The natural world can be a very dangerous place. In every part of the world, natural disasters can occur that can cause damage to property, land, wildlife, and even humans. A natural disaster is a major event that is caused by natural processes around the world. Natural disasters can have devastating effects on lives and the geography of our planet. In particularly strong cases, they can cause incredible loss of life.
Natural Disasters Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers
Have your students put key vocabulary into practice. One of the things students can find really difficult is using scientific vocabulary correctly and in the appropriate context. Using a visual representation or visual examples as well as a written one can really help students understand abstract concepts.
Example Natural Disasters Vocabulary
The Richter Scale is a logarithmic scale used to express the magnitude of an earthquake. It ranges from 1 to 10, where 1 can barely be felt, and 10 is near total destruction.
The Beaufort Scale relates wind speed with observable effects of wind. It was developed in 1805 by Francis Beaufort.
The epicenter is the point on the surface of the Earth that is directly above the focus of an earthquake.
A fault line is the boundary between two tectonic plates.
The pyroclastic flow is the fast moving mass of hot gas, lava, and rock fragments when a volcano erupts.
Discussion storyboards are a great way to get your students talking about their ideas in Science. They allow students to critique and evaluate different viewpoints without upsetting other students. This activity can be used at the start of the topic to elicit any misconceptions students may have.
At first, show students a discussion storyboard like the one below. Ask them to look at the problem on the discussion storyboard. It shows four students who all have an idea about the problem in front of them. Students should think about who they think is the most correct and be prepared to explain why that person is correct.
Here are some other ideas to use these discussion storyboards in your lessons.
Students add another cell on the end of the example you’ve given them to explain who they think is correct and why.
Students create their own discussion storyboards to share with peers on the current topic.
Note that the template in this assignment is blank. After clicking "Copy Assignment", add your desired problem and solutions to match the needs of your students.
Using storyboard that have you students create an action plan detailing what someone should do if they are in an earthquake.
An earthquake occurs when tectonic plates get stuck and they store a large amount of potential energy. When this energy gets to be too great, the plates slip, releasing this energy and causing seismic waves. The seismic waves can vary in size. Some are so small that only delicate instruments can detect them, while others are very large and can cause great damage to building and infrastructure and injury to people.
Being stuck in an earthquake can be a terrifying experience which can cause panic. It is important to have an action plan so you know what to do should an earthquake hit. Have your students create a visual action plan showing what a person should do in the event of an earthquake.
It is recommended that if you are inside, you don’t leave the building until the shaking stops. Try to get as close to the ground as possible. When you are on your knees, cover your head and neck with your hands to protect yourself from anything falling. You should place yourself away from outside walls, windows, shelves, or anything else that can fall on you. If possible, try to hide under a sturdy desk or table. If you are in bed you should stay there and cover your head with a pillow. If you are outside, find a place that is away from buildings, trees, or utility cables. If you are driving, stop as quickly as possible away from anything that could fall. Make sure you stay inside your car.
After an earthquake has finished, try to move to open ground if there is a safe and clear exit. If you are trapped don’t move around; if you have your cell phone, call or text for help. Assist others if you can and make sure you monitor local TV news and radio for updates. After earthquakes there are often aftershocks, so be prepared to drop and cover if one happens.
Hurricanes are also known as cyclones or typhoons, depending on the area of the world. Meteorologists normally refer to them as tropical cyclones. Hurricanes consist of an area of calm at the core, know as the eye of the storm, surrounded by a swirling, fast-moving vortex of wind and rain storms. Hurricanes occur when groups of thunderstorms drift over warm oceans. The warm air from the storm and air at the surface of the ocean begin to rise. As the air rises, it creates an area of low pressure at the surface of the ocean. Trade winds blowing from different directions cause the storm to start spinning. As the warm air continues to rise, it causes the areas of low pressure to get higher and higher. The air rises faster and faster, pulling in cooler air downwards towards the ocean. The storm moves across the ocean this process continues to happen and the wind speeds increase. If luck is on your side the hurricane dies before it reaches land but when it doesn’t they can be very destructive. The deadliest tropical cyclone was the 1970 Bhola Cyclone that killed up to 500,000 people in modern day Bangladesh. It had peak winds of 185km/h (115mph), some of the highest ever recorded during a tropical cyclone.
Tornedos, like hurricanes, are also known for high wind speed and destruction. Tornadoes are also known as twisters, whirlwinds or cyclones. They are a funnel of rapidly moving air that are in contact with the surface of the earth. The occur when humid air is heated and starts to rise. As this moist air meets cold air it can form thunder clouds. This can cause a thunderstorm. The upward movement of air combined with winds from other directions can cause the air to rotate. This can cause the visible ‘twister’ funnel for form out of the bottom of the cloud. They can last a just a few seconds or it can be up to over an hour before they dissipate. The fastest wind speed ever recorded from a tornado (and the fastest wind speed ever recorded) was the Bridge Creek-Moore tornado in 1999. Where wind speeds of 484km/h (300mph) were measured. The United States, on average, has the most tornadoes each year, but they can be found all over the world. In the USA they are mostly found in the great plains, colloquially known as tornado alley.
The Earth’s crust is broken up into pieces known as tectonic plates. These plates sit on a semi molten layer called the mantle. Uneven heating in the mantle causes convection currents which caused the tectonic plates to move. These tectonic plates don’t always move with each other smoothly Earthquakes are caused by sudden jolts in tectonic plates. Thousands of earthquakes happen every day but most of them are too small from humans to notice and they are only detected by a sensitive scientific instrument known as a seismometer. When they are large enough they can destroy whole cities. They mainly occur around fault lines. The largest Earthquake ever recorded happened on May 22nd 1960 in Valdivia, Chile. It measured 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale. Between 1000 and 6000 people lost their lives. The quake triggered landslides in the valleys of the Andes and a huge Tsunami which travelled westward across the pacific ocean and caused loss of life in Hawaii. For more great content on the structure of the Earth and Plate Tectonics check out this teacher guide
Tsunamis can occur from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or explosions under the ocean. The seismic waves can jolt the seabed which can displace huge amounts of water in the ocean. The causes large waves to spread from the epicenter. In deep water the waves move quickly, when they reach shallow coastal areas they slow down but their height increases. These waves could cause huge destruction when the reach land.
An avalanche is when a large amount of snow and ice slides down a slope rapidly. This can be caused as snow and ice starts to build up and there are weaker layers underneath. Sometimes small avalanches are triggered on purpose in a controlled way to make some mountainous areas safer. They do this when the build up of snow is small so as not to cause damage or injury.The dangers are the fast moving snow will bury whatever or whoever is in its path.
Most volcanoes are very safe. They only really become dangerous during a volcanic eruption. There are hundreds of potentially active volcanoes around the world, most of which are found along the fault lines of the earth. At some boundaries between tectonic plates magma from the can rise up and find its way to the upper crust. If it can reach the surface it is known as a volcano. After successive eruptions the lava cools and forms the cone shape of a volcano. Volcanoes erupt when the pressure of the magma below in the magma chamber is so great that it can break through the rock at the top of the volcano. As the volcano erupts large rocks and thrown into the air along with a hot cloud of rock and ash. This cloud of ash, known as a pyroclastic flow, moves quickly like an avalanche and can engulf everything in its path. The molten rock is known as magma when it is under the earth and lava when it reaches the surface. The worst eruption in history was the 1815 eruption of Tambora, Indonesia which killed around 90,000 people.
A heatwave is a period of excessive high temperatures often with high humidity. High temperatures can have negative effects on people’s health and can even cause death. Heatwaves can also cause mass power outages as people turn on their air conditioning.
A drought is characterized when the rainfall in an area is less than average to the point where this has a negative effect on the water supply. This can have a large impact on agriculture as grows can’t grow without water. This can potentially lead to famine as farmers can’t produce enough food for everyone. A lack of water can lead to mass migration of people as they go in search of areas with more water.
Landslides, also known as landslips. They can vary massively in their size and destruction but they always involve the movement of land. Landslides occur when the earth on a slope becomes less stable. This could happen due to a number of reasons including erosion, groundwater flow and deforestation. The triggers for landslide including any seismic activity, from earthquakes or volcanoes or vibrations from heavy machinery. They have the potential for a large amount of damage and loss of life if residential areas are in the path of the flow of land.
Wildfires or forest fires can be started by natural causes, such as lightning, but also by humans. Sometimes humans start them intentionally but also accidentally. Wildfires have been caused by cigarettes, grills that haven’t been extinguished properly and campfires which haven’t been managed properly. They can be extremely difficult to stop once they have started and they can destroy large areas of forest land. Often firefighters will use ‘waterbombers’ which are aircraft that can spray water from the air over large areas of forest.
Blizzards are a type of dangerous snowstorm where there are powerful winds with a minimum speed of 56kph (35mph). These storms typically last a number of hours and results in low visibility, making driving very dangerous. There is a danger to live as blizzards are associated with very low temperatures and snowdrifts which can shut down whole towns and cities. The worst flood ever recorded happen in China in 1937 where between 1 million and 4 million people died.
Floods can occur for a number of different reasons at many times throughout the year. Simply put it is when land is covered by water when it normally isn’t covered by water. This can occur whenever there is a large amount of precipitation or melting ice that causes a lake, river or ponds to overflow. Often with heavy rain the rivers and natural drainage cannot cope with the rate of water flow. The moving water can cause debris to block drains making it even more difficult for the water to more freely. Floods can cause extensive damage to property and can also cause loss of life. The worst flood ever recorded happen in China in 1937 where between 1 million and 4 million people died.
Essential Questions for Natural Disasters
What is a natural disaster?
What are examples of different natural disasters?
Why do natural disasters occur?
What can we do to prevent/survive a natural disaster?
Other Lesson Plan Ideas for Natural Disasters
Create a T-Chart to compare the effects and causes of two different natural disasters.
Create a richter scale (or moment magnitude scale) showing the effects of different magnitudes of earthquakes.
Create a timeline showing advances in technology which helps protect us from injury during a particular natural disaster.