Teaching overview

Learning points

  • Earthquakes are caused by the movement of huge rocks underneath the Earth's surface – pressure builds up and is then released, causing the ground to shake.
  • A scientist who studies earthquakes is called a seismologist.
  • Scientists can predict roughly where an earthquake might occur, but aren't yet able to predict when.

Curriculum keywords

  • Earth systems
  • Geology
  • STEM

5 things you didn't know

How are earthquakes caused?

1. Earthquakes are caused when tectonic plates (the massive rocky plates that make up Earth’s crust) move past each other, causing a build-up of pressure. When this pressure is released, an earthquake happens, which can cause the ground to shake violently.

Seismic waves

2. When earthquakes occur, they release huge amounts of energy, sending ripples across the Earth’s surface in seismic waves. A seismologist is a scientist who uses these waves to study earthquakes.

Gassy lakes

3. Before an earthquake, the movement of tectonic plates can sometimes cause pockets of gas to be released underground. This has the strange effect of causing ponds and lakes to become warmer, and also to smell a bit like rotten eggs!

Earthquake predictions

4. Unfortunately, scientists are still unable to predict when an earthquake is going to happen. They can look at information taken from historical records and geological measurements to know where an earthquake might hit, but not when.


5. The Moon can shake too! Moonquakes are normally weaker than earthquakes, but because there’s no water on the Moon to absorb the energy released from the quakes, the shaking lasts for much longer.

Spark a discussion

  • What causes earthquakes?
  • Why is it important to be able to predict where an earthquake might happen?
  • If scientists could predict when an earthquake might happen – as well as where – how could this help people stay safe?

Explore our resources

Complete your lesson with teaching resources on Earthquakes from Tigtag.

Go to Tigtag

Discover free online CPD for primary science from Reach Out CPD.

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