footer on the pdf files
3. Do not copy and paste lessons onto your website. A link to the original is to be used.
4. Do not claim these lessons as your own work.
NOTE: This disclaimer is modeled after a couple of my favorite websites: The Science Spot and Middle School Science. Thanks, teachers!
Earthquake Study Guide Introduces the main concepts usually required of an Earthquake unit. Based on Heath Earth Science. You can modify to your textbook. Click here for my version.

UPDATE: I don't do this anymore! BORING ISN'T USEFUL AS A LEARNING TOOL! Make a quick FactSheet with cut and paste facts. Your students will be totally involved in pasting each fact in the correct place. You will see useful, learning-rich interactions between students as they work hard to get it right.  And they remember the facts better! Especially if you follow-up this activity with games, activities, labs--all active ways to reinforce the facts and really make it their own!

Seismic Waves
Parts of an "Earthquake

The basic concept for earthquakes, of course, is the three main seismic waves. I use a copyrighted worksheet which also shows the "parts" of an earthquake such as focus and epicenter, and illustrates the three main waves: P-wave, S-wave, and L-wave (surface). Be sure to teach the difference between epicenter and hypocenter (focus).

Seismic Waves Slinky Demo

Click here for one website that discusses how to demo seismic waves. Basically, use a compressional wave for P-wave, a side-to-side "snake" motion for S-waves, and up-and-down wave motion for L-waves. If you can collect a bunch of Slinkys,  each small group can try it! What fun!

Seismic Waves Skit

Have students act out one of the three types of seismic waves. P-waves repeat this sequence: take two steps forward and one step back; S-waves repeat this sequence: take two steps to the right, then one step forward, then two steps to the left, then one step forward; L-waves repeat this sequence: take a step forward, pause, jump twice in place, take another step forward, pause, jump twice in place. Have the entire group begin at a starting line on the playground or in the gym or hallway. If the students don't "cheat," the P waves should arrive at the finish line first, S-waves second and L-waves third. Good demo of the seismic waves!
Seismic Waves Matching Team Game

Click here for a quick team game, where each team has nine pattern pieces to fit into a puzzle, which shows the main characteristics of each wave.


Once they understand seismic waves, have each team build a seismograph. These should be very simple--able to be set up in 5 minutes. The best one I've seen was a bell attached to the table with a tape recorder running during an Earthquake Drill. Also, groups have constructed Lincoln Log cabins and small Lego villages. I have the students set them up on the class tabletops and run the Earthquake Drill (required by law here in Missouri). During the drill, I run an earthquake scenario and go around and create small, medium, or large earthquakes on each table by moving the tables. Each group should have a "record" of some type, either on paper, or a video or audio recording.

Earthquake Drill

Run an actual drill, whether you build seismographs or not. Click here for my version. CLICK HERE FOR A GREAT SIMULATION SCRIPT!! Read the script aloud to your class. Require your students to get under their desks and listen quietly to your scenario. Be dramatic. Drop a brick into your Broken Glass Container, flicker the lights, have sound effects of the roar of an earthquake, barking dogs, etc. Turn the lights off at the end. Wait a couple of dramatic seconds before turning on the lights. Then have the students get up and sit down. Show a video clip of an actual earthquake right after the drill for maximum effect while they fill out the questions at the bottom of the labsheet. Click here for a great sound effects. 

Epicenter Lab

Most Earthquake Units include a lab that shows how the epicenter of an earthquake is located using triangulation. Your lab can be as complicated as requiring the calculation of distances and plotting several epicenters on the same map using a compass, or as simple as plotting one epicenter. Around here, of course, we use a map of Missouri and plot New Madrid epicenters. Click here for a good place to start. This lab uses the conversion chart commonly found in textbooks and plots only one epicenter.

Richter vs. Mercalli Scales

In Missouri, we teach both scales because of the abundance of primary source material from the BIG Earthquake on the New Madrid Fault in 1811-1812. By reading a diary or letter from someone who lived through the earthquake, they can use the Mercalli-type references to determine the Richter numbers and then plot these on a United States map. And yes--church bells did ring in Washington, D.C.! Click here for my version. Click here for a nice page with both scales listed in relation to each other. You could tailor this to your area. Click here for a nice comparison worksheet.

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Created by MJKrech