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Grades 6-8
In this lesson, students will study potential natural hazards in their community, report on local hazards in small groups, and discuss community preparation and response for one or more of these forces of nature. This lesson would be appropriate to conduct after viewing the giant screen film Forces of Nature .
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, earth science, government/civics
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 3: "How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface"
Standard 6: "How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions"
Standard 7: "The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface"
Standard 15: "How physical systems affect human systems"
Standard 18: "How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future"

[Note: This lesson also conforms to National Science Education Content Standard F (Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Natural hazards, risks and benefits) for grades 5-8.]

Two hours (possibly more)

Materials Required:
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Chart paper or poster board, or PowerPoint
Students will
  • describe potential natural hazards in their community;
  • prepare and present, in groups, a natural hazards report;
  • in order of potential impact, rank natural hazards that are possible in their community;
  • learn about disaster preparation and response strategies; and
  • identify individual and/or community action plans for local natural hazards.
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
Ask students to recall the Soufriere Hills volcano in the film Forces of Nature . Scientists had warned about the danger from the volcano, and the government had evacuated the capital city, Plymouth, and surrounding areas well before Soufriere Hills's violent events of 1997. Tragically, people died because they had secretly returned to the exclusion zone area against government orders. The applicable lesson is that loss of life can be minimized in natural disasters if good preparation is in place and if citizens follow instructions.
Ask students if a volcano is a natural hazard in their community. Have them brainstorm a list of potential local "forces of nature" (e.g., avalanche, blizzard, drought, earthquake, flood, hurricane, landslide, tornado, tsunami, volcano, or wildfire). Make a class list of known or potential natural hazards (the list could also include nonlocal hazards). Save the list. These Web sites address geographical distribution of some hazards:

ESRI: Hazard Information and Awareness (select city, state, and hazard to make a local hazard map)
USGS: Geographic Distribution of Major Hazards in the U.S. (maps indicate areas of risk or occurrences of six natural hazards)

Break the class into small groups of "Natural Hazard Experts" and assign one of the natural hazards on the class list to each group. (Depending on class size, more than one group could research the same hazard.) Each group should research their assigned hazard and prepare a presentation. Focus questions could include:

  • What are the characteristics of the natural hazard?
  • How real or likely a threat is the hazard locally?
  • What has been the history and impact of the natural hazard locally? (Was property damaged? Were people injured or killed? Was there financial impact?)
  • Which aspects of the local physical geography (e.g., topography, geology, watershed characteristics, soil, or precipitation) might contribute to the likelihood or severity of the natural hazard? What aspects of physical geography might reduce the impact of the hazard?
  • Which aspects of local human geography (e.g., population distribution and density, settlement patterns, or type of land use) might increase or reduce the natural hazard's impact?
  • Can the hazard be predicted?
During their presentations, each group of "hazard experts" should make a case for their hazard as having the greatest potential threat to the community. Ask students to keep careful lists of the similarities and differences among the threats. When all presentations have been made, have the class or "natural hazard expert" groups rank, in order of severity, the class list of natural threats to their community. Students should be able to explain and defend their choices.

Ask students to list the procedures that have been—or could be—taken to protect their community from natural hazards. How are local organizations prepared to help before, during, and after a natural disaster? What can students do, individually or as a class? Students can go online for information:
  • To find local chapters of the American Red Cross , scroll to "Find Your Local Red Cross" and enter zip code.
  • FEMA: Hazards gives information for preparation for different types of hazards.
Suggested Student Assessment:
What common threads for natural disaster planning and response have students found (e.g., designate "safe places" at home and school; discuss disasters with family; practice evacuations; get information from NOAA Weather Radio)?

Evaluate students' work based on the amount of detail and accuracy in oral and written presentations and on the use of research. Students should

  • prepare and give a group presentation that identifies potential local natural hazards, connecting information to the local physical and human geography; and
  • rank local natural hazards (actual and potential) in terms of potential impact.

Extending the Lesson:
  • Have students work with the local chapter of the American Red Cross or other agencies to prepare a cache of emergency supplies for home and school.

  • Invite a local disaster preparedness official to class to review reports and provide advice on local hazards.

  • Have students utilize GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology to research and report on local natural hazards.

  • Have students describe a local, national, or international disaster, and then answer the following: What were the impacts of the disaster? How did the community react? Could people have prepared in a better way?

  • Have students read "Whose Problem, Whose Price Tag?" As a class, debate the issues the essay addresses.

  • Design an action plan and response initiative for a natural disaster in the community, citing ways the community could best be prepared and identifying organizations that could help.
Related Links: