How to Demonstrate an Earthquake Using JELL-O

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Waves of energy moving through the earth in an earthquake can be a difficult concept for children to understand. Pictures of the aftereffects of earthquakes do not clearly show how damage to buildings happened. A pan of JELL-O can be a simple and engaging classroom model for demonstrating wave motion and explaining how earthquake damage happens. A JELL-O earthquake project can be a simple demonstration for younger students or a more experimental project for older grades.

    Pour the JELL-O and unflavored gelatin into the bowl and add four cups boiling water. Stir until all the gelatin is dissolved. Add four cups of cold water and stir. Pour the JELL-O into the baking pan and refrigerate it until it is firm.

    Display the pan of JELL-O and explain that it represents the ground, which moves during an earthquake. Gently tap or shake the pan to show the waves moving through the JELL-O "ground." If the pan is metal, tap the bottom of the pan to show waves originating from the epicenter of the earthquake. Ask students what they think will happen to buildings when the ground shakes.

    Create buildings to place on the JELL-O ground. Use toothpicks and marshmallows to construct model buildings, or use sugar cubes, dominoes or toys to represent buildings. Place them on the JELL-O to create a model city.

    Tap or shake the pan to create waves in the JELL-O and observe what happens to the buildings. Begin by shaking gently, then make a larger earthquake. Remind students that, during an earthquake, the ground can move the same way the JELL-O does. Ask them to think about what is causing damage to the buildings.

    Things You'll Need

    • 2 Boxes JELL-O
    • 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
    • Water
    • Measuring cup
    • Bowl
    • Spoon
    • 9 x 12" baking pan
    • Plastic wrap (optional)
    • Marshmallows, toothpicks, sugar cubes, dominoes or small toy buildings


    • The JELL-O should be prepared at least a day before the demonstration and may be prepared two to three days ahead. If you wish to eat the JELL-O after the demonstration, cover it with plastic wrap once it has set. Encourage older students to consider the design of their building models and to build for strength.


About the Author

Laura Zerhusen has been writing professionally since 2004. Her work has appeared in Masterplots, the Coordinating Council for Women in History's newsletter and in the "Magill's Choice Guide to Holocaust Literature." Zerhusen holds a Master of Arts in history from Purdue University and teaches college history part-time in the Bloomington-Normal, Ill., area.

Photo Credits

  • Jason Reed/Photodisc/Getty Images