"How Tsunamis Work?"

Alex Gendler
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Article , Informative Text , 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.



This lesson is based upon the video “The Science of Tsunamis.”  Students watch the video, which describes the effects of the phenomenon of tsunamis on ancient civilizations, how tsunamis form, their impacts today, and ways that humans can lessen their impact. Students then complete/discuss 5 multiple choice questions and 3 open-ended questions. Another section allows students to “dig deeper” into the topic, researching fact/fiction statements dealing with misconceptions people might hold about tsunamis.  Students are able to participate in guided and open public discussions which ask them to explain things such as why people who live in tsunami-prone areas continue to live there and what they can do to prevent the impact of tsunamis.


Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
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 appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The teacher could first engage the students in an examination of the phenomenon by allowing the students to view a video of an actual tsunami focusing on its devastating impact. Their ensuing discussion/journal entries could then include their definition of a tsunami, and how it impacts human life. This activity could allow the teacher to assess student prior knowledge, observe any misconceptions, and serve as a baseline for formative assessment. Students could share ideas and generate/compare their solutions. Once students have viewed the video, they might revisit their initial entries, using the “Dig Deeper’ section of the lesson to reassess their prior discussion/journal entries. They could also research/brainstorm other ideas for reducing the impacts of tsunamis and watch the Animation of a Tsunami Detection System in the Dig Deeper section.

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
Along with following the tips outlined above addressing the Performance Expectation, the use of student discussion/journal entries would allow students to combine/share their ideas, then reassess their accuracy after viewing the video. Resources provided in the “Dig Deeper” section , as well as The Red Cross http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/tsunami and Ready.Gov- https://www/ready.gov/tsunamis could provide reliable information for students.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students might journal/create a class chart explaining the phenomena and comparing multiple solutions to reduce impact. This would also provide an opportunity for the teacher to initiate contrasts/comparisons of emergency plans that might already be familiar to students

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students should be explicitly become aware that repeating patterns in nature occur with regularity, which would allow them to start exploring causal relationships. The teacher could emphasize the sections of the video which detail the locations of tsunamis. Questions for students could include- “Why should we understand how tsunamis form? How would that help us design solutions to reduce their effects? Where do tsunamis occur most often? What are their sources?” (Students could create a tally chart list of locations and number of occurrences.) “ What do you think these locations have in common?” Students could place tsunami symbols (of their own creation) on a world map to provide visual clues for tsunami patterns.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson engages students in authentic and meaningful scenarios as they make sense of the phenomenon of a tsunami. Student learning becomes three-dimensional as the practice of obtaining information from reliable media is integrated with the disciplinary core idea of ways humans might lessen the impact of a tsunami. The practice and DCI are intertwined with the suggested cross-cutting concept of cause and effect as students observe causal relationships related to tsunami occurrence patterns. Students are able to express, clarify, and justify their reasons that people might continue to live in tsunami prone areas as they respond to open-ended questions. They could review the concept of reducing the impact of tsunamis as evidence for the reasons they suggest. Teachers might decide to modify the questions included in the public discussions and have the students respond to them on a private class discussion board or in their notebooks. They could review the concept of reducing the impact of tsunamis as evidence for the reasons they suggest.

  • Instructional Supports: In order for differentiated learning to be addressed, the teacher could allow students to illustrate types of emergency plans, create posters with captions depicting ways that tsunamis form, and orally explain why people choose to live in tsunami prone areas. ( They could be paired with other students who would give their opinion in the online discussion.)

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Teacher could track student progress by observing journal entries throughout the lesson. Students could also be assessed using the multiple choice questions as a guide. They could respond to the questions before and after viewing the video, adding their own comments about what they have learned/ changed their thinking about. The fact/fiction questions of the Dig Deeper portion of the lesson could also be presented to the students before they view the video, following the same format as the multiple choice options.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students could interact with online discussion. As stated above, however, teacher modification and use of a private classroom board is recommended.