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. 



Unit 1

4th Grade

Unit Summary

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. In this unit, students build their writing fluency by writing daily in response to the Target Task question. Throughout the unit students also learn how to craft strong informational paragraphs, focusing on introducing a topic, providing details and reasons, and elaborating on details. The unit culminates with students using what they learned about paragraphs to research and write a report on a recent natural disaster. Toward the end of the unit, 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.

Fishtank Plus for ELA

Unlock features to optimize your prep time, plan engaging lessons, and monitor student progress.

Texts and Materials

Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click and make a purchase, we receive a small portion of the proceeds, which supports our non-profit mission.

Core Materials

Supporting Materials


These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.

Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit. Essential Tasks can be found in the following lessons:

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep

Unit Launch

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.

Essential Questions

  • Where and how do earthquakes occur? What hazards do earthquakes create? How can the hazards be reduced? 
  • Where and how do volcanoes occur? What hazards do volcanoes create? How can the hazards be reduced? 
  • Where and how do hurricanes occur? What hazards do hurricanes create? How can the hazards be reduced? 
  • Where and how do wildfires occur? What hazards do wildfires create? How can the hazards be reduced? 

Reading Focus Areas

  • 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.

Writing Focus Areas

Informational Writing

  • 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.

Narrative Writing

  • 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.

Speaking and Listening Focus Areas

  • 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.



absorb accumulate ash atmosphere catastrophic carelessness climate coastal destructive destruction dependent debris dormant drought epicenter epidemic extinct excess extensive extreme fault famine flammable forecast havoc hurricane immense imminent inland intense inactive magnitude merged moderate natural disaster pandemic periodic plates precursor precede raging retrofitted release renew scorched slight stalled storm surge torrential tropical depression tropical tragic tropical storm warning system


-able -less -ness in- re-

To see all the vocabulary for Unit 1, view our 4th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Supporting All Students

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.

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards


Unit 2

Examining Our History: American Revolution

Dive Deeper with ELA Professional Learning

Dive Deeper with ELA Professional Learning

Join our Summer Institutes in July and August 2023.