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Grades 3-5
In this lesson, students will learn that although tornadoes are most likely to occur in an area of the United States called "tornado alley," they can happen anywhere and at any time. Students will read about the basics of tornado safety. They will also learn about the signs that a tornado might be coming, and what they should do to protect themselves, their families, and their pets if they ever experience a tornado firsthand. They will then create safety brochures to share with their friends and families.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, earth science
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 7: "The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface"
Standard 15: "How physical systems affect human systems"
Two to three hours

Materials Required:
Students will
  • learn where and when tornadoes are most likely to occur;
  • what weather conditions are favorable for forming tornadoes;
  • how they can tell if a tornado might be coming;
  • how to protect themselves, their families, and their pets in the event they experience a tornado; and
  • create safety brochures about tornado safety for their family and friends.
Geographic Skills:
Asking Geographic Questions
Acquiring Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Although tornadoes occur more frequently in some areas of the world than others, they can happen anywhere, anytime. Because tornadoes form so quickly, students should know basic information about what kind of conditions are favorable for tornado formation. They should also know basic safety rules so they can act fast if they think a tornado is coming.
Ask students if they have ever seen a tornado. They might have seen the movie Twister or seen footage of a tornado on the news. Do they know anyone who has experienced one? Where do most tornadoes occur?

Divide the students into small groups and ask them to explore the following Web sites to get a sense of where tornadoes are most common, and what conditions are favorable for the creation of tornadoes. Ask them to color in on blank outline maps the areas of the United States where most tornadoes occur.

National Geographic: Eye in the Sky—Tornadoes
Scholastic: All About Tornadoes
USA Today: Tornadoes—Nature's Most Violent Wind

Have a brief class discussion and come to an agreement about some basic facts:

  • Tornadoes occur most frequently in the United States, in an area called "tornado alley" in the spring and early summer. (Students should have this area colored in on their maps.)
  • Tornado alley is vulnerable because of its unique geographic characteristics: as cool, dry air sweeps down from the north, it meets up with warm, humid air pushing up from the south. While tornado formation is a very complicated process that scientists don't yet fully understand, this combination sets the basic requirements for frequent thunderstorms, lightning, hail, and tornadoes.
  • Tornadoes are difficult to predict, and people often have little warning before a tornado strikes.
Ask the students to read (or read aloud to them) I Survived a Tornado , a true story written by a boy who lived through a tornado when he was just six years old. How did the boy in the story and his family stay safe from the tornado?

Back in small groups, have the students explore the following Web sites about tornado safety:

American Red Cross: Tornado
FEMA for Kids: Tornadoes
NOAA: Tornado Safety

As they read through the sites, ask them to think about the following questions:

  • What are the signs a tornado might be approaching?
  • What should you do if you are at home when a tornado occurs? What is the safest place in a house?
  • What should you do if you are outside when a tornado hits? What if you are in a car?
  • What should you do with your pets if a tornado is coming?
  • What kinds of supplies should you have prepared ahead of time?

Bring the class together and discuss, step-by-step, what a person should do in the following situations:
  • The skies are clear, but tornado season is approaching.
  • A heavy thunderstorm has begun and there is lightning and hail.
  • The radio reports tornadoes have touched down in a nearby town.
  • A tornado has just passed through your town.
Suggested Student Assessment:
Ask the students to create their own "Tornado Safety" booklets to give to their family or friends. The booklets should include pictures, as well as paragraphs explaining what people should do before, during, and after a tornado. Students should include information about what people should do with their pets and what they should do if they are away from home when they encounter a tornado.
Extending the Lesson:
Related Links: