All About Earthquakes

Learning About Earthquakes
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What Is an Earthquake?

An earthquake is a natural disaster that is caused by the shift of the ground along the Earth's tectonic plates. As the plates push and shift against each other, energy is released causing the ground above the plates to tremble and shake.

Although earthquakes can be devastating, they are also fascinating to study from a scientific standpoint.

They're also very eerie to experience. I've only experienced one small earthquake in my lifetime, but I immediately knew what it was. If you've ever felt an earthquake, you probably remember the distinct rolling feeling that only an earthquake can create.

Learning About Earthquakes

As you and your students begin learning about this natural phenomenon, it's helpful to first get a good understanding of what an earthquake is and how earthquakes work. Use the Internet to do some research or check out books and documentaries from your local library. You might try some of the following books:

  • National Geographic Kids Everything Volcanoes and Earthquakes by Kathy Furgang features dramatic photos and fascinating facts about earthquakes and volcanoes. This book helps kids get a good basic understanding of plate tectonics.
  • Earthquakes by Seymour Simon uses full-color photos, diagrams, and maps to explain what earthquakes are and why they happen.
  • The Magic Tree House: Earthquakes in the Early Morning by Mary Pope Osborne is a wonderful fiction book to include if you're learning about earthquakes with young children. It puts Jack and Annie right in the middle of the action of the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Earthquakes are measured by their magnitude, which isn't as easy as it may sound. There are many complex factors that go into accurately measuring an earthquake. The intensity of an earthquake is measured using a tool called a seismograph

Most of us are familiar with the Richter Magnitude Scale, even if we don't understand the mathematical computations behind it. Your students may already understand that a moderate earthquake is somewhere around a 5 on the Richter scale, while a 6 or 7 is a much more intense event.

Resources for Learning About Earthquakes

In addition to books and documentaries, try some of the following resources to learn more about earthquakes with your students. 

Download a free set of earthquake printable pages to learn about earthquakes and the terminology associated with them. Learn about what do do if you experience an earthquake and how to make sure your family is ready. 

Couple the printables with this guide from the Red Cross, Are You Ready for an Earthquake? It teaches the steps to take to prepare for an earthquake.

Play the game Mountain Maker, Earth Shaker. This activity lets students manipulate tectonic plates. They can pull the plates apart and push them together and watch what happens to the Earth.

Try some of these online games and activities:

  • Cool Earthquake Facts - Read these cool earthquake facts from USGS.
  • Earthquake ABC - This online book presents a child's view of earthquake facts and the feelings that one may experience during such an event. There is also a parent's guide that goes into much more detail to help you further explain the terminology to your children.
  • Earthquake Glossary - Understand more about earthquakes by learning the earthquake terms associated with them.
  • Life Along the Faultline - What is a fault line and what's it like to live along one? Explore the graphics and activities to find out.
  • Candy Quakes - Using a candy bar, gum, and Twizzlers, students will demonstrate the effects of deformational forces on the earth's crust.
  • Did You Feel It? - Select a region tab, then an earthquake from the list to view the map or submit a report.
  • Earthquake Preparedness Coloring Page - If you're indoors during an earthquake, drop, cover and hold on.

Earthquakes and volcanoes often go hand in hand. The majority of each are located along the Earth's tectonic plates. 

The Ring of Fire is a horseshoe-shaped area of the Pacific Ocean known for a great deal of volcanic activity and earthquakes. While earthquakes can occur anywhere, approximately 80% of them occur in this area.

Because the two are closely related, you may also want to learn more about volcanoes with your students. 

Updated by Kris Bales