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Lesson Plans

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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.



To build the earthquake simulator:
  • A cardboard box (at least shoebox-sized)
  • A slinky that fits within the box (you may need to use a mini-slinky)
  • Loose, dry, large-grained sand to cover the slinky
To construct the building models:
  • Straws
  • Toothpicks
  • Craft sticks
  • Styrofoam peanuts
  • Styrofoam blocks of various sizes
  • Various kinds of tape
  • Legos
  • String
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Any other lightweight materials that the students suggest (like sheets of cardboard)
  • Videos on earthquakes
  • Books on earthquakes
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 MB of RAM.
  • IBM-compatible computer: 386 or higher processor with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 3.1. Or, a 486/66 or Pentium with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 95.

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

The following sites should be bookmarked:

  • Savage Earth: Restless Planet

    The Web companion piece to the PBS series SAVAGE EARTH includes articles and animations about earthquakes. To view the animations on this site, you will need the free Flash plug-in (

  • Savage Earth: Building Safer

    A page of the wNetStation Web companion piece to the PBS series SAVAGE EARTH that is dedicated to earthquake-proof building designs.

  • Earthquake Report

    A compilation of earthquake articles. This site includes an article, called Modern Buildings "Tough Enough," on new building codes in Japan that attempt to make buildings earthquake-proof (

  • Earthquake History

    A visual 20th-century history of earthquakes throughout the world, United States, and California.

    Time Allotment:
    This lesson requires approximately 5 class periods.

  • Introduce the students to the Savage Earth: Restless Planet pages of the wNetStation Web companion piece for the PBS series SAVAGE EARTH ( Allow students to explore the different types of earthquake waves. Suggest that they explore the sidebars in addition to the main article. Pay particular attention to Sidebar 3 -- a page about earthquake-proof buildings (

    Students can continue their research by exploring Earthquake Report (
    quakes.html) and Earthquake History (

    If time permits, students should conduct their own Web search for information about earthquakes and earthquake-proof buildings.

    Inform students that their task for the week will be to construct a model of an earthquake-resistant building. Give students The Task page, located in Organizers for Students, and assign each student a work partner.

  • Use the slinky to demonstrate the different waves that cause the damaging forces of the earthquake. P- , or primary, waves alternately compress and stretch the rock through which they move.


    Demonstrate a p-wave by stretching the slinky out slightly, having students hold it at each end, compressing about 10 of the slinky wires together, and then letting the wires go. Students will observe the p-wave as it moves through the slinky.

    Then have the students at each end wiggle the slinky from side to side, like a snake wiggling, so that students can observe an s- , or secondary, wave that occurs in an earthquake.


    Tell students that their building model should withstand both of these waves.

    Tell students that construction of models will begin the next day. Show them the materials that you have gathered for their use and discuss the minimum size requirements of their model (listed on The Task page). Ask them if there are other materials they would suggest, and have the class discuss their acceptability. (The models must simulate real buildings with various parts.)

  • As a class, the students will construct the earthquake simulator: A slinky should be placed in the bottom of a box and stretched from one end to the other. It should then be covered with loose, dry sand, with the ends a little exposed so you can manipulate them. Explain that the buildings will be placed on top of this simulator for their earthquake tests.

    Students should begin the construction of their models. Tell them that testing will begin the next day so that all glue must be dry by the beginning of the next day's class.

  • Students complete their models. Take pictures of the models before testing. If cameras are not available, students should draw their model. They must also write a paragraph explaining the design features of their model.

    Put one of the model buildings on the sand on top of the slinky. Test the model with a p-wave by compressing links in one exposed end of the slinky and letting the wave travel the length of the buried slinky. Repeat with an s-wave by wiggling an end of the slinky. Take "after" pictures, or have the students draw their "after" model. Allow students to modify their designs. (Explain that an actual earthquake combines the two kinds of waves, plus other waves, but that the latter are not as easy to simulate.)

  • Final testing day: Again record "before" and "after" pictures of the models. Students should write a paragraph describing the design features of their model. Discuss the features and materials that proved most successful and have students explain why they were most successful. Display all completed model evaluations.


    Social Studies: Students should write a simple "building code" that incorporates their suggestions for how to build earthquake-proof buildings. How would these be different for a large industrial city and a small city in a developing nation?

    Art and Language Arts: Design a brochure for the "Earthquake Proof" Construction Company. The brochure should explain the new design features and convince the public to hire your company to construct these new buildings.


    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, etc., 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 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 a number of 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. This way, the small groups of 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