The series of activities described below was designed to help students develop an understanding about earthquakes in New Zealand, including why we get them and how we measure them.

The world of quakes: Students are introduced to the idea of a dynamic Earth, and they will see where New Zealand fits global patterns. Students take on the roles of seismologists and vulcanologists, using maps to look for patterns in the worldwide distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes.

Plates and quakes: This activity is very similar to ‘The world of quakes’, with students taking on the roles of seismologists, vulcanologists and geographers, using maps to look for patterns in the worldwide distribution of earthquakes, volcanoes and topographic features.

Shaky New Zealand: This activity looks at the different structures of the tectonic plate boundary in the North and South Islands. Students use maps and plot a graph of earthquakes under New Zealand to show the shape of the North Island subduction zone. They compare this to the distribution of earthquakes in the South Island.

New Zealand plate boundary models: In this activity, students make and/or observe two 3D moving models of the different tectonic plate boundaries under the North and South Islands representing the North Island subduction zone and the South Island Alpine Fault.

Earthquake location: Students are introduced to some of the methods scientists use to record earthquakes. They extract data from seismograms to locate the epicentre of an earthquake, which they plot on a map of New Zealand. Students then consider the location and predict possible damage.

Earthquake intensity: Students study damage descriptions from past New Zealand earthquakes and decide on Modified Mercalli Intensity numbers for them.

Earthquakes past and future: This activity looks at some of the possibilities for predicting where and when earthquakes might happen in New Zealand. Students plot major New Zealand earthquakes on a timeline and try to predict the next ‘big one’. They use latitude and longitude to plot the locations of past earthquakes, and relate their distribution to known active faults. They learn that you can’t predict when an earthquake is going to happen, but you can get an idea where they are more likely to occur.


This activity was developed for the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and has been kindly provided for use on the Science Learning Hub.

Published 17 November 2009, Updated 5 February 2013