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Faults: A USGS Teacher's Lesson

slightly modified by Richard Sedlock from USGS Learning Web

An earthquake is a sudden movement of the Earth caused by the abrupt release of strain that has accumulated over a long time. The forces of plate tectonics cause huge slabs of lithosphere to slowly move over, under, and past each other. Sometimes the movement is gradual. At other times, the slabs are locked together, unable to release the accumulating energy. When the accumulated energy becomes larger than the friction holding the sides together, the sides break free. An earthquake in a populated area may cause many deaths and injuries and extensive property damage.

Geologists are able to estimate the locations, size, and probability of future damaging earthquakes, but predicting when an earthquake will occur is not and may never be possible. Geologists and engineers have identified soil types that pose the greatest hazard to human structures, and are working to design structures that can withstand the effects of earthquakes.

Students will observe fault movements on a model of the earth's surface.

Time Needed
1 or 2 class periods

Materials Needed

Per class

  • Physiographic map of the world

Per group

  • Crayons or colored pencils
  • Scissors
  • Tape or glue
  • Metric ruler
  • Card stock or construction paper
  • Fault Model Sheet


  1. Have students work in pairs or small groups.
  2. Display the fault models in the classroom after the activity.
  3. An excellent world physiographic map showing the ocean floor can be obtained from the National Geographic Society.

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updated January 28, 2002

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