Skip to main content

CNN Student News Learning Activity: Understanding Earthquakes

  • Story Highlights
  • Students will examine the locations of earthquakes
  • Students will investigate why earthquakes occur
  • Students will determine the value of being able to predict earthquakes
  • Next Article in Living »
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN Student News) -- Procedure: Direct students to their textbooks and online resources to learn about what causes earthquakes and the scale used to measure an earthquake's magnitude. Then, organize students into small groups and assign each group one year between 1999 and 2009. Refer groups to print and online resources to learn more about the most significant earthquakes that took place in their assigned years. On a large map of the world, have students mark (with small circle stickers or markers) the locations of these earthquakes. Based on their observations, have students make hypotheses about why earthquakes occur where they do.

Don't Miss

Next, review with students the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift. Then, refer students to the Smithsonian Institution This Dynamic Planet Web site to access a map that illustrates the boundaries of the Earth's tectonic plates. Have students re-examine their map in the context of what they learned about the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift. Ask: Are there any patterns in the locations of the most significant earthquakes between 1999 and 2009? Does the information that you gathered support or refute your earlier hypotheses about why earthquakes occur where they do?

Based on students' research, have them discuss the possibility of predicting earthquakes. Inform students that, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, "although a great deal is known about where earthquakes are likely to occur, there is currently no reliable way to predict the days or months when an event will occur in any specific location." Ask students to consider the following questions:

  1. What might be the value of the ability to predict an earthquake?
  2. Do you think that the theory of plate tectonics might be able to help predict where earthquakes are going to occur?
  3. What information do you think that scientists would need to predict earthquakes?
  4. Aside from making predictions, what are some other things that experts can do to help prepare people in the most earthquake-prone communities?
  5. How do you think that you would prepare for an earthquake if the area in which you live is prone to this type of natural disaster?

Correlated Standards

Earth and Space Science

Understands the concept of plate tectonics (e.g., the outward transfer of the Earth's internal heat and the action of gravitational forces on regions of different density drive convection circulation in the mantle; these convection currents propel the Earth's crustal plates, which move very slowly, pressing against one another in some places and pulling apart in other places)

Knows effects of the movement of crustal plates (e.g., earthquakes occur along the boundaries between colliding plates; sea floor spreading occurs where plates are moving apart; mountain building occurs where plates are moving together; volcanic eruptions release pressure created by molten rock beneath the Earth's surface)

McREL: Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (Copyright 2000 McREL) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) (, 2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500, Aurora, CO 80014

National Science Education Standards

Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science

As a result of their activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop an understanding of

* Energy in the earth system
* Geochemical cycles
* Origin and evolution of the earth system
* Origin and evolution of the universe

The National Science Education Standards ( are published by the National Academies Press (



earthquake, epicenter, aftershocks, faults, theory, plate tectonics, continental drift, seismology

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print