Unit 2: Preparing for the Worst: Natural Disasters
Students learn the science behind natural disasters, such as volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires, with an emphasis on how natural disasters happen.
Natural disasters such as volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires happen all over the world. Understanding how natural disasters happen and why helps children feel less anxious and more prepared. Therefore, this unit focuses on teaching students the science behind each natural disaster while also explaining what to do if they live in an area prone to a particular natural disaster. Over the course of the unit, students hear about many famous natural disasters, but the unit places more of an emphasis on how the disasters happen rather than exploring the devastation or destruction caused by previous natural disasters. The unit provides many opportunities for students to learn more about recent natural disasters, including a culminating research project.
The texts in this unit were chosen because of their wide variety of text features, content, and accessibility. Over the course of the unit, students will read texts that are very technical and rely heavily on text features, diagrams, and illustrations, as well as texts that are written as informational narratives. Students will be challenged to think about the structures the authors use to help the reader interact with and learn the content, noticing the author's use of cause-and-effect and chronology. Additionally, students will learn the importance of referring to specific details from the text and using those details to explain and teach back the newly learned material.
Students build their writing fluency by writing daily in response to the Target Task question. Throughout the unit, students also learn to craft strong informational paragraphs, focusing on introducing a topic, providing details and reasons, and elaborating on details. Students also have an opportunity to write a short narrative, using what they learned about a particular natural disaster and the features of a narrative to retell an experience. The unit culminates with students conducting research and writing a report on a recent natural disaster.
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Book: Unforgettable Natural Disasters (TIME FOR KIDS Nonfiction Readers) by Tamara Hollingsworth (Teacher Created Materials; 2 edition, 2013)
Book: Hurricanes by Seymour Simon (HarperCollins, 2007)
Book: Wildfires by Seymour Simon (Collins, 2016)
Book: Earthquakes by Seymour Simon (Collins, 2006)
Book: Volcanoes by Seymour Simon (Collins, 2006)
Resource: FEMA Winter Storms and Extreme Cold Fact Sheet (FEMA)
Resource: FEMA Droughts Fact Sheet (FEMA)
Resource: FEMA Extreme Heat Fact Sheet (FEMA)
Assessment Text: “Tsunamis” by Shaun Taylor (Reading A-Z)
Rubric: Grade 4 Narrative Writing Rubric
Template: Narrative Brainstorming Template
These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.
Download Cold Read Assessment
Download Cold Read Assessment Answer Key
Download Content Assessment
Download Content Assessment Answer Key
Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit. Essential Tasks can be found in the following lessons:
Suggestions for how to prepare to teach this unit
Prepare to teach this unit by immersing yourself in the texts, themes, and core standards. Unit Launches include a series of short videos, targeted readings, and opportunities for action planning.
The central thematic questions addressed in the unit or across units
To describe events and the scientific reasons they occur, readers need to be able to identify and describe the cause-and-effect connection between ideas.
To explain scientific concepts, readers need to be able to identify and explain details that describe the sequence or chronology of events.
Introduce a topic clearly using a topic sentence.
Group related information into paragraphs and sections.
Develop the topic with facts, definitions, and concrete details.
Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
Provide a concluding statement or section.
Add headings, illustrations, and graphics.
Brainstorm and draft a story with a logical sequence of events that unfolds naturally.
Use dialogue, concrete words and phrases, and sensory details to develop experiences.
Provide a sense of closure.
Prepare for discussion.
Elaborate to support ideas. Provide evidence or examples to justify and defend a point clearly.
Use specific vocabulary. Use vocabulary that is specific to the subject and task to clarify and share their thoughts.
Literary terms, text-based vocabulary, idioms and word parts to be taught with the text
To see all the vocabulary for Unit 2, view our 4th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.
In order to ensure that all students are able to access the texts and tasks in this unit, it is incredibly important to intellectually prepare to teach the unit prior to launching the unit. Use the intellectual preparation protocol and the Unit Launch to determine which support students will need. To learn more, visit the Supporting all Students teacher tool.
Explain what a natural disaster is and why it is important to know if a natural disaster is imminent.
Explain where and how volcanoes occur using the words "plates," "magma," and "erupt."
Explain what happened when Mount St. Helens erupted and the destruction it caused.
Describe what makes Hawaiian volcanoes unique.
Describe the four different types of volcanoes.
Writing – 2 days
Write a well-structured paragraph that explains where and how volcanoes occur and what hazards they create.
Explain where and why earthquakes occur.
Explain why a person living in Boston is significantly less likely to experience an earthquake than a person in California.
Describe the tools scientists use to measure earthquakes and why one form of measurement is not enough for measuring earthquakes.
Write a well-structured paragraph that explains where and how earthquakes occur and what hazards they create.
Explain the type of damage and destruction caused by flooding.
Describe where and how hurricanes occur.
Describe the destruction caused by each category of hurricane.
Explain how you know when a hurricane is coming and what you should do if you are in the path of a hurricane.
Write a well-structured paragraph that explains where and how hurricanes occur and what hazards they create.
Explain what happened during the Yellowstone fires of 1988 and the impact the fires had on the park.
Analyze why wildfires are neither good nor bad.
Write a well-structured paragraph that explains where and how wildfires occur and what hazards they create.
Explain other types of natural disasters and what to do to prepare for or prevent them.
Narrative Writing – 4 days
Write a short narrative about a young person dealing with a natural disaster.
Writing – 5 days
Research and report on a recent natural disaster.
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The content standards covered in this unit
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
— Produce complete sentences, recognizing and correcting inappropriate fragments and run-ons.
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
— Use correct capitalization.
— Use commas and quotation marks to mark direct speech and quotations from a text.
— Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
— Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal precise actions, emotions, or states of being (e.g., quizzed, whined, stammered) and that are basic to a particular topic (e.g., wildlife, conservation, and endangered when discussing animal preservation).
— Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
— Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
— Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
— Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
— Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
— Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.
— Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.
— Paraphrase portions of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
— Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker provides to support particular points.
— Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
— Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
— Introduce a topic clearly and group related information in paragraphs and sections; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
— Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
— Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented
— Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
— Orient the reader by establishing a situationand introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
— Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
— Use a variety of transitional words and phrases to manage the sequence of events.
— With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
— Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
— Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.
Standards that are practiced daily but are not priority standards of the unit
— Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
— Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., telegraph, photograph, autograph).
— Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
— Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
— Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
— Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.
— Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
— By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4—5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
— Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
(Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1—3 above.)
— With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.
— Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
— Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
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