Why Do Buildings Fall in Earthquakes?

Elaine May Ted-Ed
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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 find out how and why earthquakes affect buildings and how the impact on buildings can be reduced by viewing the Why Buildings Fall in Earthquakes video. The role of mass, resonance, stiffness, and oscillation in building design are explored. This resource could be part of a project in which students design their own earthquake-resistant buildings.


Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

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 was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
By watching this video, students learn how the combined research of geologists, engineers, and scientists is used to design buildings that can withstand earthquakes. Prior to watching the video, students could view specific before and after photos/videos of earthquake damage to a variety of buildings. Based on their observations, they could record their ideas about what building designs appeared to resist damage the best. This activity could serve as a pre-assessment. After watching the video, students could reflect on their new learning and revise their thinking. This information could be used in a future engineering lesson in which they test their own earthquake-resistant building models.

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
Students obtain information from the video on the effects of earthquakes on components of building design, along with solutions for lessening damage. Before students watch the video, they could create a class chart explaining why they think buildings fall in an earthquake. They could also include “I Wonder” questions that the title of the video could generate. This type of activity could prepare them to watch the video with purpose, focusing their attention on both the design solution and the power of the earthquake to create damage. Teacher-guided discussion could include asking students to think about building components, height, weight, etc. of buildings, as well as asking them to draw the types of buildings they think would lessen an earthquake’s impact. These drawings could be modified by students after they view the video, then used in their own earthquake resistant building models.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The video and supplemental resource materials provide students with evidence for steps taken by the combined efforts of scientists, geologists, and engineers to reduce the impact of earthquakes. Students could discuss the role of each professional taking part in that effort, explaining how each one’s expertise is responsible for creating design solutions and a greater understanding of the natural hazards of earthquakes. Students might explain how the work of lessening hazards might be impacted if one of the roles were eliminated, giving evidence for their ideas. Students could discuss optimal testing situations for the building designs, explaining types of variables that would influence the testing, including information they learned from the video. Comments from the class discussion could be summarized by students on a shared list, then referred to by students when they design their own buildings.

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
The resource shows how earthquake damage is related to building structure. In order to more fully explore cause and effect, students could discuss other variables that could impact change, including soil density, composition, and force of earthquakes.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The video provides students with the opportunity to obtain information about engineered solutions to the problem of earthquake damage while developing an understanding of the causes of earthquakes and ways to lessen their effects. In order to more fully engage the students in three-dimensional learning, the teacher could create an “I Wonder” or K-W-L chart to elicit student prior knowledge and prepare students for viewing the video, with their potential questions providing a focus for supporting students in explaining and understanding vocabulary terms appropriate to the lesson. The “Dig Deeper” section of the resource may provide more in-depth information for teachers to assimilate and extend understanding of to the students. Some concepts presented to students in this resource are complex and may be difficult for students to understand.

  • Instructional Supports: Differentiated instruction is not provided. However, students could represent what they have observed, possibly drawing buildings displayed in video, using symbols and captions to explain movement. Students could share drawings, clarify their diagrams, and respond to peer feedback.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Multiple choice questions are presented for students to assess learning, once students have viewed the video. Teacher may choose to modify the questions, reviewing ideas from the video, or read questions and model/review parts of video to respond to them. It is suggested that they be modified to make them more open ended. The teacher could also assess student response to the open discussion questions listed on site.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component.