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        Natural Hazards

        In this lesson plan, students are introduced to a variety of natural hazards and explore how understanding these threats make us better able to avoid or reduce their potential harmful impact.

        Lesson Summary


        This lesson introduces students to a variety of natural hazards, emphasizing that when people understand these threats they are better able to avoid or reduce their potential impacts. First, the class discusses what they know about natural hazards and natural disasters. Then, working in pairs, they research particular hazards—the threats they pose and where and when those threats are most pronounced. Following this research period, the class assembles what they have learned into a general overview of natural hazards nationwide.

        Following the second class discussion, students work in pairs again to explore the hazards that affect particular towns, cities, or regions of the country. In doing so, they learn more about how and why certain natural hazards impact specific areas, as well as what people are doing to minimize the threats these hazards pose. Students again share their findings with the class.


        • Describe different types of natural hazards and the threats they pose
        • Describe the differences between a natural hazard and a natural disaster
        • Explain what can be done to reduce or control the impact of natural disasters on lives and property
        • Create and interpret a natural hazard map of the United States

        Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

        Suggested Time

        Three 45-minute class periods

        Multimedia Resources


        For each pair of students:

        • two note cards (natural hazard, geographic location)
        • computer with Internet access
        • United States Blank Map PDF Image

        Large wall map of the United States

        Before the Lesson

        Make copies of the United States Blank Map PDF Image

        Create two note cards for each pair of students. On one, write the name of one of the natural hazards listed below:

        • hurricane
        • tornado
        • flood
        • landslide
        • avalanche
        • tsunami
        • volcanic eruption
        • earthquake
        • forest fire
        • drought
        • storm surge

        On the other, write the name of one of the geographic locations listed below:

        • Cape Hatteras, NC
        • Louisville, KY
        • Fargo, ND
        • Harrisburg, PA
        • Ventura, CA
        • Donner Pass, CA
        • Hilo, HI
        • Mammoth Lakes, CA
        • Tacoma, WA
        • Berkeley, CA
        • Sunflower, AZ

        The Lesson

        Part I: Explore Natural Hazards

        1. Show the Hurricanes: New Orleans Under Threat QuickTime Video. As a class, have students discuss what they know about the impacts hurricanes can have on coastal communities such as New Orleans. Ask the students:

        1. What makes a hurricane a natural hazard?
        2. Where else do hurricanes occur?
        3. What manmade changes to the environment potentially increase the impact of this hazard?
        4. Do other hazards coexist with hurricanes? Why?
        5. What are communities doing to prepare for this hazard?
        6. What could you do to prepare if you lived in a coastal community?

        2. Now ask students to think about and name other types of natural hazards. As they brainstorm, write the hazards they name on the board. When the students are satisfied with their list, ask them to consider the similarities and differences between natural hazards and natural disasters, and have them define both. Ask them if they think natural hazards necessarily become natural disasters, and why or why not. Ask them if they can think of things people do that might influence whether or not a natural hazard becomes a natural disaster.

        3. Show The Great Flood of 1993 QuickTime Video, and then discuss the following:

        1. What are the similarities between the flood depicted in this video and the hurricanes shown in the previous video?
        2. What time of year did these events occur? Are some natural hazards more likely to occur at certain times of the year?
        3. Where else in the country do they think flooding occurs?
        4. What manmade changes to the environment potentially increased the impact of the flood?
        5. What preparations can people make to reduce or control these hazards?

        4. Have students add to or refine the list of natural hazards on the board. Also, ask them to identify any of the hazards they think follow seasonal or geographic patterns and to describe what those patterns are.

        Part II: Investigating the Impact of Particular Hazards

        5. Have students form pairs. Ask each pair to take a copy of the United States Blank Map PDF Image and select one note card from the natural hazards group.

        6. To gain an understanding of their chosen natural hazard, they should explore the relevant resources listed in the Multimedia Resources section of this lesson and elsewhere in the Teachers' Domain collection. They may also wish to research information about their hazard using other reputable online sites. Each pair of students should record information about the following:

        1. the type of threat that their hazard poses
        2. specific damage caused by past events and their cost
        3. the time of year and area of the United States in which the risk is greatest
        4. efforts people are making to reduce the impact of the hazard

        In addition, they should plot on their maps the areas where the risk of the natural hazard is greatest.

        7. When students have completed their research, have them present their findings to the class. Record on the board what the students learned about each of the hazards. You may want to record student information in a chart on the board so that they can compare the various hazards. Categories in the chart might include: location, seasonal influences, costs, efforts to minimize damage, and so on.

        8. Once all of the information has been recorded, ask students to draw conclusions about and connections among the various hazards. For example, ask them to assess which hazards are most costly and which are least costly; which hazards occur predominantly in the West, Midwest, and South; which hazards result from or are made worse by other hazards; and so on.

        Part III: Investigating a Local Area's Hazards

        9. Have students work with their partner again. Tell them that now their focus will shift from a particular hazard to all the hazards that may affect a particular city or town in the United States. Ask each pair to select one note card from the cities and towns (geographical locations) group.

        10. Tell them that for the remainder of the lesson, they will be in charge of their chosen city or town's hazard preparedness. Their job is to research the hazards affecting that location and to create a report that will help residents and visitors better understand those hazards so that they can take precautions to minimize risk. They may use information from earlier in the lesson, but should also do additional Internet research on the following:

        1. the types of hazards that threaten their city or town
        2. specific local damage caused by past events and their cost
        3. time of year in which the city or town is at greatest risk from various types of hazards
        4. specific locations in the city or town that are at greatest risk from the hazards
        5. efforts that residents and officials are making to reduce the impact of the hazards

        11. Using the information they've collected, students should create a list of steps that residents or visitors can take to be more prepared for the hazards that affect their community. For residents, this may include suggestions about which areas of the community or types of structures are safe and which are not. For visitors, this may include suggestions about what times of year certain hazards are more likely or less likely to occur.

        12. When they are finished, have pairs of students present their findings to the class. They should start by telling the class which city or town they are representing and showing its location by attaching their note card to the large U.S. wall map. Their report should then describe the types of natural hazards their city or town experiences and explain why they think those hazards exist. They should report on natural disasters that have occurred in their area in the past, the impacts of those disasters, and measures being taken by city or town officials to prevent similar disasters in the future. At the end of their report, students should present hazard preparedness steps for residents and visitors of that city or town.

        13. After students have given their presentations, have the class look at the map on the wall, as well as the chart created earlier in the lesson, and discuss all of the natural hazards. Ask them if they see any patterns, and have them identify those patterns. Ask what factors they think might be responsible for the patterns they identify.

        Check for Understanding

        Have students discuss the following:

        1. What is a natural hazard? What is a natural disaster? Give specific examples of each.
        2. What steps can be taken to help reduce the impact of these hazards?

        Additional References

        The Digital Library for Earth System Education ( offers access to additional resources on this topic.


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