Have you ever thought about what’s underneath what you are standing on? Learn about what plate tectonics are and how they cause earthquakes, volcanoes and even mountains to form. Make an easy and yummy plate tectonics model with frosting and cookies. Edible science has to be the best way to explore geology!
Learn About Plate Tectonics
How can you learn about something you can’t even see? Build a plate tectonics model, of course! Even better this simple plate tectonics model uses materials you can eat! And, it is a fun and easy way to explore how plates move and cause volcanoes and earthquakes.
Just one of many fun geology activities for kids!
Our science activities are designed with you, the parent or teacher, in mind. Easy to set up, quick to do, most activities will take only 15 to 30 minutes to complete and are heaps of fun. Plus, you don’t need a ton of specialty pieces.
You can use this simple model below for an earth science project or as a hands-on 3D model to develop understanding of what happens beneath the earth’s surface.
What Are Tectonic Plates?
Tectonic plates are large pieces of the Earth’s crust that move around on the planet’s surface. The crust is the thin cool hard layer that is the outer most layer of the earth. Learn more about the layers of the Earth.
The plates are made up of different types of rock and are located below the Earth’s surface. They float on the semi-liquid mantle layer of the Earth.
How Many Tectonic Plates Are There?
The idea of continental drift, that continents and other land masses move based on plate-like arrangements below the earth’s crust was first proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1915.
According to the theory of plate tectonics, scientists today consider that Earth’s lithosphere is made up of a number of large tectonic plates which have been slowly moving for several billion years. The plates move very slowly, about 1 to inches (3 to 5 cm) a year.
There are 7 major tectonic plates, which are:
- Pacific Plate
- North American Plate
- Eurasian Plate
- African Plate
- Antarctic Plate
- Indo-Australian Plate
- South American Plate
Plate size can vary greatly, from a few hundred miles to thousands of miles across.
Why Do Tectonic Plates Move?
Plates move because of what’s happening much further beneath the earth. Heat from the Earth’s core makes molten rock move in convection patterns.
That means the hotter and more dense material will rise and the colder, denser material sinks under the influence of gravity. The new parts of the plates are the warm and the thin sections, while the old parts are the cold and dense part.
What Causes Earthquakes?
Sometimes the movement of the plates can cause earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural disasters.
Earthquakes are usually caused when rock underground suddenly breaks along a fault. This sudden release of energy causes the seismic waves that make the ground shake. Check out our shaky earthquake experiment!
A volcano is a natural opening in the Earth’s crust that releases molten rock, hot gasses, and steam. Volcanoes are often located on active tectonic plates or boundaries of these plates.
Mountains are formed when the plates are pushed up in big folds or forced up or down in blocks. Mountains are formed over millions of years. There are several different types of mountains; fold, block, dome, and volcanic mountains. Mountains become jagged peaks when they are constantly eroded by water and wind, which wears the rock away.
Edible Plate Tectonics Model
- Paper plate
- Sandwich cookies
STEP 1: Spread frosting onto a paper plate. The frosting represents the earth’s mantle.
STEP 2: Separate several sandwich cookies and remove their filling.
STEP 3: Now add each cookie half into the frosting. The cookies represent the tectonic plates.
STEP 4: Using your hands or a utensil, move the cookies around by pushing them in the frosting.
What happens when you slide one cookie into another cookie?
You can pull them farther apart from each other, or push them closer together. You can smash them into smaller pieces, or even push them on top of each other.
STEP 5: Record your thoughts and observations. What was similar or different to how tectonic plates move?
What Does Our Edible Plate Tectonic Model Explain?
The cookies represent the tectonic plates and the frosting is the mantle the plates sit on. When you push the cookies into each other, you would have noticed that one moves on top of the other. This is similar to the way mountains are formed.
When you smash the cookie into pieces, this represents how earthquakes happen. When the cookies move away from each other, that is called continental drift.
Extend The Learning With Fun Geology Activities
When you finish this edible plate tectonics activity, why not explore more earth science with one of these ideas below. You can find all our geology activities for kids here!
Make your own tasty sedimentary rock to explore geology.
Explore soil erosion for kids.
Grab some colored sand and glue for this fun layers of the earth activity.
Learn about how fossils are formed.
Printable Spring Pack
If you’re looking to have all of your printable activities in one convenient place, plus exclusive worksheets with a spring theme, our 300+ page Spring STEM Project Pack is what you need!
Weather, geology, plants, life cycles, and more!