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Earth Science Concepts

Plate Tectonics

Vertical beds
Through crustal movement these once horiztonal beds have been uplifted and tilted. Photo courtesy of Heather Walborn.


Plate tectonics is an important geologic concept as it fills in the gaps to Earth's geologic history. The theory of plate tectonics helps explain the formation of mountain ranges, volcanism, earthquakes and the features associated with active plate boundaries. Tectonic processes shape the landscape and form some of the most spectacular structures found in national parks, from the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains to the faulted mountains and valleys in the Basin and Range Province.

Below are a variety of educational materials to help students gain an understanding of continental drift, faulting, and the processes associated with plate tectonics.


Plate Tectonic Graphics

Illustrations on the Plate Tectonics Graphics page demonstrate geologic processes associated with plate boundaries which includes: fault types, tectonic plates map, fold types, subduction zones, plate boundaries, and hotspots.
Plate Tectonics Graphics

Educational Resources

Learning Activity: Plate Tectonics

Oreo cookie plate tectonics

This fun with food activity uses sandwich cookies to demonstrate the different ways crustal plates move (by Professor Emeritus Robert J. Lillie, Oregon State University). For Grades 2-6. Learn more...

Seven Paper Models: Faulting

Ranger led program

This USGS Open-file Report includes instructions and patterns to construct three-dimensional paper models that demonstrate common faults and associated landforms. For Grades 8-12. Learn more...

Hot Spot


Students learn about the Mantle Plume Theory, plate tectonics, and Idaho geography by experimenting with a map of Idaho. Learn more...

What on Earth is Plate Tectonics?

Glacier National Park

This handout explores the fundamental concepts of plate tectonics and geologic features associated with the different plate boundaries. Learn more...

Fun With Food: Terrane Accretion

Terrane accretion

A terrane accretion is the result of sediment and rocks piling onto a plate at a convergent boundary. This slideshow demonstrates this process through a trip to a grocery store (by Professor Emeritus Robert J. Lillie, Oregon State University). Grades 1-5. Learn more...

Puzzling Plates

Ranger geology talk

In this activity students will piece together the arrangement of several of the major and minor tectonic plates. Grades 7-9. Learn more...


Tour Park Geology: Plate Tectonics

We live on a layer of Earth known as the lithosphere which is a collection of rigid slabs that are shifting and sliding into each other. These slabs are called tectonic plates and fit together like pieces to a puzzle. The shifts and movements of these plates is what helps shape our landscape by forming mountain ranges, transforming the ocean floor, and shaping lands near plate boundaries.

Here you will find a list of parks that share this common geologic theme based on how these plates interact. Learn more...

Geology Field Trip Guides: Plate Tectonics

These geology field trip guides were developed by Anabelle Foos (Professor Emeritus, University of Akron) and focus on parks with unique features associated with plate tectonics.

  • Geology of the Colorado Plateau [82 KB PDF]
  • Geology of Capitol Reef National Park [626 KB PDF]
  • Geology of Bryce Canyon National Park [709 KB PDF]
  • Geology of the Moab Region (Arches, Dead Horse Point, & Canyonlands) [1.22 MB PDF]

Related Links

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Last Updated: January 03, 2017