Earth science is one of my favorite units. (Mainly because most of the labs are edible.) No, in all seriousness, it is fascinating to see how many light bulb moments my students have when we really delve into the inner workings of our planet. Students have a hard time understanding slow changes because it isn’t something they can witness in their lifetime, so anytime I have a lab opportunity to allow them to grasp a complex concept, it’s a win. Graham Cracker Plate Tectonics is always a hit with my 6th graders, and I’m sure your students will love it too.
What’s in the Lab?
Graham Cracker Plate Tectonics
Grade Level: 6th-8th | Duration: 45 minutes | Content: Earth Science- Plate Tectonics, Changes to Land
Materials: Wax paper, graham crackers, rice crispy treats, water, plastic knives
Academic Vocabulary: tectonic plates, convergent, divergent, and transform plate boundaries boundaries, subduction
Approaching the holidays, I always try to amp up my labs to increase engagement. This snackable plate tectonics lab provides the perfect combination of science rigor and fun. I use a version similar to this FREE VERSION of Graham Cracker Tectonics provided by science-class.net. However, the version I prefer includes the use of a rice crispy treat to illustrate oceanic vs. continental convergent plate boundaries. Google “graham cracker plate tectonics lab” for a variety of different versions used by schools across the country. If you are low on cash, stick with science-class.net procedure and skip the rice crispies.
I find that small groups of 2-3 students work best, but I have done it with groups as large as 5. Again, it depends on your budget and class size. I get reimbursed for any consumable lab supplies I purchase out of pocket, but I know everyone is not so fortunate.
This lab explores divergent, convergent, and transform plate boundaries. I feel like it gives students a more concrete understanding of boundary interactions, the lithosphere, and asthenosphere.
To set up, tear off a square of wax paper for each group. I always spread the frosting for them while we discuss the lab, but if you are brave, you can let the students do it. I usually start with divergent plate boundaries because it is the easiest to “reset” the frosting.
Then I move on to the two different convergent plate boundary activities. We re-spread the frosting asthenosphere, and demonstrate the convergence of oceanic crust and continental crust using the graham cracker (oceanic) and rice crispy treat (continental). Don’t forget to talk about subduction! Next we do the messiest part when two continental crusts converge.
Teacher Tip: DON’T LET STUDENTS DIP THE CRACKERS IN TOO FAR OR FOR TOO LONG. Trust me, it gets messy.
The last phase of this is the transform boundary. My students always have the most difficulty with this, as they are not coordinated enough to push and slide at the same time. Don’t despair if they don’t all get it right. At least one group should be successful, and you can just use theirs to show everyone else the intended results.
Now it’s time to complete those lab sheets. What better incentive than being able to eat your lab once you finish?
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