Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
Living With Risk: The Human Element of Natural Disasters
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for Teachers is divided into four sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the Lesson.
Steps -- Conducting the Lesson.
Extensions -- Additional Activities.
Tips -- Managing Resources and Student Activities.


Computer Resources:
You will need at least one computer with Internet access to complete this lesson. While many configurations will work, we recommend:

  • Modem: 28.8 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 3.0 or above or Internet Explorer 3.0 or above.
  • Macintosh computer: System 7.0 or above and at least 16 MBs of RAM.
  • IBM-compatible computer: 386 or higher processor with at least 16 MBs of RAM, running Windows 3.1. Or, a 486/66 or Pentium with at least 16 MBs of RAM, running Windows 95 or higher.

For more information, visit What You Need to Get Connected in wNetSchool's Internet Primer.

-- Any Word Processing Program (i.e., MS Word, Corel WordPerfect, AppleWorks, etc.)
-- MS Powerpoint or HyperStudio can be used by students to add a multimedia presentation to their final project. For more information on how to use these programs, see wNetSchool's HyperStudio or PowerPoint Tutorials.

Before you begin the lesson, bookmark the following sites:
  • Encyclopedia Mythica - Article: Hawai'iki

  • FEMA For Kids -- Resources for Teachers

  • FEMA For Kids -- Disaster Connection: Kids to Kids

  • Images of Volcanoes

  • Movies on VolcanoWorld

  • Vesuvius, Italy


  • Activity One: The Role of Myths & Legends

    1. Students will begin to understand the reasons why people look for non scientific explanations for different phenomena.

    Read the myth from the following website:

    Hawai'iki is the fabled original homeland of the Hawaiians and probably of all Polynesians. The unifying mystery is how the various folklores speak of one land-of-long-ago, where everyone's ancestors lived in bliss. Hawai'iki, Havai'i, Ra'iatea, Kahiki, and many more names, are all the same place. It is the language of the people which changed, as they moved and started new social groups who forgot how to speak in the old tongue. There is no question that massive migrations of merging cultures actually occurred, mostly from west to east, across the Pacific Ocean. But pin-pointing exactly who, came from where, first, is a jig-saw puzzle that may never be solved. Because Polynesians had no organized written language before the intervention of Europeans, such stories of origin were transmitted by word-of-mouth, and thus gathered mossy vagueness, contradicting elements, and even a different name for the original land. It would not be improbable to imagine that all of the names constituted a simple expression like the "old country" reference used by European immigrants to North America.

    The following is a composite of much Polynesian folklore related to "the-place-from-where-we-all-came":

    A very long time ago the great sea was not so deep, and the land was mostly on two very big islands, like two giant turtles floating in the water. One of these was high up on the earth's shoulders, in cold water. No one cared to make a home on that shell. Only wild beasts, and maybe some bad Menehune, lived there. The other island basked in the warmth of the sun at the belt of the earth. In their old way of speaking, the people who lived on this shell called it aina-momomaakane, fat-land-of-god. For them, everything was good, and everyone was happy. There was little need for work, and mostly people could just do as they pleased, with no one or nothing to bother them.

    Then everything changed. Some say the old ways were brought to an end because a man and a woman desecrated the flower garden of a god, and everyone was to be banished to a small floating land, where their descendants were to be doomed to scrape food from rocks. But there is another story. One which tells of an unusually cold morning when much dew appeared on all the plants. The earth slipped on a wet hibiscus, and fell onto its back. The great white giant who slept in the shadows at the top of the world woke up and found himself under the rays of the hot sun. To hide again, he quickly changed into water. Other gods, the red ones, Pele's ancestors, roared in anger at being disturbed. All of this made a great commotion.

    When everything finally settled down, the people found there were very few of them left, and they were no longer living on a great turtle-back, but on the scattered fragments of one, that is to say, on many, many small islands. And the stars above them in the night sky were now those which before could only be seen much farther south of the belt of the earth. (Those many small islands today have names like Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Tahiti.)

    But the sea was not totally malevolent: to help the people after the big shake-up, everything beneath the waters grew back faster and bigger. To find each other, and try to learn what was left of their earlier homeland, the people built strong canoes from big trees that floated everywhere around the islands at the time. They soon found that the sea was giving them another present: thousands of small coral islets sprang up everywhere, like long strings of pearls, marking trails from one group of islands to another. Following one of these, they re-discovered far south a big chunk of their old place, named ka-paia-ha'a back then, later Aotearoa ("Land of the long white cloud"), and finally, New Zealand.

    Going all over like this, in every direction, over many, many generations, they re-kindled life in much of the remnants of what had been their homeland.

    Eventually, many of the coral islets died, and the sea rose more. The string-of-pearl trails between the island groups vanished. By then, there was no longer anyone still interested in finding pieces of the old ancestral home, and the diverse islander families found it too hard to keep in touch with obscure relatives in far-off places.

    So, all moving ended. But not before, going along one last string-of-pearls-path north, the people found some of the big turtle-island that had lain in the north. The one which the ancient stories say was so barren, because it was in the wrong place, in cold water. It also had disappeared, the day the earth slipped, but several pieces of it had now been blown back out of the sea, in a much more pleasant location. So the people settled there also. And, because it reminded them so much of their old home, this last pearl they called Hawaii.

    2. Discuss the role of myths and legends in explaining different phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and storms that occur on the earth. Ask the students to imagine themselves as inhabitants of a small tropical island long ago who had just experienced a volcano. Divide the class into pairs and ask them to brainstorm ideas about their reaction to the event. Ask each of the pairs to create a brief myth that would explain what had occurred. Share results with the entire class.

  • Activity Two: Survey

    1. Have the students conduct the following survey. They may use sources outside school such as relatives, friends or neighbors to gather data.

    Are you interested in natural disasters and catastrophes? Why?
    What did you think was the most fascinating natural disaster that ever occurred? Why?
    Have you had personal experiences with volcanoes, storms, lightning, rock slides, or avalanches?

    2. As a class, tabulate your results. What was the most commonly mentioned disaster?

    3. Discuss the following question:

    What similarities do modern and ancient day peoples share in looking for answers to natural catastrophes?

    4. Based on their survey results and discussion, have each student write a brief paragraph explaining why they think people are fascinated with catastrophes.

  • Activity Three: Differing Viewpoints

    1. In the program SAVAGE PLANET, we hear from different people whose lives have been impacted by natural disasters. Mt. Ranier has the potential to be a bigger disaster than its neighbor Mt. St Helens, yet there are many people living in its ominous shadow. Use the following quotes from the inhabitants living at the base of Mt. Ranier to begin your discussion.

    "You just don't move a farm. This is the ground that I know and I like." ( a 58 year old farmer who has spent his entire life living at the base of Mt. Ranier)
    "...I feel pretty secure. There is a lot of potential for damage here but I feel safe here."
    "It's not a matter of if we're moving but when we're moving." (A father of young children.)
    "I don't think it's going to happen in my lifetime."
    2. Have each student choose one quote and write a brief paragraph focusing on why they agree or disagree with the author. Share results with the entire class.

    3. In order to give students a greater understanding of how economic constraints affect the choices people have, discuss the following questions:

    Since Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the annual typhoons have created massive lahars that endanger the lives of the residents. Why might people choose to stay in Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines when they know that this will happen every year?
    In Mt. Pinatubo, a group of men called Delta Five comprise an early warning system. They rotate in 7 day shifts to watch for lahars and can provide a 30 minute warning to the residents. On Mt. Ranier, there is an instrumentation device in place that provides a one hour window for residents to evacuate. Why do different areas have different kinds of warning systems?
    What do you have in place in your community? (This website may be a helpful resource:
    4. Assign the students to work in groups. Visit the following website containing accounts of students who have experienced disasters at Have each group collect a story to share with the class.

    5. Have the students compile a chart of people's reasons for living in high risk areas.

    6. Read the following imaginary scenario to your class, and have them respond in writing:

    This morning during a routine inspection, vulcanologists have determined that there will be a volcanic eruption in your area sometime within the next 20 years. What will you do?

    Have students share their responses in groups of two or three.


    Students will be assessed on the quality of their discussion contributions and their written responses.


    Have the students visit the following websites to look at images of volcanoes:

    Ask the students to write a descriptive paragraph based on what they have seen.


    For applicable standards see:


    One Computer in the Classroom
    If you have access to one computer in your classroom, you can organize your class in several ways. Divide your class into two groups. Instruct one of the groups to do paper research while the second group is working on the computer. Bring in books, encyclopedias, and other materials from the library for the group doing paper research. Lead the group working at the computer through an Internet search or allow the students in the class to take turns. (Always have a set of bookmarks ready for the students before they start working on the computer, in order to show them examples of what to look for.) When the groups have finished working have them switch places.

    If you have a big monitor or projection facilities, you can do Internet research together as a class. Make sure that every student in your class can see the screen, go to the relevant Web site(s), and review the information presented there. You can also select a search engine page and allow your students to suggest the search criteria. Again, bookmark and/or print the pages that you think are helpful for reference later.

    Several Computers in the Classroom
    Divide your class into small groups. Groups can do Internet research using pages you have bookmarked. Group members should take turns navigating the bookmarked sites.

    You can also set the class up so that each computer is dedicated to certain sites. Students will then move around the classroom, getting different information from each station.

    Using a Computer Lab
    A computer center or lab space, with a computer-to-student ratio of one to three, is ideal for doing Web-based projects. Generally, when doing Web-based research, it is helpful to put students in groups of three. This way, students can help each other if problems or questions arise. It is often beneficial to bookmark sites for students ahead of time.

    Submit a Comment: We invite your comments and suggestions based on how you used the lesson in your classroom.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students