No Series: The Continental Puzzle


Common core State Standards

  • ELA:  English Language Arts
  • WHST:  Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
  • 6-8:  6th-8th Grade
  • 1b:  Write arguments focused on discipline-specific

    a. Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue,
    acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from
    alternate or opposing claims, and organize the
    reasons and evidence logically.

    b. Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and
    relevant, accurate data and evidence that
    demonstrate an understanding of the topic or
    text, using credible sources.

    c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to create
    cohesion and clarify the relationships among
    claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

    d. Establish and maintain a formal style.

    e. Provide a concluding statement or section
    that follows from and supports the argument

Download Common Core State Standards (PDF 1.2 MB)

The Continental Puzzle

Lesson Objective: Reconstruct Pangea based on fossil evidence working in a group
Grade 6 / Science / Continental Drift


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. How does the hands-on task and configuration in groups contribute to students' engagement?
  2. Notice how Ms. Garcia circulates to each group and asks questions to push their thinking. How are collecting scientific evidence and writing integrated?


  • Private message to Sherri Devine
@Fauzia, the supporting materials are all listed just to the right of these comments. Let us know if you have any trouble downloading/opening any of the files. Thanks!
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  • Private message to fauzia samreen
where can i get the supporting material for this activity of continental puzzles?
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  • Private message to Tina Pfeiffer
What were the children writing as they were doing this activity?
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  • Private message to martha ryan
I am assuming that the removed materials would explain the chart the kids were completing with the activity? I use the usgs materials already but was wondering how the chart was incorporated. Darn.
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  • Private message to Lisa Martin-Hansen
I have also used this lesson from SEPUP (Issues and Earth Science). My students were very engaged and thoughtfully discussed the major concepts. The video is nicely presented. (So glad you're checking on the permissions!)
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External Resource Materials


  • Great Lesson Ideas: Continental Puzzle with Chandra Garcia

    Garcia: [00:00:08] Hello. My name is Chandra Garcia. I teach fifth and sixth

    Great Lesson Ideas: Continental Puzzle with Chandra Garcia

    Garcia: [00:00:08] Hello. My name is Chandra Garcia. I teach fifth and sixth grade science at William H. Ray School in Chicago, Illinois. [00:00:13]

    [00:00:18] This lesson is called the continental puzzle, and the children use a continent puzzle in order to better understand plate tectonics. [00:00:25]

    [00:00:26] So what’s our challenge for today? What are we going to be challenging ourselves to identify? Armando? [00:00:30]

    Child: [00:00:30] What can rearranging the continent tells you about earth history. [00:00:34]

    Garcia: [00:00:35] All right. The best part about this lesson is that my students have the opportunity to move the continents on their own and see and understand how the continents could fit together in different ways based on fossil evidence, which allows them to actually practice moving them with a greater understanding of how they can move over time. [00:00:50]

    [00:00:50] So what do we see on a world map? When you look at a world map, what do we call those big land masses? What do we call those? Tyler? [00:00:56]

    Child: [00:00:57] Continents. [00:00:58]

    Garcia: [00:00:58] Continents and how many continents do we have? Christopher. [00:01:03]

    Child: [00:01:03] Seven. [00:01:03]

    Garcia: [00:01:03] Seven, we have seven. And we had Europe and Asia put together, right, for Eurasia. Yes? If you look at the map, we have all seven continents, and this is kind of the way they’ve been laid out your whole life, right? What if I were to tell you that they didn’t always sit in these positions? What do you think about that Mr. Jackson? [00:01:23]

    Child: [00:01:24] There was some [inaudible 01:24] moved all the continents—which moved all the continents and they used to be like together into one big land form, and they also merged 01:32.

    Garcia: [00:01:33] Interesting. All right. So we’re going to take a look at that today in your groups. [00:01:36]

    [00:01:36] The students began by examining the world map; talking about what a continent is and the difference between a continent and a country. They were then given a zippy bag that has all of the continents and a piece for India, and they worked together in groups to analyze the fossil evidence recorded on each one of the continent pieces to put the continents back together so that they can form the super continent of Pangaea. [00:01:57]

    Garcia: [00:01:57] Wouldn’t it make sense that he would be there? [00:01:58]

    Child: [00:01:59] But isn’t that India? [00:02:00]

    Garcia: [00:02:00] Yes. Oh that’s an interesting choice. Why did we put India there? [00:02:03]

    Child: [00:02:04] Oh we still got India in that spot. Yeah the world shifts. [00:02:06]

    Garcia: [00:02:06] Well does India necessarily going to be in the exact same place that it is in present day? [00:02:10]

    [00:02:10] The wild card in the continent puzzle is actually the country of India because it originally looks like it fits into the Eurasian continent, when in actuality it would go much further south and hook to Antarctica and South America. So it really makes them analyze the fossil evidence for placement of the continents as opposed to where they would fit best. [00:02:27]

    Child: [00:02:27] Now I know what happened. Okay so they were like drifting off into the ocean. They were both on the same layer, right? And the continent just landed there. [00:02:38]

    Garcia: [00:02:39] In order to do this lesson successfully, the students not only have to analyze the information that they’re presented with on the puzzle itself, but they have to work cooperatively and explain to each other how those pieces would fit together based on their personal opinions from the evidence that they see. Because we’ve spent a lot of time this year working on how evidence is gathered; and how evidence can be put together in making a cohesive and coherent argument with each other; and listening to all different ideas to come up with a consensus, they work really well at getting to that consensus and explaining to each other why they’ve reached it. [00:03:09]

    Child: [00:03:10] I go 135 million years. [00:03:13]

    Child: [00:03:13] But continent—continents haven’t even gotten formed together. [00:03:17]

    Child: [00:03:19] Right so they probably went back. [00:03:20]

    Child: [00:03:21] No it didn’t come back because this is it right here. [00:03:24]

    Child: [00:03:25] See the stars—[00:03:25]

    Garcia: [00:03:26] I think this is a really good lesson to do with sixth graders because it not only provides them the hands-on ability to move the continents themselves and to see how they could fit together, but to also move them apart and explore different ways that those continents could have gotten into their current formation. Of course, the more kids do things hands on, the better they’re going to remember it and be able to apply it later. [00:03:44]

    Child: [00:03:44] See because Pangaea it’s altogether, and then right now it’s split up. So everything just basically moved like right—[00:03:52]

    Garcia: [00:03:55] Think you should totally try this lesson. I think it’s really fun. The kids love it. It kept 34 sixth graders entertained for at least 70 minutes, and they would have kept going had I let them, and that’s remarkable in spring. So I think you should definitely try it and watch what your kids can learn. [00:04:09]

    [00:04:15] You’re on a great track. You’re on a great track. Keep thinking. Where do you think those plates would be? [00:04:20]

    [00:04:22] So what I can offer you is a scope and sequence for the sixth grade curriculum, and I can also do a write up of how this lesson went and the steps that were taken in this lesson so that you can refer to it if you wish. [00:04:32]

School Details

Ray Elementary School
5631 South Kimbark Avenue
Chicago IL 60637
Population: 737

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Chandra Garcia
Science / 5 6 / Teacher


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