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Volcano Lesson Plans

The natural world can be a very dangerous place. In every part of the world, there are natural disasters 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. They can have devastating effects on lives and the geography of our planet. The following activities will introduce students to the different types of disaster and help them be prepared for common natural disasters in their area.

Student Activities for Natural Disasters

Types of Natural Disasters


Hurricanes are also known as cyclones or typhoons depending on the area of the world. They consist of an area of calm at the core, known as the eye of the storm, which is 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. The air pulls cooler air downwards, towards the ocean. The storm moves across the ocean as this process continues and the wind speeds increase.


Tornadoes are also known as twisters, whirlwinds, or cyclones. They are a funnel of rapidly moving air that is in contact with the surface of the earth. They occur when humid air is heated and starts to rise. As this moist air meets cold air, it can form thunder clouds. The upward movement of air combined with winds from other directions can cause the air to rotate, sometimes causing the visible ‘twister’ funnel 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. On average, the United States has the most tornadoes each year, but they can be found all over the world.


Earthquakes are caused by sudden jolts in tectonic plates. The Earth’s crust is broken up into pieces that rest on a semi-molten layer called the mantle. Uneven heating in the mantle causes convection currents which cause the tectonic plates to move. Thousands of earthquakes happen every day, but most of them are too small for humans to notice and they are only detected by a sensitive scientific instrument known as a seismometer. When they are large enough, earthquakes can destroy whole cities, but they mainly occur around fault lines.


Tsunamis can occur from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or explosions under the ocean. The seismic waves can jolt the seabed, which displaces huge amounts of water in the ocean. This 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 can cause huge destruction when they reach land.


An avalanche occurs when a large amount of snow and ice rapidly slides down a slope. This can be caused as snow and ice starts to build up and there are weaker layers underneath. The fast moving snow will bury whatever or whoever is in its path. Sometimes small avalanches are triggered on purpose in a controlled way to make some mountainous areas safer. This is done when the build up of snow is small, so as not to cause damage or injury.


Most volcanoes only 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. The molten rock is known as magma when it is under the earth, and lava when it reaches the surface. Volcanoes erupt when the pressure in the magma chamber is so great that it can break through the rock at the top of the volcano. As =it erupts, large rocks are thrown into the air along with a hot cloud of rock and ash. This cloud of ash, known as a pyroclastic flow, moves quickly, engulfing everything in its path.

Heat Wave

A heatwave is a period of excessively 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 because many people turn up their air conditioning.


A drought is characterized when the rainfall in an area is less than average to the point where there is a negative effect on the water supply. This can have a large impact on agriculture because crops cannot grow without water and potentially leads to famine, as farmers can’t produce enough food for everyone. A lack of water often leads to a mass migration of people and animals as they go in search of areas with more water.


Landslides, also known as landslips, can vary massively in their size and destruction, but they always involve the movement of land. Landslides occur when the ground 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 include any seismic activity from earthquakes or volcanoes, or vibrations from heavy machinery.


Wildfires or forest fires can be started by natural causes, like lightning, or by humans. Sometimes humans start them intentionally to clear brush, but wildfires also start accidentally. Wildfires have been caused by cigarettes, grills that haven’t been extinguished, and campfires that haven’t been managed properly. They can be extremely difficult to stop once they have started and can destroy large areas of forestland. Often, firefighters will use ‘waterbombers’, or aircraft that can spray water over large areas of forest.


Blizzards are a type of dangerous snowstorm where there are powerful winds with a minimum speed of 56 kph (35 mph). These storms typically last a number of hours and reduce visibility, making driving very dangerous. Blizzards are associated with very low temperatures and snowdrifts which can shut down whole towns and cities and cause danger to life.


Floods can occur for a number of different reasons at many times throughout the year. A flood 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 move freely. Floods can cause extensive damage to property and can also cause loss of life.
Image Attributions
  • 2001078_006_70_085_013ac • Texas State Archives • License No known copyright restrictions (
  • Blizzard! • Barbara L. Hanson • License Attribution (
  • Castle Rock wildfire • USFWS Headquarters • License Attribution (
  • Drought • Bert Kaufmann • License Attribution (
  • Gale Force Winds • ahisgett • License Attribution (
  • Gavarnie Avalanche 2b • sgillies • License Attribution (
  • glad it's not my house • jdolenga • License Attribution (
  • haiti_postearthquake13 • newbeatphoto • License Attribution (
  • heat wave in bryant park • wolfsavard • License Attribution (
  • Landslide • andyarthur • License Attribution (
  • Long Twister • ccarlstead • License Attribution (
  • Volcanic eruption • Krumma • License Attribution (
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