Exercise: Build Your Own Seismograph

Deepen your understanding and appreciation for seismographs by building your own

  • 60+ minutes
  • Ages 7+
  • Small groups (3-4 students)
  • Extra materials required


Help your students understand how the Raspberry Shake (and other seismographs)  work by building their own simple seismograph, using everyday school supplies. Then compare and contrast the student’s home-made seismograph to the Raspberry Shake! 

Pre-Class Preparation:

  • Download and follow IRIS’s Build your own seismograph activity with your students. 
  • It is important to have sufficient materials to allow the students to build the seismograph. Materials include boxes, pencils, paper, string, tape, paper/plastic cups, coins… 
  • To further prepare and understand the project, there are many YouTube demonstrations and tutorials that you, as a teacher, can watch ahead of time. Just type “DIY Seismograph” into the YouTube search bar.
  • Ensure that there is a functioning system (a separate computer, most likely) in place for the Raspberry Shake to stream live, real-time data for  your classroom to view during this activity. You can find tips and instructions for that here.


Plan: Students think of ways to build a simple device that will record ground motion. Draw plans out on a piece of paper, and plan the materials needed. Do not give much instructions! 

Build: In small groups of 3–4 students, students design and construct a seismograph using common household and craft materials provided. Each group will demonstrate to the class (by shaking their table) how their seismograph records motion 

Test and Compare: Test your seismograph! Shake the desk that the seismograph is on, and (if applicable) move the “recording paper” to see movement over time. 

At the same time, place the Raspberry Shake seismograph on the desk and watch the graph that results from the shaking. Think about the similarities and differences between the geophone, the ground motion sensor used  in the Raspberry Shake, and the sensor for your homemade seismograph.


Start a conversation with the students about the activity: 

  • How could the design be improved? 
  • What were the biggest differences between the home-made seismograph and Raspberry Shake? Similarities? 
  • Were there any difficulties building your seismograph? 
  • Does building a seismograph help you understand what goes on inside a geophone? Why?