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Lesson Plans

Are We Falling Apart? Exploding Volcanoes
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.


Student Prerequisites:
Students will need to know how to record and analyze data in an experiment and how to locate points on a map with longitude and latitude.

  • 1 bowl
  • 6 cups flour
  • 8 paper cups
  • 1 plastic spoon per student group
  • 2 sheets newspaper per student group
  • 1 metric ruler per student group
  • 3 pieces of craft paper (18" x 18")
  • 1 black crayon per student group
  • 100 ml corn syrup
  • 2 100-ml graduated cylinders
  • 2 straws
  • copies of a world map that shows longitude and latitude lines
  • copies of a world map that shows the plates of the earth's crust
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: Out of the Inferno

    The Web companion piece to the PBS series SAVAGE EARTH includes this section on volcanoes. Includes an explanation of how the viscosity of the magma/lava affects the violence of a volcanic eruption. Also features an animation of an eruption.

  • VolcanoWorld

    This site offers extensive information about all things volcanic. It is the home of Ask a Volcanologist (; Volcanic Cones and Eruptions (
    Cones/Cones1.html), an online lesson on the different kinds of eruptions; and Parts of a Volcano (, a page with a well-labeled diagram of the parts of a volcano.

  • Volcanoes

    This searchable site provides links to sites about volcanoes all over the world and includes a link to a volcanic terms glossary.

  • Map It

    A United States mapping tool that pinpoints sites of volcanic and seismic activity.


    Time Allotment:
    This lesson requires approximately 5 class periods.

  • Explain that volcanoes are formed when magma (molten rock) pushes up from under the Earth's crust and reaches the surface as lava. Direct students to Parts of a Volcano in VolcanoWorld (
    parts.html), and have them draw a volcano and label its parts.

    Have students research the types of volcanoes and volcanic eruptions there are using the resources mentioned above, such as Ask a Volcanologist (

    Then distribute the Volcanic Terms Worksheet, located in Organizers for Students, and have students complete the worksheet using information found at Volcanoes ( The answers for the worksheet are as follows:


    1. eruption
    2. caldera
    3. magma
    4. volcano
    5. ash
    6. cinder cone
    7. lava
    8. vent
    9. crater
    10. dome

  • Have students read about how the viscosity of the magma affects the way a volcano erupts. This information can be found at Savage Earth: Out of the Inferno ( and in the online lesson Volcanic Cones and Eruptions ( Students should understand that runny magma tends to produce less violent eruptions than thicker, stickier magma, which traps expanding gases until they explode out violently.

    To demonstrate, do the following:

    Have the students put 100 ml of water in a graduated cylinder, and 100 ml of corn syrup in another graduated cylinder. Explain that the water represents runny magma, and the syrup represents stickier, thicker magma. Place a straw in each container, and slowly blow bubbles. Discuss the difference between the bubbles in each liquid and the difficulty you had producing them. Keep blowing until each liquid is bubbling. Discuss the difference. Ask them which one of these liquids would produce a more violent volcanic eruption.

  • It takes a significantly large volume of volcanic ash (a form of ejecta) to form even a thin layer over a large surface area, as in volcanic eruptions. To demonstrate this to students, do the following activity:

    Divide the class into groups.

    Give each group an 18" x 18" piece of paper, a ruler, newspaper to cover the work area, a crayon, a spoon, and a lab sheet.

    Have each group draw an irregular shape on the paper to represent a country and cover the shape with a 2-cm-thick layer of flour.

    Ask students to predict how many spoonfuls of flour are on the paper. Draw the same shape on the lab sheet next to the predicted number of spoonfuls.

    Spoon up the flour while counting the spoonfuls, and record the number on the lab sheet.

    Repeat with two other "countries" of different sizes.

    Finish by creating a ratio of prediction to actual spoonfuls. Discuss area and volume.

  • Locate volcanoes on a world map with the following activity:

    Use the Volcano Event Locations Chart, located in Organizers for Students, to mark volcanic occurrences on a world map. Students may be interested in using Map It ( to see the location of volcanoes and seismic activity in the United States. Compare the pattern of volcano activity with a map showing the plates of the earth's crust. Discuss with the students if they see any correlation. Students should understand that volcanoes tend to occur where the earth's plates are spreading apart or colliding.


    Language Arts:

    Give your student the following scenario:

    You live in Hawaii. You feel that all citizens should be more alert to the power of volcanoes. Write a letter to your local news station asking them to extend the present media coverage about volcanoes to better inform the public about potential hazards. In the letter, state your reasons for concern and supporting facts.


    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 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