Volcano Lesson Plans

Volcano and earthquake lessons can provide a great way to link science instruction to current events.

By Cathy Neushul

Volcano Lesson Plans

Volcano lessons have something for everyone. There are so many things to learn about. You can teach your students about the Ring of Fire encircling the Pacific Ocean, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, recent volcanic eruptions, or plate tectonics. There are active volcanos all over the world that can provide background information for any lesson.

Before beginning a volcano lesson, you might want to give students some basic information. The word volcano comes from the name of an island in the Mediterranean Sea called Vulcano, named after the Roman god Vulcan. Since there was a volcano on this island, the name was coined. Students will learn that volcanos are a type of  mountain or hill built over a vent that contains molten rock and gases. Eruptions are caused when the molten rock and gases are expelled through the vent. These can be violent and quick, or slow and destructive, depending upon the volcano.

Since earthquakes and volcanos are inextricably linked, students can learn about these two natural phenomena at the same time. One way to start a lesson is to talk about the most recent earthquakes around the world. You won't believe the number of earthquakes occuring on a daily basis. Some might be in your own backyard.

Volcano Lesson Plans:

  • Model Volcanos: In this lesson students learn about volcanos in a hands on activity. They build their own volcanos. The lesson has a link to a website with video clips of a volcanic eruption in the Ring of Fire zone. 
  • Deadly Shadow of Vesuvius: This is an excellent lesson that provides graphics showing where the world's volcanos and earthquakes are located. Students map the location of volcanos and earthquakes, and discuss the relationship. They discuss the significance of plate boundaries.  
  • Our Savage Planet in the News: Students are divided into groups to learn about volcanos, storms, lightning, hail, and asteroids, and extreme environments, such as Death Valley. The lesson comes with a long list of links to information. At the end of the lesson students write a report. They are asked to focus on the scientific explanations for the various events.
  • Challenger Center's Journey Through the Universe: Students learn about volcanos and earthquakes. They learn about the relationship between the two, and plot their locations. They discuss the Ring of Fire located around the Pacific Ocean. They discuss how volcanos affect the atmosphere.
  • Understanding Volcanos: In this lesson students learn about the different types of volcanos, including shield volcanos, cinder cone volcanos, and composite volcanos.  Students learn about the distinct shapes of each of these volcanos. The links at the end of this lesson provide a great way to enrich the lesson. 

Earthquake Lesson Plans:

  • Earthquakes Rock: In this lesson students become familiar with the different methods used to measure earthquakes, the Richter Scale and the Mercalli Scale. Students learn about how buildings are designed to better withstand earthquakes, and design their own seismographs.
  • Plate Tectonics: This lesson covers both earthquakes and volcanos. It comes with a variety of links to information, and provides concrete ways to help students understand this information. It provides a great overview of plate tectonics and volcanos.

Science Guide

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Cathy Neushul