Plate tectonics model using an orange

Plate Tectonics

This hands-on science activity is designed to teach students who are blind or visually impaired about tectonic plates.


To create a model of tectonic plates for students who are blind or visually impaired

Background Information:

The discovery that the Earth’s outer crust consisted of plates led to the study of plate tectonics. Scientists now know that the Earth surface consists of a number of rigid but moving pieces called plates. In this activity students can experience how the plates fit around the round surface of the Earth, as modeled by at skin of the orange.



two round orangesSelect relatively round oranges that will peel easily.  All safety rules for lab need to followed including wearing of eye protection and lab aprons. Students may wish to wear gloves so that the citric acid does not sting. For students with limited hand skills, someone else can do the peeling.



1. Put on safety goggles, aprons, and plastic gloves.

googles, aprons, and gloves on a table

2. Examine the globe, then the orange.

student examines globe

3. Working over a tray to contain any pieces as they fall or juice, peel the orange without the use of a knife. Try to make the pieces as large as possible; about 4 to 5 pieces would be ideal!

peeled orange with pieces

4. Place peeled orange on a clean tray.

peeled orange on tray

5. Arrange the pieces on the clean tray. Compare the shape of the orange to the individual pieces. Each piece represents a plate of the Pangaea. Earth actually has both large and small plates, with about 12 major ones.

orange and peel arranged on tray

6. Place the peel back onto the orange securing the “plates” with tooth picks, if needed. Notice the boundaries between each of the pieces. These cracks are called fault lines where the plates may rub against each other or move apart from one another.

orange with toothpicks stuck inside

7. Cover the orange with a thin layer of play dough or clay representing the layers of soil or water covering the plates on the actual Earth. Compare to the model of the globe.

using clay to cover the orange


Additional follow up activities to use in a unit on Pangaea:pieces of map showing movement of plates

Teacher preparation:


cK-12 Foundation, Palo Alto California.  cK-12 community site, Earth Science, 2014.

NGSS Standard:

Plate tectonics and large-scale system interactions
Grades 6-8
Plate tectonics is the unifying theory that explains movements of rocks at Earth’s surface and geological history. Maps are used to display evidence of plate movement.

By Kate Fraser

tectonics collage


Read this post in Arabic: لصفائح التكتونية

By Kate Fraser

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