There are more than 60 islands in the Virgin Islands archipelago—which means a chain of islands that has formed from volcanic action, often from an ocean plate moving over a hot spot under the earth's crust. The eastern portion of the chain makes up the British Virgin Islands, but the four westernmost islands (along with nearby tiny islands) are unincorporated territory of the United States. The four main islands are St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, and the much smaller Water Island.
Originally inhabited by Arawak, Carib, and Ciboney Indians, these islands were “discovered” and named by Christopher Columbus. All the natives died from disease and murder, and the islands were repopulated by European sugar plantation owners and African slaves. Today the islands are largely populated by Afro-Carribean descendants of slaves.
Residents of the US Virgin Islands are US citizens; they can vote in primary presidential elections, but not in the actual presidential elections; they have a representative in the House of Representatives, and he or she can vote in committee but cannot participate in floor votes.
The major language of both British and US Virgin Islands is English. Cars drive on the left side of the road on both sets of islands, like Britain, but steering wheels are on the left side of cars, like the US. Also, the US dollar is the currency used in both British and US Virgin Islands.
The combined area of all the US Virgin Islands is about twice the size of Washington, D.C.
How to Build an Island Chain
To demonstrate how an island chain forms, peel an orange carefully, making sure that there are several large pieces of peel. On the peeled orange, make a single dot with red food coloring. Then use one of the large pieces of peel to demonstrate the Atlantic plate moving slowly in one continuous direction. As it moves over the hot spot, a volcano forms above that hot spot; mark the peel with a small circle to represent a volcano (perhaps using a permanent marker), and then continue to move the peel in the same direction and continue marking volcanoes. Eventually, there is a chain of volcanic islands.
Make a Volcano
This is the age-old vinegar/baking soda experiment. If you've never done it, it is lots of fun!
There are all kinds of volcano activities at geology.com.