Plate Tectonics: Pangaea- The Supercontinent

Learning Resource Type

Lesson Plan

Subject Area





This lesson is the first of a three-part unit on plate tectonics, which includes hands-on, inquiry-based activities. In this lesson, students will construct a model of continental separation and the ancient supercontinent, Pangaea. After completing this module, students will be able to explain Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift and the evidence used to support this theory.

This lesson presented as part of the Alabama State University, Math, Science Partnership.

Science (2015) Grade(s): 6


Provide evidence from data of the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to explain past plate motions.



  • Evidence
  • Data
  • Fossils
  • Rock
  • Continent
  • Continental shelf
  • Geologic past
  • Pangea
  • Ridges
  • Volcanic ridges
  • Trenches
  • Theory of Continental Drift
  • Theory of Plate Tectonics
  • Crust
  • Mantle
  • Core
  • Lithosphere
  • Asthenosphere
  • Convection
  • Divergent boundary
  • Convergent boundary
  • Transform plate boundary
  • Seafloor
  • Seafloor structures
  • Alfred Wegener
  • Plastic flow


  • Fossils are a trace or print of the remains of a plant or animal of a past age preserved in plant or rock.
  • Rocks are the solid mineral materials forming part of the surface of the Earth and other similar planets.
  • A continent is any of the world's main continuous expanses of land (i.e.,, Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America).
  • The continental shelf is the part of a continent that lies under the ocean and slopes down to the ocean floor.
  • Regions of different continents that share similar fossils and similar rocks suggest that, in the geologic past, those sections of continent were once attached and have since been separated.
  • The shapes of the continents roughly fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, suggesting that those land masses were once joined and have since separated.
  • The hypothetical land mass that existed when all the continents were joined is called Pangea.
  • The separation of continents by the sequential formation of new seafloor at the center of the ocean is inferred by age patterns in the oceanic crust that increase in age from the center of the ocean to the edges of the ocean.
  • The distribution of seafloor structures (e.g., volcanic ridges at the centers of oceans, trenches at the edges of continents) combined with the patterns of ages of the seafloor (youngest ages at the ridge, oldest ages at the trenches) supports the interpretation that new crust forms at the ridges and then moves away from the ridges as new crust continues to form and that the oldest crust is being destroyed at seafloor trenches.
  • Ridges are underwater mountain systems formed by plate tectonics.
  • Trenches are long, narrow, steep-sided depressions in the ocean floor.
  • The Theory of Continental Drift was first proposed by Alfred Wegener and proposes that part of the Earth's crust slowly drifts atop a liquid core.
  • The Theory of Plate Tectonics states that the outer rigid layer of the Earth is divided into a couple of dozen "plates" that move around across the Earth's surface relative to each other.
  • The layers of the Earth include, from outmost to innermost, the crust, mantle, outer core, and inner core. The crust and upper mantle are broken into moving plates called the lithosphere. The asthenosphere is located below the lithosphere. In the asthenosphere, there is relatively low resistance to plastic flow and convection occurs, causing plates to move.
  • The three types of plate tectonic boundaries include divergent, convergent, and transform plate boundaries.
  • Divergent boundaries occur when two tectonic plates move away from each other.
  • Convergent boundaries occur when two tectonic plates come together.
  • Transform plate boundaries occur when two plates slide past one another.


Students are able to:
  • Articulate a statement that relates a given phenomenon to a scientific idea, including that past plate motions can be described with data from the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures.
  • Organize given data in a way that facilitates analysis and interpretation.
  • Analyze the data to identify relationships between the data and Earth's past plate motions.
  • Identify and use multiple valid and reliable sources of data.
  • Use evidence and reasoning to construct an explanation for the given phenomenon, which involves past plate motions.


Students understand that:
  • Maps of ancient land and water patterns, based on investigations of rocks and fossils, make clear how Earth's plates have moved great distances, collided, and spread apart.

Scientific and Engineering Practices

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Crosscutting Concepts


Primary Learning Objectives

  1. Students will construct a model providing a visual representation of continental separation.
  2. Students will construct a model of the ancient supercontinent, Pangaea.
  3. Students will examine the theory of continental drift and explain how the continents arrived at their present positions.


Before Strategy/Engage: 50 minutes (Day 1)

1. The teacher should give each student a copy of the Pre-/Post-Test. The teacher should give students approximately twenty minutes to complete the pre-test. The teacher should stress to students that the purpose of the pre-test is to demonstrate the student’s background knowledge about the theory of plate tectonics

2. After students complete the pretest, the teacher should check students’ answers to determine their current knowledge base of the concepts using the Pre-/Post-Test Answer Key. Alternatively, the teacher could allow students to check their own paper or check a partner’s paper.

3. The teacher should give each student a copy of the Background Information handout. The teacher should allow students approximately ten minutes to read the passage, asking students to focus on the meaning of the vocabulary words in bold text.

4. After students have had ample time to read the passage, the teacher should give each student a copy of the Plate Tectonics Word Search. The teacher should allow students to complete the word search, which focuses on vocabulary words related to plate tectonics. The students will need to keep the word search for the next two parts of this plate tectonics module.

During Strategy/Explore & Explain: (Days 2, 3, and 4)

Activity A-The Continents: A Jigsaw Puzzle (Day 2)

Note: The teacher should set up each lab station before students begin the activity.

1. Each student will need a copy of Handout A. The students should be divided into groups of four

2. The students will complete the procedures listed on the lab sheet and answer the reflection questions after completing the lab activity. This lab will model continental separation.

Activity B-Pangaea Modeling Activity (Day 3)

1. Each student will need a copy of the Pangaea Modeling Activity handout and Handout B. The students should be divided into partners, and each partner group should be paired with another group (four students total).

2. Each partner group will need one set of the Pangaea Modeling Activity Puzzle Pieces (see attached document), one blank sheet of paper, one pair of scissors, and glue or tape. Each pair of partners will share one globe.

3. The students should work with their partner to cut out the pieces of Pangaea and match the pieces together, similar to how a puzzle is assembled. After students have assembled the puzzle, they should tape the Pangaea pieces to the blank sheet of paper and answer the questions found on Handout B.

Note: An answer key is provided for the teacher (Pangaea Map Answer Sheet Handout).

Wegener’s Fossil Evidence for Continental Drift Activity (Day 4)

1. Each student will need a copy of Directions for Wegener’s Fossil Evidence for Continental Drift, Fossil Evidence Puzzle Pieces, Color Key for Wegener's Fossil Evidence, and Figures for Pangaea Puzzle. Each student will also need colored pencils/crayons/markers, scissors, glue or tape, and a blank sheet of paper.

2. Students will color the Fossil Evidence Puzzle Pieces using the Color Key for Wegener's Fossil Evidence as a key. Then, students will cut out the pieces and work with their group members to match the edges of the continental pieces together into a supercontinent. Students will discuss how the evidence matches their arrangement of the continents.

After Strategy/Explain & Elaborate: 50 minutes (Day 5)

1. After all groups have completed the lab activities, the teacher should lead a class discussion among all of the groups to compare each group’s data.

2. The teacher should give each student a copy of Handout C. Students will read ten statements related to continental drift and determine if the provided statements are pieces of evidence that support this theory.

3. Next, the teacher should give each student a copy of Handout D. This document requires students to review the concepts of this lesson in a written response format.

Note: If the teacher identifies that students need additional review before the summative assessment, the teacher may show students the Pangaea PowerPoint presentation to review the concepts demonstrated during the lab activities (see attached presentation).

4. The teacher should give the students the Pre-/Post-Test that students completed as a pre-test at the beginning of the lesson. The teacher should explain to students that this post-test will allow students to demonstrate the knowledge they acquired during the lab activities.

Assessment Strategies

Formative: The teacher will informally assess student’s background knowledge by administering the Pre-/Post-Test prior to teaching the lesson. The teacher should carefully monitor students as they complete the lab activities with their groups to certify that students are correctly following the lab procedures. The teacher should review each student’s Handout A, Handout B, and the finished product from the Wegener’s Fossil Evidence for Continental Drift Activity to ensure that students are grasping the concepts of the lab activities.

Summative: The teacher will formally assess students at the conclusion of the lesson by reviewing each student’s Handout C and Handout D. The teacher will administer the Pre-/Post-Test as a summative assessment at the end of the lesson.


Students can further explore the concepts taught during this lesson by completing the interactive activities at Interactives: Dynamic Earth from


The teacher may provide students with the “Hint for 6th Grade Exercise” to students who experience difficulty in assembling the supercontinent of Pangaea based on Wegener’s fossil evidence.


Total Duration

Greater than 120 Minutes


Student Background Information: As this lesson will serve as an introduction to the theory of continental drift, students do not need to possess background knowledge about this concept prior to participating in the lesson’s activities. This lesson will require students to participate in hands-on, inquiry-based lab activities. The students will need to be able to follow multi-step procedural instructions and work collaboratively with classmates in order to complete the lesson’s lab activities.

Teacher Background Information: The teacher should preview the Teacher Pre-Lab Guide prior to teaching the lesson to ensure that the student lab activities are prepared for students prior to beginning the lesson’s activities. As written, the activities included in this lesson will require at least five class days to complete. The teacher can view the Pangaea PowerPoint for additional background information about the concepts taught in this lesson (see attached presentation). The teacher should review lab safety precautions with students and ensure students follow these procedures for the duration of the lesson.

The teacher will need to complete the following preparations for Activity A prior to beginning that portion of the lesson:

Teacher Prep for each Lab Station (suggested lab group size is 4 students):

1. Measure one cup of Plaster of Paris and pour into a Ziploc bag.

2.  Measure ½ cup of COLD water and pour into a plastic cup.

3. Place these along with a bowl, spatula, stirring spoon, cookie sheet lined with foil, and Handout A at each Lab station

4. The Plaster of Paris will take approximately 30-45 minutes to “set up”.

Alternative activities are provided for Activity A, B, and C. The documents that will be used for the alternative activities are provided in the attachments.

After teaching this lesson, the teacher can continue this topic by introducing the remaining two lesson plans in this module:

Plate Tectonics: Slip, Slidin’ Away

Plate Tectonics: Convection Current-Plates Go with the Flow

Materials and Resources

Student Materials

Pencil or pen


Background Information

Plate Tectonics Word Search

Activity A-The Continents: A Jigsaw Puzzle

Handout A

Per Group (approximately 4 students each):

1 cup Plaster of Paris

½ cup cold water

Cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (make sure sides of foil come up over the edges of the cookie sheet)

Mixing spoon                  

Small Ziploc bags

1-quart bowl                   

Plastic cups


Activity B-Pangaea Modeling Activity

Pangaea Modeling Activity-Directions

Handout B 

Handout B Alternative Puzzle

Per Partner Group

Pangaea Modeling Activity Puzzle Pieces


Tape or glue

Blank sheet of paper

Reference materials related to Pangaea (textbooks, non-fiction articles, etc.)

Per Each Two Partner Groups (four students)


Wegener’s Fossil Evidence for Continental Drift Activity

Directions for Wegener’s Fossil Evidence for Continental Drift

Fossil Evidence Puzzle Pieces

Figures for Pangaea Puzzle

Color Key for Wegener's Evidence

Colored pencils/crayons/markers


Glue or tape

Blank sheet of paper

After Activity

Handout C 

Handout C Alternative Activity

Handout D

For Acceleration Activity: Interactives: Dynamic Earth

For Intervention Activity: Hint for 6th Grade Exercise

Teacher Materials

Teacher Pre-Lab Guide

Pre-/Post-Test Answer Key

Pangaea Map Answer Sheet Handout-“Handout B Answer Key

Pangaea PowerPoint

Teacher Key for 6th Grade Exercise-“Wegener’s Fossil Evidence for Continental Drift Activity”

Handout C with Answers

Handout D with Answers

5 E Inquiry Lesson Plan

Technology Resources Needed

Teacher Technology Resources

Teacher computer

Interactive whiteboard or projector

Student Technology Resources

Internet-capable device (for acceleration activity)

Approved Date