New Perspectives on THE WEST
The Program People Places Events Resources Lesson Plans Quiz
1. The Railway
2. Mark Twain
3. Native
4. African-
5. Images of the
6. Writings of the West
7. Fragile Western Biome
8. Water Use
9. Infectious Disease
10. Natural Disasters

Natural Disasters

Grade Level: 6-8

sponsored by

This lesson focuses on the causes and consequences of natural disasters. Nature's role versus the impact of human activity in contibuting to natural disasters is examined.

Estimated Time
Necessary Materials
Background Information
Teaching Procedure
Assessment Recommendations
Extension/Adaptation Ideas
Online Resources
Relevant National Standards


Students will:

  • define natural disaster,
  • list 5 different natural disasters,
  • describe the environmental impact of specific natural disasters,
  • understand the health related consequences of natural disasters,
  • compare the problems associated with natural disasters of the past to those of today, and
  • apply information from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to the aftereffects of natural disasters.

Estimated Time
4 class periods

Necessary Materials

Background Information
Nature creates; nature destroys. More than two million people moved to the plains in the late 1800's each one looking for a better life. Populations doubled, even tripled during the "wet years," and then the droughts came. The years of balanced seasons came to an abrupt end, and many people suffered great loss. The people living in Nebraska discovered the hard way that what nature brings each season is a surprise, and unfortunately not always pleasant. As a result, many left the plains.

Teaching Procedure

Day 1

  1. Journal prompt: Write a paragraph that defines and describes "natural disaster." Discuss what students wrote.
  2. Brainstorm as a class a list of natural disasters and write the responses on the board or overhead.
  3. Divide the class into teams/groups of 3-4. Assign each team one of the natural disasters from the list on the board/overhead. In their teams/groups, they are to discuss and write down as many causes and consequences to their disaster as they can think of. They will remain in these teams through the completion of their final product.
  4. Show the video clip Geography of Hope [14:35-22:22]. This segment shows the movement into the plains, and discusses some of the natural disasters these people encountered year after year. It shows them living in less than favorable conditions, and finally, shows them leaving.
  5. After watching the video, discuss as a class the reasons why so many people moved to the plain states, then talk about the various hardships people underwent and finally, discuss what eventually drove people out of the lands by the thousands. What caused each of the natural disasters? (Were they all nature? Or were some a result of the overpopulation or over-harvesting of the lands?)
  6. Have each group share their ideas about causes and consequences of natural disasters from the notes their group took while brainstorming prior to watching the video. They should add any information to their notes they may have picked up from the video or class discussion.
  7. Using the information from the Maslows Hierarchy of Needs,, have students compare the information they wrote down in their journals about their natural disaster to that of the hierarchy. Have them place the number of the "need" next to each item they wrote in their journal. (They should find that most come from esteem and self actualization needs.) Discuss the significance of this.
  8. Conclude today's session with a preview of their final product- a newspaper. In their "natural disaster" teams, they will research, write, edit, and produce a newspaper dedicated to their natural disaster.
Day 2 & 3
  1. Working with their original "natural disaster" team, students begin the data collection process for their newspaper. Students should utilize the web in order to generate a variety of "articles" written for their newspaper. Below is a list of possible topics that their articles could cover.
    • Conditions that cause/lead to their natural disaster occurring
    • Popular locations (world wide & domestic) for their natural disaster to strike
    • Historical incidences of their natural disaster
    • Historical explanation for their natural disaster
    • Most significant occurrences (biggest, longest lasting, most devastating…)
    • Recent occurrences
    • Current technology that can help predict their natural disaster
    • Health hazards that are a result of their natural disaster striking
    • Dietary impact of their natural disaster
    • Economic impact of their natural disaster striking
    • World wide impact
    • Humanitarian services that help people in need following a natural disaster
  2. Suggested web sites:
    Natural Disasters: Destructive Forces of Nature
    Natural Hazards Database
    Federal Emergency Management Agency
Day 3 & 4
Students are to take the information from their research, write a series of articles (from the suggested list) and put together a newspaper on their natural disaster. Creativity is a must!

Assessment Recommendations

  1. Students should be assessed on the paragraph they wrote for the warm up activity.
  2. Students could be assessed on their ability to work in their group in order to research, write, and create their final product.
  3. Students could be assessed on their class participation in discussions.
  4. Students should be graded individually on the work they contributed to the creation of their team newspaper.
  5. Students should be assessed using a rubric on their newspaper; Newspaper Rubric (PDF requires Acrobat Reader)
    A copy of this should be given to each team prior to their research.

Extension/Adaptation Ideas
Younger students

  1. Create a picture book of safety tips for their natural disaster that can be shared with younger students.
  2. Research a significant natural disaster that occurred locally. Interview someone who lived through the disaster. What was it like before the event? Were there any warnings? What did they do during the event? What were the aftereffects of the natural disaster? Did the natural disaster change anything about their life?
Older Students
  1. Compile a list of the most serious of natural disasters throughout history and their damages. Have the modern methods that help predict natural disasters helped lower these statistics preserve life and property? Why and why not?

    Learning Network: Weather & Climate
    Wild Weather
    The Weather Channel
    Natural Disasters: Links

  2. Plot on a class map locations of natural disasters. Assign a code to each plotted natural disaster (number, letter, color etc…). Have each student write statistics of each natural disaster to coordinate with the plot. Post the data in the classroom. Students can use the above mentioned web sites for data. For maps:
    World Maps

Online Resources

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs
Natural Disasters: Destructive Forces of Nature
Natural Hazards Database
Federal Emergency Management Agency

Relevant National Standards

This lesson addresses the following national curriculum standards established by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning

Health Curriculum Standards (6-8)

  • #2 Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health. Students will be able to explain environmental factors within a community that influence the health of its members.
  • #5 Knows essential concepts and practices concerning injury prevention and safety. Students will be able to identify personal safety strategies for family health including readiness for emergencies.
Science Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives(5-8)
  • Personal health
  • Populations, resources, and environments
  • Natural hazards
  • Risks and benefits Students will gain an understanding of the relationship between natural disaster and personal health. Students will be able to identify similarities and differences between natural disasters and their impact on the environment.

    About the Author
    Lynn Wiegand is a middle school health education teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. She has been teaching for 11 years, and often presents information on performance assessments in health education for her school system. Ms. Wiegand has a masters degree in science education and has been involved in writing the curriculum guides in MCPS for middle school health education. She has 3 children, 2 step-children and a house full of pets!

The Program | People | Places | Events | Resources | Lesson Plans | Quiz