The ancient Greeks believed that the sea god Poseidon created earthquakes when he was angry. These days, scientists know that it is the movement of tectonic plates that causes earthquakes. Tectonic plates are huge land masses that float on our planet's molten core like the skin on a pot of boiling milk. Earthquakes can occur where these plates bump or scrape against each other. Middle and upper elementary school classes can complete an earthquake project in one to two hours.
Cover your work area with newspaper. Place the straight edge onto the styrofoam sheet so that it divides the sheet in half. Cut along the edge with the plastic knife, but cut only halfway into the sheet's thickness. Snap the sheet in two along the cut. Each half now has an uneven edge resembling the edges of tectonic plates.
Place the two styrofoam halves back together. Paint a street pattern onto the sheet. Use your creativity to add sidewalks and green areas for lawns, parks and other things. Leave enough space on the street pattern to leave room for buildings.
Create the buildings while the paint dries. Carefully separate the small boxes at the seams so each box becomes a single flat sheet. Avoid damaging the flaps where they have been glued together. Turn each sheet over so that the white or grey side faces up. Glue each box back together so that the printing is on the inside. Decorate each building with paint, coloured pencils, crayons or markers.
Attach the buildings to the street pattern with loops of masking tape. To show what happens during and after an earthquake, slide the styrofoam sheets back and forth against each other.
You can add toy cars, model trees and small action figures to you earthquake diorama.
Advise your students to wear painting clothes. Even washable paints, like tempera paints, can leave permanent stains.