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  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Volcanic eruptions that take place near populated areas can be disastrous.
2. The level of destruction caused by a volcanic eruption depends on several factors, including the kind of volcano eruption and the speed at which the lava or ash flows.
3. Volcanic eruptions can often be predicted.
4. Measures can be taken to help people cope with the disaster of a volcanic eruption.


For this lesson, you will need:
Computer with Internet access
Research materials about volcanoes


1. Review with your students what they have learned about volcanoes.
2. Present the following scenario to the class. The year is 2001, and a large Indonesian volcano has erupted. It is the worst eruption in recorded history. To make matters worse, Mt. Pinatubo, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Vesuvius are erupting, all violently.
3. Divide the class into groups of three or four to act as teams of volcanologists assigned as aides to the president of the United States. Each group's assignment is to give the president a report on what can be expected to happen and what steps can be taken to help people cope with the disaster.
4. First, have students use the Internet or other research materials to locate the volcanoes you have mentioned and learn some background material about each one. They should answer questions such as "What kind of volcanic eruption are we dealing with in each case?" and "How fast is the lava or ash flowing?"
5. Instruct each group to make a logbook of its findings and recommendations. Who is in danger? What are students' recommendations to save people and towns? How will each eruption affect the environment? How long will the effects last?
6. Have each group present its findings to the class.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have each student research a famous volcanic eruption in history and describe the eruption scientifically, explaining the type of eruption and its long-term effects on the environment, as well as its effects on human life.

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Discussion Questions

1. Volcanoes affect the Earth in many ways. Describe why 1816 was called "the year without a summer."
2. Discuss the importance of volcanoes to life on Earth.
3. Describe a pyroclastic flow.
4. List and describe the steps you would take to predict a volcanic eruption.
5. Describe the death of a volcano.
6. What can we expect to gain by understanding volcanic discharges?

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You can evaluate your students on their logbooks using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: information complete and scientifically accurate; recommendations practical; logbooks well written and error-free
Two points: information scientifically accurate but sketchy; recommendations practical; logbooks adequately written with some errors
One point: information incomplete and partially inaccurate; some recommendations impractical; logbooks poorly written with numerous errors
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining what questions should be answered in the logbooks.

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Live from the Kalapana Volcano!
Have students write news accounts as if they were reporters covering the eruption in Kalapana, Hawaii, detailing the sights and sounds of the city's destruction. Help students find references to research the eruption. Have them prepare visuals to support their news stories and report their stories "live" from the scene. They should include mock interviews with Kalapana citizens and volcanologists on site. Have students lay out their articles using a computer, and display their work around the school.

Watch Out for Vog!
Smog and its offspring, acid rain, are serious problems in some of the world's largest cities. People create smog by burning fossil fuels. But have students ever heard of vog? Vog is like smog that is produced by a volcano, and it is a serious problem on the Big Island of Hawaii. During quiet eruptive phases, Kilauea generates around two thousand tons of sulfur dioxide (a smog-causing gas) per day. Since 1986, Kilauea has been in a continuous quiet eruptive state, with daily lava flows giving off deadly vog-causing fumes. Have students research and make lists of the components of both smog and vog. They should compare and contrast the two lists and describe how both smog and vog affect the quality of life. Encourage students to suggest ways to curb both smog and vog. Have them locate Kona, Hawaii, on a map and explain why it has so much acid rain. For an online resource, students can visitgeopubs.

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Suggested Readings

Fire on the Mountain: The Nature of Volcanoes
Carl Johnson, author; Dorian Weisel, photographry. Chronicle Books, 1994.
More for seeing than reading, this book nevertheless provides the novice with valuable insight into the nature of volcanoes by demonstrating the volcanoes of Hawai'i.

Volcanoes : Crucibles of Change
Richard V. Fisher et al., Princeton University Press, 1997.
This work is rich in scope (from Vesuvius to Mount Saint Helens) and includes personal accounts. In addition to illustrations, the book also includes a list—a travel guide—of over 40 volcanoes and what precautions to take when visiting the volcanoes.

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Volcano World Starting Points
Provides detailed info on volcanoes around the world.

Evidence for Plate Tectonics
Offers maps and descriptions on volcanoes that can also connect students to other sites.

WIS Volcano Page
A creative student Web page on Hawaiian volcanoes.

Michigan Technological University Volcanos Page
Great amount of information and graphics on volcanoes.

The SRL Volcano Exhibit
Radar images of volcanoes.

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

speaker    composite volcano
Definition: A steep volcanic cone built by both lava flows and pyroclastic eruptions.
Context: There is a kind of volcano combining features of both the explosive and fluid types. These are composite volcanoes.

speaker    pillow lava
Definition: Interconnected, sacklike bodies of lava formed under water.
Context: Occasionally lava erupts under water, creating pillow lava.

speaker    pyroclastic flow
Definition: Lateral flowage, or the deposit formed by a turbulent mixture of hot gases and unsorted pyroclastic material (volcanic fragments, crystals, ash, pumice, and glass shards) that can move at high speed (50 to 100 miles an hour).
Context: These ash flows, called pyroclastic flows, are the most dangerous form of volcanic eruption.

speaker    tectonic plates
Definition: According to the theory of plate tectonics, any of the large movable segments of the Earth's lithosphere.
Context: The tectonic plates, carrying ocean and continental landmasses, float on the mantle surrounding Earth's core.

speaker    tubes
Definition: Tunnels formed when the surface of a lava flow cools and solidifies while the still-molten interior flows through and drains away.
Context: The surface of lava rivers cool, forming a roof, and lava is confined to tunnels called tubes.

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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: 6-8
Subject area: Earth science
Understands basic earth processes.
Benchmark 1: 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).

Benchmark 2: Knows that rock contains evidence of the minerals, temperatures, and forces that combined to created it.

Benchmark 3: Knows how landforms 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.

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Frank Weisel, earth science teacher, Tilden Middle School, Rockville, Maryland.

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