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Make Your Own Earthquake: Seismic Waves and the Slinky: A Guide for Teachers

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Make your Own Earthquake:


This teaching guide is designed to introduce the concepts of waves and seismic waves that propagate within the Earth, and to provide ideas and suggestions for how to teach about seismic waves. The guide provides information on the types and properties of seismic waves and instructions for using some simple materials especially the slinky to effectively demonstrate characteristics of seismic waves and wave propagation. Most of the activities described in the guide are useful both as demonstrations for the teacher and as exploratory activities for students. With several regular metal slinkys, and the modified slinky demonstrations described in this teaching guide, one can involve an entire class in observation of the demonstrations and experimenting with the slinkys in small groups. For activities that involve several people, such as the 5-slinky and human wave demonstrations, it is convenient to repeat the demonstrations with different groups of students so that each person will have the opportunity to observe the demonstration and to participate in it.

The web page for this document is: Partial funding for this development provided by the National Science Foundation. Copyright 2006-10. L. Braile. Permission granted for reproduction for non-commercial uses.Please see attachment for full documentation of activities.

Earthquake Engineering Component

Learning Objectives and Standards

Links to the National Science Standards and to individual State Science Standards are available by using this link:

NSES Standard How standard is addressed by seismic waves and the slinky demonstrations, lessons and activities

Many of the activities are inquiry-based (A, B) and provide opportunities for ongoing assessment (C).

The guide for teachers provides opportunities and appropriate resource material for teachers to learn about an Earth science topic that is not likely to have been included in their previous educational experiences (A, C) and includes suggestions for effective teaching strategies (B).

Authentic assessment activities and questions for assessing achievement in learning key concepts are included (C).
Science Content Standards

Unifying Concepts and Processes in Science

Activities provide experience with observation, evidence and explanation, and constancy, change and measurement.

Science as Inquiry

Activities provide opportunities for practice of inquiry and of fundamental science skills (Grades 5-8 and 9-12, A).

Physical Science Standards

Activities explore properties and changes of properties in matter, motion and forces, transfer of energy (Grades 5-8, B).

Activities explore structure and properties of matter, motions and forces, and interactions of energy and matter (Grades 9-12, B).

Earth and Space Science

Activities explore structure of the Earth system (Grades 5-8, D).

Activities relate to energy in the Earth system (Grades 9-12, D).

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Activities explore natural hazards (Grades 5-8, F).

Activities explore natural and human-induced hazards (Grades 9-12, F).

Science Education Program Standards

Seismic wave activities are developmentally appropriate, interesting and relevant, and emphasize student understanding through inquiry, and are connected to other school subjects (B).

Seismic wave activities provide practice with mathematics and analysis skills (C).

Activities provide experience with a variety of materials and resources for experimentation and direct investigation of phenomena (D).

Science Education System Standards Because only relatively simple and inexpensive resources are necessary to perform the seismic wave demonstrations and activities, they are easily accessible to all students.

*Letters in parentheses identify specific standards within the six areas (Science Teaching, Professional Development, Assessment, Science Content, Science Education Programs, and Science Education System Standards) of the NSES.

Material List


Links and Resources


Bolt, B.A. Earthquakes and Geological Discovery, Scientific American Library, W.H. Freeman, New York, 229 pp., 1993.

Bolt, B.A., Earthquakes, (4th edition), W.H. Freeman & Company, New York, 364 pp., 1999.

Bolt, B.A., Earthquakes, (5th edition; similar material is included in earlier editions), W.H. Freeman & Company, New York, 378 pp., 2004.

Earthquake, NOVA series videotape, 58 minutes, available from 800-255-9424;, 1990.

Hennet, C., and L.W. Braile, Exploring the Earth Using Seismology Color Poster, The IRIS Consortium, Washington, DC.,, 1998

IRIS website,

Jones, Alan, Seismic Waves, Computer program for visualizing seismic wave propagation through the Earth's interior, download from:

Living with Violent Earth: We Live on Somewhat Shaky Ground, Assignment Discovery series videotape, Discovery Channel, 25 minutes,, 1989.

National Research Council, National Science Education Standards, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., 262 pp., 1996; also at:

Rutherford, B., and S. A. Bachmeyer, Earthquake Engineering The Epicenter Project Book, Pitsco, Inc., Pittsburg, Kansas, 24 pp.,, 1995.

Seismology Resources for Teachers,, a list of seismology-related reference materials for education.

Shearer, P. M., Introduction to Seismology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 260pp, 1999.

Slinky websites:

Zubrowski, B., Making Waves, Beech Tree Books, New York, New York, 96 pp, 1994.

Copyright 2000-2010. L. Braile. Permission granted for reproduction for non-commercial uses.




Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • NEES EOT (2011), "Make Your Own Earthquake: Seismic Waves and the Slinky: A Guide for Teachers,"

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