Humans and the Earth: Grades 3-5: Living in an Earthquake Zone

NSTA - Science and Children Journal Christine Ann Royce
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Students observe types of destruction that occur when an earthquake strikes an area in this 5E structured lesson. Students view teacher selected videos before comparing observed earthquake destruction depicted in the Seymour Simon book, Earthquakes. Teams of students then design earthquake-resistant structures, test their resistant capabilities using a shake table then re-design/modify structures, critiquing their models' performance based on identified criteria and constraints. Connections between their designs/modifications and the work of engineers who design earthquake resistant buildings are also explored.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Criteria and constraints for earthquake resistant designs are detailed in the lesson. Teacher should encourage students to brainstorm and/or choose their own materials in addition to those provided. A discussion of the properties of materials as well as their form and function should be included in order to assist students in presenting their reasons for why they ultimately build their structures out of the materials they select. Students should be allowed to touch and test materials to determine their strength and flexibility. Materials of each type should be provided for each student (group) in order to allow students every opportunity for innovation of design. Marshmallows may get soft and weak from use. Gummy candy like DOTS may be provided as a substitute.

4-ESS3-2 Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.

Clarification Statement: Examples of solutions could include designing an earthquake resistant building and improving monitoring of volcanic activity.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In order to fully implement the Performance Expectation, students could select the types of materials necessary for their earthquake-resistant home designs. They could provide evidence for those choices, journaling reasons certain materials might provide greater damage protection. The viewing of two videos listed in the "Explore" area of the resource could provide structure for their design choices. Those videos could provide a transition between information students obtained on building stability with their own designs.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In this lesson, students create models of earthquake resistant structures. Students should investigate and/or research material properties as well as the form and function behind current earthquake bracing and framing technologies before they model their own design solutions. Teachers should provide time for students to explain their models to classmates, discussing their reasoning for the materials they chose and how their model structure compares with real structures. Students commonly reveal the misconception that heaviest buildings withstand earthquake damage best. Teachers should bring attention to whether or not this assumption stands up during student investigations and solution comparisons to address the misconception.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Discussion of the materials being used in the simulated earthquake resistant designs could be compared/contrasted with real-life materials. The ways in which the criteria and constraints would impact their design implementation should also be discussed.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Review of types of natural processes could be part of the class discussion. The concept that natural process do occur and have both positive/negative effects could be reinforced. Student misconceptions ( Example: All natural processes that occur produce natural hazards) may be discovered and dispelled during the class discussion.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
As stated in previous tips, students could compare/contrast the types of materials used in real-life settings (review of video simulations) with materials sets allotted to each group. Questions could include- "Why are these materials necessary for your structure? How might they best be located in your structure?" These questions could be used during teacher probing time as the teacher checks in with teams and data sheets are perused.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Teacher modeling could focus student understanding of material properties. Student tasks include building each floor of their structure. Discussion could include topics of flexibility of materials as well as the strength of materials needed to support each floor. Students might journal ways that their substructure parts will function together to create the earthquake proof building, citing properties of materials as evidence for their designs. When testing of buildings have been completed, students might revisit their journal entries, rating the function of the materials used in their design. This information would also assist students in a modification of their design solutions.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource allows students to experience three-dimensional learning. The resource does provide connections to Common Core Standards for ELA via journal writing explanations/illustrations of the design solution. The science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and cross-cutting concepts are combined to engage students in real-life experiences as they design solutions.

  • Instructional Supports: This lesson engages students in meaningful learning that reflects the practice of science and engineering as experienced in the real world. It also provides opportunities for students to express, clarify, justify and represent their ideas and respond to teacher and peer feedback. Modifications for struggling students are not included. Since students are working in groups, provisions for student pairing/ time to talk/illustration of ideas could be implemented to include all students in discussion of solutions. However, detailed data sheets, including reasons/evidence for choices are included and reviewed during teacher consultation time. NOTE: Earthquake trade book in resource is written at a Grade 5.5 reading level. The entire text does not have to be read to students. It includes information on plate tectonics, which is not included in the Grade 3-5 standards. Advanced students might use the book as an enrichment resource, researching maps/diagrams of earthquake locations.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This lesson elicits direct, observable evidence of student performance. Opportunities for assessment are in the form of teacher probes of student prior knowledge as informational text is read. Data sheets provided reflect student's ability to provide evidence for their thinking, as well as to apply that evidence to further design solutions. In order to assess individual learning, data sheets could be completed individually by students before group activity commences. Students could write a short explanation explaining how their process was similar to what engineers have dealt with over time in designing earthquake-resistant structures. The students could also make predictions (journaling) detailing what would occur to their re-designed buildings if the force of the "earthquake" was greater or less than their simulated experience.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students observe videos of earthquake destruction and efforts to create earthquake resistant buildings and are able to access information from websites listed under internet resources. It should be noted that the "Inside Earthquakes" National Geographic video listed, is unavailable for viewing.