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Understanding VolcanoesUnderstanding-Volcanoes

  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: One class period

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. A volcano can act as a giant cooling vent for Earth's inner core.


Each group will need the following materials:
Smocks or lab coats for all group members
Modeling clay, salt dough, or soil
Small empty plastic soda bottle
Baking pan
Red food coloring
Liquid detergent
Two tablespoons (25 milliliters) baking soda


1. Review with your students what they have learned about volcanoes. In discussing what they know about volcanoes, bring out the following background information:
  1. At Earth's center is a core of hot liquid iron and nickel.
  2. Earth is made up of interlocking pieces of land called tectonic plates .
  3. Heat from Earth's core can escape to the outside through a gap between tectonic plates, or heat can "punch" through the middle of a tectonic plate, releasing pressure and heat to the outside.
2. Tell students they are going to create model volcanoes that will help them visualize what a real volcanic eruption is like.
3. Divide your class into groups, distributing materials to each group.
4. Have students in each group line their work area with newspaper and put on smocks or lab coats to prevent staining desktops or clothing.
5. Instruct students in each group to place the soda bottle in the baking pan, and mold the clay, dough, or soil into a "mountain" around the bottle. Students should be sure not to cover the bottle opening or to allow any material to get inside the bottle.
6. Tell students to fill the bottle almost to the top with warm water mixed with a little red food coloring.
7. Next, students should add 6 drops of liquid detergent to the bottle.
8. Have students add the baking soda to the bottle, using the funnel.
9. Also using the funnel, have students pour the vinegar slowly into the bottle.
10. Once the vinegar is added, students should see a red, foamy mixture rise over the top of the "volcano" and flow down its slopes. Tell students that the mixture represents the lava that flows down the sides of a real volcano.
11. Either explain to students how their models resemble a real volcano, or challenge them to do research to come up with their own explanations. Here is an explanation you might give:
The molten metal that makes up Earth's core is called magma . Extreme heat can cause bubbles of carbon dioxide gas in magma to expand. The expanding gas pushes the magma into the vent, or opening, of a volcano and up to Earth's surface. A volcanic eruption occurs when the magma overflows. The overflowing magma is called lava . Vinegar and baking soda, when mixed together, react chemically to create carbon dioxide gas. The gas bubbles build up inside the bottle, forcing the liquid out of the bottle. In this way, the model is similar to a real volcano.

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Create the model yourself, and have children watch your "erupting volcano." Then explain to them, in simpler terms, the causes of a real volcanic eruption.

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Discussion Questions

1. Describe the positive and negative aspects of the job of a volcanologist. Contact the National Geographic Society for more information on this occupation.
2. Some instruments such as seismographs and chemical analysis equipment help scientists predict volcanic activity. Discuss the accuracy of these predictions. How safe would you feel living near a potentially violent volcano? What kinds of precautions and emergency procedures would a community that lives near a volcano need to consider?

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Evaluate groups on their projects on the basis of how well they follow instructions and work together.

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Volcano World
Have your students research volcanoes in the continental United States (e.g., Mount Saint Helens), and discuss their past and present activity levels. Students might contact local city or state governments for information on how these areas are being monitored.

Who Wants to Be a Volcanologist?
Have students contact the National Geographic Society for information on volcanologists and what they do. Have them describe the positive and negative aspects of a job as a volcanologist.

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Suggested Readings

Volcanoes : Crucibles of Change
Richard V. Fisher, Grant Heiken, and Jeffrey B. Hulen, Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1997.

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Volcano World

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    core
Definition: The central portion of the Earth below the mantle, consisting of iron and nickel.
Context: In the center is the yellow core of the planet, a mass of hot liquid iron and nickel.

speaker    mantle
Definition: The layer of the Earth between the crust and the core.
Context: The white of the egg represents a layer of hot rock called the mantle.

speaker    crust
Definition: The exterior portion of the Earth that lies above the Mohorovicic discontinuity.
Context: The eggshell is the earth's crust.

speaker    tectonic plates
Definition: Structural features that construct the Earth, consisting of interlocking pieces of land.
Context: The Earth is made up of interlocking pieces of land, called tectonic plates.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: K-2, 3-5, 6-8
Subject area: science
Understands basic features of the Earth.

(K-2)Knows that Earth materials consist of solid rocks and soils, liquid water and the gases of the atmosphere.

(3-5)Knows that when liquid water disappears, it turns into gas (vapor) in the air and can reappear as a liquid when cooled.

(6-8)Knows that the solid Earth is layered with a thin brittle crust, hot convecting mantle and dense metallic core.

Grade level: 3-5, 6-8
Subject area: science
Understands basic Earth processes.

(3-5)Knows that smaller rocks come from the breakage and weathering of bedrock and larger rocks.

(3-5)Knows that rock is composed of different combinations of minerals.

(3-5)Knows that the surface of the Earth changes; some changes are due to slow processes (e.g., erosion, weathering), and some changes are due to rapid processes (e.g., landslides, volcanoes, earthquakes).

(6-8)Knows how land forms are created through a combination of constructive and destructive forces: constructive forces include crustal deformation, volcanoes and deposition of sediment; destructive forces include weathering and erosion.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Knows the physical processes that shape patterns on Earth's surface.

1Knows the major processes that shape patterns in the physical environment (e.g., the erosional agents such as water and ice, earthquake zones and volcanic activity, the ocean circulation system).

2Knows the consequences of a specific physical process operating on Earth's surface (e.g., effects of an extreme weather phenomenon such as a hurricane's impact on a coastal ecosystem; effects of heavy rainfall on hillslopes; effects of the continued movement of Earth's tectonic plates).

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Diane F. Hoffman, second grade teacher, Bel Pre Elementary School, Silver Spring, Maryland.

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