Mt. St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980. I was living in Northern California at the time, and we had ash falling on us from the sky. For so many of us, volcanoes are something we think of as having happened long ago and far away — the eruption of Mt. St. Helens changed our minds.
57 people died in that eruption.
Share this with your students:
Point out the image in the video (1:17) showing the dome as it forms and let your students know that something similar is happening right now in South America, in the so-called “sombrero uplift.” The current uplift is growing at about the same rate as fingernails. Mt. St. Helens was growing at a rate of six feet a day. Have students figure out how to chart the difference in the rates at which the volcanoes are/were progressing.
Visit Annenberg Learner’s interactive volcanoes exhibit (use your projector) to learn the basics about how volcanoes form, how they can be predicted, and how people deal with the dangers of volcanoes.
Now that you have your students’ attention, here are two lesson plans we like to use to study volcanoes. The first, a literature based study, is a good choice for upper elementary, while the second is suited to middle school or older.
- Read The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois and check out a fun Flash movie summarizing the book. Challenge students to catch the typos.
- Check out our hot air balloon classroom theme for more resources.
- Learn about heat and decide whether the 21 balloons really would have been able to escape the volcano as they did in the book.
- Have students design and draw their own balloons.
- Compare Krakatoa in the book with the real Krakatoa, located in Indonesia. Study more about the rainforests of Southeast Asia, where Krakatoa is located.
Preparing for volcanic eruptions
- Are you in the path of a volcano? Use the USGS map to find the nearest volcano to your school. Use Google Maps (or just ask Google directly) to find the distance from your school to the volcano.
- Determine whether you would be in any danger if the nearest volcano erupted. Divide students into ten pairs or teams and give each team one of the Time Magazine Top Ten Volcanic Eruptions to research.
- Have students add the eruption they’re researching to the class timeline and map. Each team should also identify the furthest point at which effects of the eruptions were reported. Compare the distances with your distance from the nearest volcano.
- If you determine that your school would be affected by an eruption, list the effects you might encounter. Note that the 1815 eruption of Indonesia’s Mt. Tambora, the largest recorded eruption, affected the world’s climate so much that crops failed in Europe and North America. Use this information to remind students to consider consequences beyond the most obvious ones.
- Scientists like those in the video above now can predict volcanic eruptions in ways they couldn’t in the past, so people are usually warned. Check out the CDC’s advice on preparing for volcanoes. Compare this information with the disaster preparedness training you usually cover in school (such as preparation for earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, severe storms, etc.) and take the opportunity to remind students of the importance of disaster preparedness.
- Develop a plan for your school if the nearest volcano should erupt. Depending on your location, it might include preparing for evacuation, staying inside to avoid ash, or raising funds for distant victims of the volcano.
- Volcano World’s lesson plans The site contains lots of photos, virtual field trips, and more. Grab a cup of coffee and explore.
- USGS resources include up to date interactive maps of volcanic activity and alerts.
- Enchanted Learning’s classic volcano diagram
- Discovery Kids Volcano Explorer makes a great game for your computer center.
- Another option is the Volcano Maker
A note on the baking soda and vinegar volcano…
My kids made baking soda and vinegar volcanoes every year in school, I think. I have three problems with this activity:
- It seems to imply that volcanoes are caused by a chemical interaction, which is not the case.
- It’s an art project, which is fine, but doing it every year seems to give unwarranted importance to it.
- Kids get sick of it, even though it’s spectacular, if they do it every year.
If you are determined to conduct this project, put a quarter cup of baking soda into a bottle with some dish soap and a bit of red food coloring. Do something with the bottle to make it look like a volcano — sand, papier mache, or store-bought volcano kits will all work.
Pour in a half cup of vinegar and stand back to enjoy the show.
Those of us who teach Shakespeare can easily be overwhelmed by the — literally — millions of online resources on Shakespeare. You don’t have to spend hours clicking around looking for the best ones, because we already did it for you.
First, the plays:
- The Complete Works: all the words
- No Fear Shakespeare is a parallel translation of Shakespeare into modern English.
Now the background information to help place Shakespeare in time and space:
- Shakespeare Online: a retro site that requires some persistent browsing, but totally worth it
- Shakespeare Research Guide
- An interactive timeline of Shakespeare’s life
- A Shakespeare Google Earth Tour inspired by that timeline, written up as an assignment
- Macbeth: A Google Lit Trip
- A Shakespeare Atlas for Google Earth
Some things people think about Shakespeare:
- Lectures on specific critical questions about various plays, from Oxford
- Shawn and Shakespeare: an interesting collection of personal essays on Shakespeare’s plays, plus reviews of movies.
- The New York Times on Shakespeare
When it comes to video, you can probably find a film of any scene you might want to show in class. Go to YouTube and search for the specific scene, or for conversations between characters (“Othello and Iago” for example) to avoid having to wade through too many options.
We also want to point out a couple of general introductory videos about Shakespeare that should pique students’ interest at the beginning of the study:
This is a wonderful time to be studying Shakespeare!
Othello is a tale of love, jealousy, murder, war, and betrayal. It’s a great story, with enough action to motivate students who find the language difficult to struggle through it, and poetry that makes reading the play a pleasure.
In the play, Othello, a war hero visiting Venice, falls in love with and marries Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman. They run off and marry against the wishes and without the knowledge of her father, Brabantio. Iago, passed over for promotion in favor of Michael Cassio, sets out to destroy Othello. He uses other people to accomplish his ends, slyly planting ideas in their heads. He has his wife, Emilia, steal a handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona and plants it on Cassio, then uses it to persuade Othello that Desdemona is being unfaithful to him with Cassio. In a jealous rage, Othello kills Desdemona. When Emilia reveals Iago’s plot and it becomes clear that Desdemona was innocent, Othello kills himself.
Begin by reading the play. This is a play most suitable for older students, so we generally assign it as homework, encouraging students to use Google and YouTube as resources to help them grasp the story. We watch a few pivotal scenes in the classroom and read through the play together, discussing each scene and acting out important sections to make sure everyone has gotten the story.
We follow up with these lessons:
Get to know the characters
There are eight major characters in the play:
- The Duke of Venice
Write the names of these characters on the board and elicit descriptions of them from the class. Adjectives like these may turn up in the discussion:
This is a good opportunity to work on choosing the best adjective out of many choices, and on getting the clearest possible idea of the meaning of abstract characteristics.
Ask for volunteers for each of the main characters and have them act out the bare bones of the story. We let students simply gather at the front of the classroom, move into the various groupings, and explain what happened, saying things like, “Roderigo got mad at Iago, but then Iago got around him again.” The object here is simply to make the complex relationships among the characters clear.
Have each character gather helpers from the “audience” so the class is divided into eight groups. Each group should then choose a line or brief speech that really shows the nature of their character. Have the original volunteer or a new volunteer from the group read the line(s) and explain why the group chose that passage to show the essential nature of the character.
We follow up with a writing assignment, asking for an essay on one of the characters. Ask for a clear thesis about the character, supported by specific lines from the play as well as the student’s thoughts and experiences of the emotions and relationships associated with that character.
Othello is all about jealousy, “the green-eyed monster that mocks the meat it feeds on.”
- Iago is jealous of Cassio, whom Othello gave the job that Iago wanted. This comes up in the first scene of the play.
- Iago may also be jealous of Othello’s relationship with Desdemona, because she takes the time and attention that Othello used to have for Iago. Eamonn Walker’s essay “Othello in Love,” in Living with Shakespeare: Essays by Writers, Actors, and Directors , goes into this idea thoroughly. We like to read this essay in class in preparation for the students’ essays on characters (in the lesson idea above).
- Othello’s jealousy is the most obvious in the play — through Iago’s manipulation, Othello comes to believe that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Cassio.
- Roderigo is jealous of Othello because he himself wanted Desdemona, and is able to be persuaded by Iago that he could have Desdemona if Othello were out of the picture.
- Bianca is jealous over Cassio, though she doesn’t know whose handkerchief he brings to her. As a courtesan, she may know that Cassio won’t really marry her, but she continues to hope that he will.
Watch and read this scene:
Use No Fear Shakespeare if students need further support in reading the scene.
Note all the ways that Iago puts the idea that Desdemona is unfaithful into Othello’s head, while pretending to be a good friend to Othello. Identify the tricks he plays, such as saying that Cassio is honest repeatedly in an insincere voice, or making Othello drag his suspicions out of him instead of telling him directly.
Keeping in mind that the accusations against Desdemona are false, ask students to role play a similar scene in modern times and in their own context.
Have students search the text of the play to find other places where this kind of manipulation takes place.
Discuss whether it is the fault of Iago or of those he manipulates when they become jealous and behave badly. Look at the three couples in the play: Othello/Desdemona, Cassio/Bianca, Iago/Emilia. Notice all the relationships among them, and between these individuals and the other characters in the play. Is all the jealousy manufactured by Iago? Does the play offer lessons about jealousy?
Would have, could have, should have
Regardless of Iago’s manipulations, Othello and Desdemona do run off together and get married. In the 1600s — and even today — running off secretly together rather than openly courting and planning their wedding was bound to upset people.
It is usually assumed that Brabantio, who was so sure that his daughter couldn’t love Othello that he assumes she must have been stolen away with witchcraft or drugs, would never have allowed Desdemona to marry Othello. Othello is black while Desdemona and Brabantio are white, he is an outsider, and he has no family background to equal that of Desdemona’s family.
However, Othello is also a friend of Brabantio’s, welcome in his home, and widely admired. When Othello and Desdemona talk with Brabantio in front of the Duke, they are respectful, loving, and persuasive. What if they had behaved this way from the beginning, talking with Brabantio and helping him get used to the idea? What if Othello had courted Desdemona in the way which was appropriate in their time and place? Could this story have had a happy ending?
As a class, identify the points at which things might have been different — if Emilia had refused to steal the handkerchief, if Othello had realized that Iago wasn’t really his friend, if Desdemona had gone for help when Othello began to be cruel to her…
Have students choose one of those points and write a new ending for the play. Act out or perform as reader’s theater some or all of the alternate endings.
Would the play have been as powerful with a happy ending? Would it have been a better play? Discuss the idea of a tragedy and why (or whether) people continue to enjoy tragedies.
- NoFear Shakespeare’s Othello
- Folger resources on Othello, with some very interesting historical resources
- Oh, Hello, Othello has step by step lessons for each act.
- Images of Othello webquest
- Shakespeare’s Othello and the Power of Language from EdSitement
- A printable PDF lesson from Shakespeare in the Ruins
Jeff Rivera’s books about Yuck Kingdom, Um, Mommy, I Think I Flushed My Brother Down the Toilet and Um, Mommy, I Think I Flushed My Brother Down the Toilet Again paint a picture of what happens when things go down the toilet that can make a fun introduction to the idea of wastewater treatment.
Real and Imaginary
Can people really get flushed down a toilet? Is there really a Yuck Kingdom? Certainky not. But there are things about the stories that ring true: older siblings can love their younger siblings and also find them maddening, kids can try to manipulate parents, and people can band together to stand up to something scary.
Have students list the real and imaginary things in the story.
Then study wastewater treatment and compare the reality with the imaginary Yuck Kingdom:
- Wastewater treatment information from USGS
- interactive water treatment tour
- GBRA interactive tour
- interactive map
Have students look at these interactive resources and identify the things that are the same in all of them and the things that are different. Are there any parts of Yuck Kingdom that are like real sewage treatment?
Have students draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper or poster board. Have them draw a scene from Yuck Kingdom on one side and from a real wastewater treatment plant on the other. Label them “Real” and “Imaginary.”
The book has lots of groups of rhyming words. Have students write the words on word cards and sort them into rhyming groups. Have students find the parts of each group that are the same and the parts that are different. Find the groups where the same sound is spelled in different ways and those where the rhyming sound is spelled in the same way each time.
Some of the groups of rhyming words include made-up words. Find groups of words like these and have students divide the real words from the imaginary ones:
At one point, the young heroine of the story says this about her little brother: “He was a pain, but he was my pain.” Author Jeff Rivera has 12 neices and nephews, so he knows what it’s like to have little brothers and sisters. Ask how many students have younger siblings. Create a list of the things they do that make them a “pain.” Then discuss what’s great about having brothers and sisters.
Some students may not have siblings. Ask whether they have similar experiences with a pet, friend, or relative.
Falisha doesn’t want her mommy to tell her daddy what she has done. She’s able to make things right, and we don’t see her getting in trouble with her dad, or having more than a scolding from her mom. Why do kids get in trouble with their parents? Is it important to make things right when we’ve done something we shouldn’t?
How does Falisha make things right with her brother? How does she make things right with her mother?
Ask students whether they think Falisha and Jesse will get into trouble again in the future. Have them write a story of their own starring themselves and their sibling, pet, or friend.
Find more ideas for studying about families at our Families theme page.
Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics by John Feinstein is a young adult novel set at the London Olympics and the run-up to them. The main character, Susan Carol Anderson, is a competitive swimmer. She learns firsthand, as she prepares for the competition, that it’s easy for a competitor to become a commodity. Her friend Stevie is reporting on the Olympics, and his experience as a writer and a journalist is explored along with the experiences of the athletes.
Read the book aloud or assign chapters to students for independent reading. Then follow up with cross-curricular activities:
- Susan Carol loves to swim and has enjoyed swimming competitively for her high school. As an Olympic athlete, she suddenly has a lot more options, including the potential to earn a lot of money. How might this affect her life? Quote from Chapter 3: “Just the thought of it staggered Susan Carol. She couldn’t begin to think of how to spend that money… All the things she’d imagined for her life were suddenly chaning — it was hard to keep up.”
- As she becomes more well known, there are a lot suggestions that Susan Carol is popular because of her looks, not her swimming ability. How does she feel about this? Is this a problem? Issues of both sexuality and sexism come up in the book. In Chapter 9, Stevie becomes angry about “how they planned to market Susan Carol as America’s newest sweetheart/sex symbol.” Does this kind of marketing belittle an athlete?
- While her father originally stands firm on these issues (quote from chapter 3: “‘You and I had an agreement,J.P.,’ he said firmly. “We promote her as an athlete.’”) he later gives in, even agreeing to fire the coach Susan Carol has worked with all her life, over her objections. Should parents make these decisions, or should young people make them? Do good people get swayed by money and pressure to do things they know are wrong?
- In Chapters 16 and 17, there is a lot of discussion of the rules of the Olympic Village, where athletes stay, and the kind of access other people get to the athletes. Should athletes be focused on the competition to the exclusion of everything else, or should they be available for reporters — or able to spend time having fun? Are the rules protecting the athletes or limiting them?
- At the end of the book, after several chapters of mounting feelings that something might be wrong, it becomes clear that rules are being broken. Did the students see it coming? Can they identify the trail of clues leading to the outcome?
This book is full of numbers, from times and speed to the number of competitors and their chances of winning. Divide into groups and give each group a chapter of the book to work with. Have students make word problems using the data in the book, and challenge other teams to find the answers. Give the winning team Olympic-style medals.
Michael Phelps is a character in the book. In real life, Phelps has received the largest number of Olympic medals any athlete has ever received. Have students research Phelps and prepare a display board, PowerPoint, or class book about this exceptional athlete.
Find more ideas in our Olympics Classroom Theme.
Nursery rhymes have helped babies grasp rhyme and rhythm for centuries, and our students can enjoy them, too. We have three great lesson plans for nursery rhymes, including one for older students.
Lessons for specific nursery rhymes:
Carolyn Graham popularized jazz chants for ESL classes back in the 20th century, but a variant is great for a study of nursery rhymes no matter what your students’ native languages may be. Not only is this a fun way to learn some rhymes, it’s also good for concentration, cooperation, listening skills, and rhythm. A basic method:
- Divide up your rhyme into separate lines. So, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” is one line and “How does your garden grow?” is another.
- Divide the class into groups and give each group a line to say.
- Help each group learn and practice their line till they can say it rhythmically together when you point to them.
- Conduct the class in a chant by pointing to each group in turn.
Begin by having the students say the rhyme in order, with the “Mary, Mary quite contrary” group first, then the “How does your garden grow?” group, moving on to the remaining lines. Then begin to mix it up, pointing to the groups in different orders. If your students are old enough, let them take turns as conductor. You can make a rule that the chant has to rhyme, or that it must have a certain number of lines, or you can add instrumental lines with tambourines, sand blocks, and other instruments.
Many nursery rhymes go with singing games. “London Bridge is Falling Down” and “The Farmer in the Dell” are two examples. Have students ask their parents or grandparents for more examples and learn the games. Make a class list and see how many your class can discover.
This is enough of a lesson plan for small children, since just learning the rules of a game and playing it fairly are challenging to kindergartners. In first or second grade, you can begin writing down the rules, perhaps making a Google Doc to share, and older students can make an oral history project of it.
It is often said that nursery rhymes have hidden political messages. “Mary, Mary,” for example, is thought to refer to Mary Tudor and “Hey Diddle Diddle” is said to be about the court of Elizabeth I. Not all scholars believe that these explanations are true. Challenge older students to discover the historical stories behind nursery rhymes and then to decide whether the stories were actually connected with the rhymes or not.
Your library may have The Annotated Mother Goose: With an Introduction and Notes, which reports both the historical connections and the sources. For example, this book relates that “Rockabye Baby” has been linked with James Stuart, but also that commentators from the past have reported that people actually did hang their babies in trees, much as we might use a hammock.
You can also find many nursery rhyme stories online with varying amounts of reference and support. Since we can’t be sure of the truth, it’s an interesting critical thinking and research assignment.
You might share with the students a recent example. In 1884, Grover Cleveland was a candidate for President of the United States. There was a suggestion of scandal: specifically, that Cleveland had an illegitimate child. The opposition chanted, “Ma, Ma, where’s my pa?” When Cleveland won, some of his supporters turned that chant into a little rhyme:
“Ma, Ma, where’s my pa?”
Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!”
It’s easy to imagine kids in a few hundred years jumping rope to this, and having no idea what the historical context was. It’s reasonable to imagine that some of our nursery rhymes now came from just such sources, and are in fact connected to old scandals. However, many scholars believe that people took this one step further and made up stories to fit rhymes which were… just rhymes.