Lesson Plan

Natural Disasters - Where and Why?

An inquiry into why natural disasters occur in some places and not others using Google Earth layers
Megan M.
Classroom teacher
Bilingual European School
Milano, Italy
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My Grades 5, 6, 7, 8
My Subjects English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, English Language Learning
EdTech Mentor

Students will be able to...

  • Identify where in the world volcanoes and earthquakes occur
  • Make connections between natural disasters and physical location 
  • Identify reasons why natural disasters are more likely to occur in some locations and not others
English Language Arts
Social Studies
Grades 4 – 10
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Hook/Tuning in to Learning

  • Display various headlines about volcanoes and earthquakes globally from Newsela Articles
    • "Lost Cities: Pompeii, preserved by disaster, risks ruin all over again"

    • "Hot lava flowing into the cool ocean off Hawaii gives quite a show"

    • "Strong earthquake hits Mexico; at least 90 people are dead"


      "Disaster education centers in Japan provide lessons in survival"

  • Students use the Visible Thinking Routine: Connect Extend Challenge using the following prompts:

    • How are the ideas and information presented 
      CONNECTED to what you already knew?

    • What new ideas did you get that EXTENDED or pushed your thinking in new directions?

    • What is still CHALLENGING or confusing for you to get your mind around? What questions, wonderings or puzzles do you now have?

  • Share thoughts as a whole class

Student Instructions
  • Students examine headlines and complete the visual thinking routine
  • Share initial thoughts with the whole class 

2 Core Learning - What Do I See/Think/Wonder?

  • Instruct half the class to turn on the volcano layer in Google Earth
  • Instruct the other half to turn on the earthquake layer
  • Direct students to hover over Japan (Pacific Ring of Fire)
  • After students have had time to complete their See/Think/Wonder students join up with someone from the other group to compare
  • Students should identify that there is a linear pattern and the vocanoes and earthquakes overlap
Student Instructions
  • Students turn on their given layer in Google Earth
  • Hover over Japan 
  • Students complete the Visual Thinking Routine "See/Think/Wonder"
    • When they are looking at Google Earth, what do students see? Record observations
    • What do they think? What ideas do they have about patterns they see?
    • What do they wonder? What questions do they have?

3 Consolidation - Why Is This Happening?

Activity: Investigating
  • Students share observation about what they noticed with the whole class
  • Why do these patterns exist?
  • Teacher explains to students that these patterns exist because of plate-tech-tonics.
  • The crust of the earth is composed of plates which float on the mantle. 
    • These plates meet at fault lines which when they pass one another can cause natural disasters such as volcanoes and earthquakes
  • This is why the natural disasters have occured in a line
  • Students can look for other global patterns