Submitted by: Dr. Kari Stubbs

Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 3-8, students use BrainPOP resources to demonstrate an understanding of local natural disasters from historical, scientific and human impact perspectives. Students will communicate and collaborate with peers from different parts of the world to swap personal, natural disaster experiences. They’ll also create an innovative teaching product/method surrounding a natural disaster that impacts their area and deliver it to their virtual peers, who will reciprocate with products and discussions on natural disasters that impact them.


Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of local natural disasters from historical, scientific and human impact perspectives and compare/contrast them to those of their virtual peers.
  2. Communicate and collaborate with peers from different parts of the world to swap personal, natural disaster experiences.
  3. Create an innovative teaching product/method surrounding a natural disaster that impacts their area and deliver it to their virtual peers, who will reciprocate with products and discussions on natural disasters that impact them.


  • Access to BrainPOP, along with one or more of the following tools and resources:
  • ePals: Locate collaborative schools, plus use their free school email and blogging tools
  • KidsVid: Story boarding tool that can be used to prepare for a movie or podcast
  • WebPosterWizard: Develop web-based of student posters (websites)
  • RubiStar: Develop quality educational rubrics
  • Voicethread: Tool that combines visuals (photos, drawings, etc) with student voice recordings to make original digital stories
  • Wikispaces: Easy-to-use, free wiki hosting site
  • Skype: Free, web-based voice, chat and videoconferencing tool
  • Free, online mind mapping tool
  • Nettrekker: Safe, educational search tool for students


hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, tsunami, drought, volcano, wildfire


The Essential Question for this unit of study is: How do natural disasters affect people? Students will take advantage of BrainPOP’s natural disasters topic to discover where and under what conditions natural disasters are most likely to occur, as well as the impact they have on humans. A discussion following the exploration of the topic will highlight the natural disasters that impact their own lives and those of their corresponding peers.

Initially students will work with their corresponding peers (i.e. ePals) to share related personal experiences about natural disasters (e.g. losses sustained in actual event or experiences with preparation drills). Based on the interest generated by these emails, students will work to provide additional information to their ePal about natural disasters that affect their local population (e.g. earthquakes in California or hurricanes in North Carolina).

Students will work in small teams and choose one particularly pertinent natural disaster to conduct research on and use topics on BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr. to support their research. Their research will encompass the historical impact, the science behind the phenomenon, and preparation strategies and tips for the disaster. The collaborating teacher will perform similar activities and duties so that when we all come together and share, we will have similar expectations.

Students will choose their method of delivery for teaching their virtual peers about natural disasters. An example of a possible culminating project could include a: website, movie, podcast, wiki, blog, PowerPoint, etc.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. The Hook: Getting Started -- Students will explore the Natural Disasters Topic resources on BrainPOP to increase their overall understanding of Natural Disasters. The students will then be introduced to the problem through an email or SKYPE connection with their corresponding teacher. The teacher will ask them for assistance in teaching students about natural disasters (i.e. hurricanes) in their area and telling them that they should exchange information. Students will then introduce themselves to their virtual peers, via email, wiki or videoconferencing, depending on time and availability.
  2. Getting Organized: Whole Class -- Brainstorm either as a whole class or in small groups how the students would like to help their peers understand the natural disasters that impact their community. Much depends on your discussions, but one scenario might involve students working in groups of 3 or 4, researching particular components of one natural disaster (i.e. history, science, preparedness, etc for tornadoes) in a jigsaw manner. This means that each group will be responsible for certain pieces of the entire presentation. Help students understand that this is an opportunity for them to take some risks and try some new methods of learning (depending on their experience with PBL, this could be a very new way of learning).
  3. Getting Organized: Small Groups -- Depending on your PBL experience, you may need to provide some support for small group organization. Assigning roles to group members can increase efficiency. In addition, students may need guiding questions to help them get started. Take a look at the attached "Getting Organized" sheet to find an optional guide. In their planning, students need to think innovatively about their products and delivery methods. They also need to think about where they can get information for their project, including BrainPOP. They may want to contact a local meteorologist or parent/community member who has been through a natural disaster. You may try to facilitate communications and even suggest guests who could come to your class and help.
  4. A Great Reason to Research -- Re-visit BrainPOP’s Natural Disasters topic, and investigate the Related Reading's, take the interactive quiz, and explore the interactive resources. Encourage them to take notes as they begin to understand how their group’s content fits into the final presentations to their virtual peers.
  5. A Desire to Share: Research Outline -- Groups need to make some decisions surrounding their content, product and method of delivery. They can continue to use the "Getting Organized" sheet. They need to have a solid research focus, leading into the next few days of research.
  6. Additional Research -- Students need time to explore BrainPOP resources on their specific Natural Disaster and connect with experts. Students can use their outline as a guide for note taking and organization.
  7. Product Outline -- Students now need to decide how they plan to convey their new found knowledge. The methods of delivery and multimedia tools to be used during the final presentations will be chosen by the students and might include WebPosterWizard websites, Podcasts, Wikis, PowerPoints, Flash animated visuals, Voicethreads (digital storytelling), Google websites, iMovies (interviews or recreations), etc. You may want to provide some product samples to give the students an idea of their options (see wiki under product samples). Once they choose a product, they will need to outline its development. KidsVid provides a storyboarding tool that helps students plan, in detail, what a multimedia product will look like. This tool is designed for movie storyboarding/planning but can be used for Podcasts, PowerPoints, Voicethreads, etc. You may want to ask students to share their outlines before they proceed to the next step.
  8. Authentic Assessment -- Now that the students have a topic, have started their research and have some tools to start constructing and sharing their knowledge, they need to develop a rubric to evaluate it. RubiStar or PBL Checklists can be used as a whole class activity where students help you choose the categories that they believe are important to include in a quality product. See sample Rubric within wiki.
  9. Product Development -- Students need time to develop their product. Their group roles will become important in this stage to maintain organization and efficiency. You will also be key to facilitating the pace and productivity of the groups. Small group conferences and updates with groups may be necessary.
  10. An Audience of Peers -- Students will use this time to post completed projects or deliver presentations (depending on your medium of choice). If posting on a wiki or via email is your choice, this time is for all students to explore and learn from their peers. If presentations are taking place, the developed rubric should reflect time limits, roles and guidance from the onset. Students will also need time to practice before their final delivery.
  11. Reflection -- This day is reserved for final reflections with virtual peers. Students might share what surprised them, what they learned and what they would still like to learn about natural disasters. In addition, students can use a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast their natural disaster with that of their peers.