The Earth is made up of massive pieces of rock known as tectonic plates. Tectonic plates move very slowly. We call the areas where tectonic plates meet faults.

When tectonic plates rub against each other we feel the energy created as an earthquake. The power of an earthquake is measured on the Richter Scale. An earthquake of magnitude 3 would be very small, 6 would cause substantial damage and 9 would have catastrophic effects.

Small earthquakes can be felt as a slight tremor, but larger earthquakes can cause severe damage, making buildings collapse, causing landslides, flooding and explosions.

If an earthquakes occur under the sea, water can be pushed upwards creating huge waves of water we call tsunamis.


Learning Outcomes

  • Understand that the movement of tectonic plates causes earthquakes.
  • Understand the link between the structure of a building and its ability to withstand an earthquake.



  • Thick sheet of cardboard
  • Straws
  • Plasticine
  • Wooden blocks
  • LEGO




  1. Create several buildings of different sizes using the same materials. Try to build one you think will be able to withstand strong shaking and one you think won’t.
  2. Place the buildings one at a time onto the cardboard base and shake gently and then more forcefully.
  3. Record whether there is any damage and at what level of “earthquake” the damage occurs.


Remember you’ll need to try to keep the level of shaking the same with each building to make your investigation a fair test.

Extension ideas

Using your knowledge from the investigation build a tower which is at least 35m tall, can hold a 250g weight and withstand 30 seconds of shaking on the cardboard base.

Can you think of a way to create a simple seismograph? A seismograph is used to detect and record earthquakes.