1. Teacher Materials Preparation: Watch both videos to familiarize yourself with the materials and to backfill any information needed for the activity.

2. Preset Activity: Familiarize students with tectonic plate boundaries and plate movements through viewing Plate Tectonics (5:47) then check for understanding.

Have students watch Plate Tectonics (5:47). Then, use what you learned in the Plate Tectonics and Volcanic Activity article to lead a class discussion on how Earth’s crust moves and runs into, pull away from, or slides against other pieces of independent crust and how that creates or triggers volcanoes. Next ask: What are boundaries called where plates are stretching or drifting apart? [Divergent] What are boundaries called where plates are moving toward each other? [Convergent] What are boundaries called where plates are in a side-swipe collision? [Transform]


3. Investigate: Utilize the interactive features of an online map to investigate and further familiarize students with the location of plate boundaries.

Open the online interactive map. Next, have students find and click on each of the boundary types (convergent, divergent, and transform) represented. Encourage them to notice the terrain of the land near the boundaries as they click on each type. Ask: What do you generally notice about the terrain near the convergent boundaries? Divergent? Transform?

4. Build Knowledge: Access a new interactive map layer provided to add to student knowledge of the location of volcanoes relative to plate boundaries.

Have students turn on the Volcanoes map layer. Ask them to click on different plate boundaries to see summary graphs of the types of volcano/es that occur within 402 kilometers (250 miles) of each boundary. Next, instruct students to drag their map or use the search tool to view and click on the plate boundary that runs along the Andes Mountains in South America. Have students view the popup and graph. Ask: What type of boundary is this and how many volcanoes are near to this type of boundary around the globe? [Convergent] Again, instruct students to navigate to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and click on the plate boundary. Ask: What type of boundary is this and how many volcanoes are near to this type of boundary around the globe? [Divergent] Ask: Why do you think there is such a difference in the number of volcanoes at one type of boundary than the other? [Convergent boundaries have two plates colliding and the denser plate sinking beneath the less dense plate. The plate below causes pressure and temperature to increase and can cause the mantle to melt and magma to rise, causing volcanoes. Divergent boundaries with two plates pulling apart, typically result in submarine volcanoes found thousands of meters below the ocean surface.]

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Analyze maps of tectonic plates to predict the location of physical features.

Teaching Approach

Teaching Methods

    Skills Summary

    This activity targets the following skills:

    Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

    National Geography Standards

    • Standard 17:  How to apply geography to interpret the past

    What You’ll Need

    Required Technology

    • Internet Access: Required
    • Tech Setup: 1 computer per learner

    Physical Space

    • Classroom
    • Computer lab

    Background Information

    This activity, with the related map and data, is designed to enable a one-period exploration with students of plate boundaries and related volcanoes. A National Geographic video and an article are provided for the teacher to obtain a refresher in plate tectonics if needed, and to gather ancillary information. The video is appropriate, short, and interesting media for the students as a preset activity. The map activity will allow students to explore plate boundaries and volcanoes around the globe. The activity can be completed entirely in the classroom or can be assigned for independent student consumption and exploration.

    Prior Knowledge

    • None

    Recommended Prior Activities

    • None


    convergent plate boundary

    area where two or more tectonic plates bump into each other. Also called a collision zone.

    divergent boundary

    area where two or more tectonic plates are moving away from each other. Also called an extensional boundary.


    to explode or suddenly eject material.


    release of material from an opening in the Earth's crust.


    narrow opening or crack.


    molten, or partially melted, rock beneath the Earth's surface.

    map layer

    part of a map representing specific features of a place.

    oceanic crust

    thin layer of the Earth that sits beneath ocean basins.


    movement and interaction of the Earth's plates.

    tectonic plate

    massive slab of solid rock made up of Earth's lithosphere (crust and upper mantle). Also called lithospheric plate.


    topographic features of an area.

    transform boundary

    site of tectonic plates sliding next to each other in opposite directions. Also called a transform fault.


    liquid that is thick and sticky.


    an opening in the Earth's crust, through which lava, ash, and gases erupt, and also the cone built by eruptions.

    Articles & Profiles