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Plate Race

A plate race shows the movement of tectonic plates. Gym mats are used as the plates and students represent the mantle below.

Plate tectonics  is a scientific theory describing the large-scale motion of seven large plates and the movements of a larger number of smaller plates of the Earth's lithosphere (crust and upper mantle), since tectonic processes began on Earth between 3.3 and 3.5 billion years ago. The model builds on the concept of continental drift.

Tectonic plates are composed of oceanic lithosphere and thicker continental lithosphere, each topped by its own kind of crust. Along convergent boundaries, subduction, or one plate moving under another, carries the lower one down into the mantle; the material lost is roughly balanced by the formation of new (oceanic) crust along divergent margins by seafloor spreading. In this way, the total surface of the lithosphere remains the same. 

Tectonic plates are able to move because the Earth's lithosphere has greater mechanical strength than the underlying asthenosphere. Lateral density variations in the mantle result in convection; that is, the slow creeping motion of Earth's solid mantle. 

When techtonic plates fail to slide smoothly over, under or along each other, the sudden release of a "stuck" plate causes seismic waves to travel through the Earth's crust and mantle, causing an "earthquake".


  • Model tectonic plate movement.


  • Per Class or Group:
    lots of room to move
    large mats/carpets

Key Questions

  • What are techtonic plates? Where are they located on the earth?
  • What is the theory of Plate Techtonics?
  • How do techtonic plates relate to earthquakes?

What To Do

  1. The objective is to be the first team to move the mat (plate) to the finish line.
  2. Students in each team lie on the floor close together. They should be face up with their arms in the air.
  3. The mat is placed on their hands and they push the mat forward.
  4. When a student at the back no longer has his hands on the mat, he runs forward to join the team at the front end.
  5. If the mat hits the floor, it sets up an earthquake and all students will have to stand up and do 5 jumping jacks. They can then go back to the floor and continue to move their mat forward.

Other Resources

Government of British Columbia | Master of Disaster Youth Education

Prepared BC | Earthquake and Tsunami Guide PDF

Government of British Columbia | Earthquake Preparedness and Response

Government of Canada | Natural Resources Canada |  Earthquakes Canada