Elements for Disaster Reporting

By Stephen Sutton, August 11, 2008

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Current Events

Subject Area

  • Science
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

two 50-minute periods


  This lesson is part of a unit of inquiry about natural disasters.  Here the students look at the elements included in the reporting by media outlets on anticipated natural disasters, how disaster reporting is conducted, (what kind of information is included in the reports), and then how the aftermath of disasters reported on.  This lesson is strategically located in the design model after brainstorming what students know about natural disaster reporting.  The students will be using an assessment tool they create to evaluate elements of news reports.  The procedure will provide students a framework to examine news reporting issues, focus their inquiry, and scaffold knowledge for an extension to the lesson where students create their own "mock" news reports. The students will be engaged through their own assessment of media reports on natural disasters, creating the evaluation tool for measuring media reports, and in another part of the unit designing their own mock media reports of disasters. The goal of this lesson is to reinforce the elements of natural disasters, the impact on human communities of natural disasters, and the human spirit demonstrated in responses to the devastation of natural disasters.  In addition, the students should come away with an appreciation of how the media, and media reporting, influences human responses to natural disasters.

National Standards


Students will be able to:
  • Identify natural conditions that lead to potential natural disasters.
  • Identify measures communities and individuals can take to prepare for natural disasters.
  • Identify regional locations of specific types of natural disasters.
  • Develop first response strategies to deal with the aftermath of natural disasters.
  • Design strategies to report on natural disasters.


The easiest way to present the information necessary for this lesson is through computer interface with a projector.  Clips of weather-related reports can be downloaded to the computer and then shown to the class.  


Student designed media evaluation tool  


  • forecasting: predicting future events or conditions, such as weather
  • front: the leading edge of a moving air mass
  • meteorologist: a scientist who studies the weather
  • predictable: possible to estimate a future event based on data or experience


Initial setup requires development of a set of media reports on impending severe weather systems, and then the reporting during the actual event.  These reports can be found in television station archives, www.youtube.com, the Weather Channel, or Unitedstreaming.com. Day 1 During this class period students will develop an assessment tool by examining the elements of disaster reporting they have seen in the media. 1. Tell the students that they are going to identify essential elements in natural disaster reporting.  Ask the students to describe what they remember from news reports about recent natural disasters.  Ask them to apply empathy to the people who have been directly impacted by hurricanes or tornadoes in deciding what would have been really helpful for their preparations to weather the storm.  Have the students write down four things that would be essential to potential victims that they think news reports should include.   Show the students a news clip reporting about a recent natural disaster.  Ask them to review their previous list in light of what they just saw.  Make changes to the list as needed. 2. Share these lists with the entire class and have the class rank the submitted elements.  From the ranking establish the top six “essential” elements to valuable news reporting.  Design a rubric with which to evaluate subsequent news reports based on these essential elements. Day 2 Have available copies of the student-developed evaluation tools the class created in a previous lesson. 1. Review with the class the discussion held earlier leading to the design of the evaluation tool.  During that period of gathering and analyzing data students used previous personal knowledge to identify key elements in the news reporting of natural disasters.  They brainstormed what they thought was important information to be shared with potential victims of the impending storm.  They developed a check list to assess whether news reports meet the threshold of "valuable" reporting. 2. Distribute the evaluation rubric and have the students view the selected new reports. 3. When all the reports are viewed and rated have each cooperative work group discuss impressions and ideas generated by the activity.  Student groups should rank the viewed news clips based on the assessment rubric. 4. Have students write about the usefulness of the assessment tool to measure the value of various reports. 5. Have them compare and contrast differences in how the different groups rated each news clip. 6. Summation: Ask students to list suggestions on how to redesign the evaluation tool, what they would add or remove to it. Have the students write reflections on how the process of using a measure while viewing material helped them be a more critical consumer of information.


Students will submit the media report assessment tools for peer review.  The students will assign scores for each assessment tool based on how well it evaluates the reporting on the event.  Whole class input will be collected to determine the media report's effectiveness in providing information to communities about impending severe weather.  

Enrichment Extension Activities

The unit on natural disasters is usually taught during hurricane season, but any season when severe weather creates conditions leading to potential natural disasters offers extra curricular exploration of how the media presents information to inform communities about severe weather.  Local Red Cross affiliates can be invited in to discuss strategies they use to meet the needs of natural disaster victims.  When communities are hit by disasters classes can develop strategies to offer aid to those communities.

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