Major Tectonic Plates Inquiry Lab

In this lab, students will label the continents on their world map, then students will create a simulation to show how convection currents cause tectonic plates to shift and rise.

Each inquiry lab will contain an essential questions that will drive the lessons and make students think. For this lesson, the essential question is:

  • What are the major tectonic plates found on Earth and how to they move?


Students will begin the lab by reading the essential question and background information.  This can be done individually, as lab groups, or as a whole class.  Personally, I would do it in lab groups and then do some whole class formative checks before digging into the lab.

Materials List:

  • 4 cups of milk
  • 2 cups chocolate drink powder
  • 1 quart clear, heat proof container
  • Heat source
  • Timer
  • Thermometer
  • Major Tectonics Worksheet
  • Safety Equipment (goggles, heat resistant gloves)


This inquiry lab students will simulate how the tectonic plates move, via convection currents. Students will begin by heating up the milk solution and cover the surface with power. Once the milk has reached a certain temperature, students will gently place model plates onto of the powder layer and the convection will start to move these plates.

Students will have to make a series of observations, especially as the temperature if the milk continues to rise. There are certain checkpoints along the way that will require students to document their observations on their lab sheet.

At this point in the lab, students will be checked for understanding by answering questions about their findings. Here are a few that comes with the lab:

  • Why is the Earth’s crust affected by the magma under it?
  • What happens at when plates move against each other?


Students will go back to the essential question and write a CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) to conclude the lab.  Once completed, students will reflect back on their learning by answering the following questions:

  1. What is the plate tectonic theory?
  2. What causes convection currents?
  3. Why do you think earthquakes and volcanoes are found at plate boundaries?


All of the Kesler Science inquiry labs come with three different modification levels.  Each labs is differentiated using the icons below.

Kesler Science Inquiry Lab Modifications


TEKS: 6.10C– Identify the major tectonic plates, including Eurasian, African, Indo-Australian, Pacific, North American, and South American