Natural Hazards

By Andrew Lawler, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Smithsonian Design Institute

Subject Area

  • Science
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

2 60 minute periods in the classroom


The purpose of this lesson is to get students to think critically about safety procedures, and understand why plans and public alert systems are important. In Louisiana, this addresses GLE 61. The challenge can be taken in several ways, but involves the process of helping people through natural hazards. Students will get a chance to consider how they would seek to help people before or during a crisis.

National Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others\' ideas and expressing their own clearly. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1.B Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1.C Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1.D Review the key ideas expressed and explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.2 Paraphrase portions of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace. NGSS 4-ESS3-2. Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans. NGSS MS-ESS3-2. Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.


Students will be able to synthesize and apply hazard safety information to real-world situations.



Disaster sheets above; One laptop per group; Attached table/work


Drought, Earthquake, Flood, Hurricane, Landslide, Thunderstorm/Lightning, Tsunami, Wildfire, Blizzard, Tornado, Emergency Kit, Communications Plan


Background: Videos to reference: Teacher will need to explain what a natural hazard is, and the concept of planning ahead. Students will likely know many, for instance in New Orleans most of the students know about hurricanes and the process of planning ahead for a hurricane. Procedures (1st period):  Show students one of the videos listed in the background, which are compilations of natural disasters/hazards. Choose the one with the appropriate length for the amount of time you have available. Ask the students before it starts to try to catch what natural hazards they are seeing. What weather or natural event is happening? Write them down for the students to see as they go. Explain to the students that natural hazards are naturally occurring events that pose a risk to humans; these include blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts, extreme heat and cold, and floods. Explain that the students are going to become experts on the natural hazards in one part of the country, and will be responsible for developing a way to advise or help people before, during, or after a weather emergency or natural disaster in that region. Split the class into 5-7 groups. Assign each group a region – one possible choice for splitting the regions is attached. Depending on availability of technology, students can use computers logged in to or printouts, of common natural hazards in each state and of descriptions of the hazards. Students will use the attached worksheet to determine the 2-3 most common natural hazards in their assigned region, and will research the definition of the most common hazards and safety procedures to follow before, during, and after the hazards. Encourage students to split the states among group members and compare information to determine which hazards are most common. (Feel free to cut this activity for the sake of time) As a group students will make a poster that includes the following things: the name of their region, written in a way that showcases an iconic regional hazard; examples/pictures of the two most common regional hazards; the most important safety steps for both hazards; amount of warning for each hazard. Give students 15 minutes for this project. They should finish it at home if it is incomplete. Procedures (2nd Period):  Show Beforehand, ask students what the people in the video are doing to be safe during a natural hazard (preparing ahead of time). Give each group materials (structural, surface, and connection) to design a model of their own device or system to help or advise people before, during, or after a natural hazard. This could be an early alert system, a vehicle, a social support structure, or many other things. Give the students 5 minutes to discuss what they want to make as a group. After the first 5 minutes (teams are not allowed to start work until the 5 minutes are up), teams will build their model. Give students 15 minutes for this activity. Groups should quickly
  • (~1 min each): list their natural hazards, how much warning people get for each, and what it’s important to do before, during, and after each hazard
  • (~2 min each): describe their model, making sure to explain in which hazard and in which stage (before, during, or after) the device or system is intended to assist, as well as explaining the model and how it represents the device or system.
Ask a few discussion questions about how the activity helped the students to think about what they can do to prepare for a natural hazard. Visit, and discuss building a disaster communications plan and emergency kit. What is the purpose of a communications plan? What information is important to have if there is a natural hazard? Why is an emergency kit important? What would be the most important thing to you to put in your kit? Send students home with a communications plan sheet and emergency kit list. Let the students know you’ll be checking the communications plan at the end of the week as homework. Extra time can be taken up playing Possible Discussion Questions:  What dangerous situations do you imagine happen during this hazard? Have you ever been in or heard of someone else in this hazard? How might we help a person to avoid, prepare for, escape, or survive danger in your hazard? How did designing your model make you think differently about how people can help each other during a natural hazard? What do you think you would like to do to prepare for natural hazards that happen in our community?


Exit ticket attached below.   For differentiation, I would assign students a specific state in the student’s region to research, and place the student with a peer mentor to work together. The student could simply do research on the most common hazard instead of the top 2-3.

Enrichment Extension Activities

It would be good to continue this line of thinking, to talk about actual solutions that are being designed and what careers can participate in the process. ( It is also important that students talk about hazards affecting their own state and how they and their families could prepare – for instance, emergency plans and kits.

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