This is a 2-3 week comprehensive unit on volcanology that introduces the key concepts of volcanoes through presentations with guided note taking worksheets, several demonstrations, a hands-on laboratory activity, and an optional final project. A review game and final exam are included. Topics covered include locations, hazards, and anatomy of volcanoes; lava flows and magma composition; eruption styles and historic eruptions; and predicting eruptions.

  • Students know where and why volcanoes form and how that determines the shape, size, and explosivity of the volcano.
  • Students understand the impacts volcanoes have on humans and the environment.
  • Students know how volcanoes are monitored.
  • All mountains have the ability to become volcanically active.
  • Volcanoes only form near bodies of water.
  • Volcanoes are common only in areas near the equator or other warm areas.
  • Volcanoes appear in areas of rocky terrain.
  • There is no pattern to volcano formation.
  • Volcanoes are only found on land.
  • All volcanoes erupt violently.
  • Volcanoes only erupt straight up through the top vent.
  • If a volcano doesn’t erupt for a hundred years, it’s extinct.
  • If a volcano does not produce lava, it is not dangerous.
  • It is possible for people to sink into lava.
  • The mantle is liquid since liquid comes out of it.
  • Volcanic eruptions are due to chemical reactions, fire, or hot explosives.
  • Day 1: Mapping locations of volcanoes, anatomy of a volcano, and intrusion demonstration.
  • Day 2: Lava flows, viscosity lab, and rock samples activity.
  • Day 3: Volcano video.
  • Day 4: Hazards and benefits of volcanoes, effects on the atmosphere demonstration, and dissolved gasses demonstrations.
  • Day 5: Predicting eruptions, caldera formation demonstration, historic eruptions, and review game.
  • Day 6: Exam.
  • Day 7: Begin research.
  • Day 8: Prepare presentation.
  • Day 9: Student presentations.
  • This unit was written for a 9th grade Earth science class, but it is also appropriate for middle school students.
  • It was arranged for a class that meets three times a week for an hour and a half on the first two days and an hour on the third.
  • This unit was taught after plate tectonics so students were familiar with plate boundaries, density, and layers of the Earth.
  • No homework assignments are included in this unit. The option of assigning homework is left up to the instructor.
  • The instructor has the option of assigning the final project and/or administering the exam. If the final project is assigned, the historic volcanoes lecture may be unnecessary.
  • All teaching notes including tips, materials lists, activity and demonstration instructions, final project, and video recommendations are given in the “teaching notes” document.
  • Class begins with a review on latitude and longitude followed by a mapping activity where students map the locations of several volcanoes and are asked to find the pattern of the locations of volcanoes around the globe.
  • Students learn what causes volcanoes to form and watch animations showing how they form.
  • This is followed by a lesson on the internal structure of a volcano where students learn names of intrusive igneous bodies.
  • The final activity is a class demonstration of intrusion using a red dye injected into a gelatin volcano. Students should follow the demonstration using the questions provided in the lecture notes worksheet. Instructions are provided in the teaching notes.
  • Students learn about the composition of igneous rocks.
  • Several samples of igneous rocks are passed around and students record their observations on the rock samples activity worksheet.
  • This is followed by a lesson on different types of lava flows and short video clips of examples.
  • The final activity is the viscosity lab. Instructions are given in the teaching notes and students should follow the viscosity lab worksheet.
  • Students watch a documentary on volcanoes to help them visualize aspects of volcanoes that cannot be described easily such as what it is like to live next to a volcano and experience an eruption.
  • A list of possible documentaries along with descriptions is provided in the teaching notes.
  • Class begins and ends with a demonstration of how volcanic products can affect Earth’s atmosphere. The “types of eruptions student worksheet” has a place for students to fill in the results and questions for the students to answer.
  • This is followed by a demonstration of dissolved gases and how they can cause an explosion.
  • The final demonstration allows students to see how liquids of different viscosities hold gases for varying lengths of time.
  • Students learn about the effects of volcanoes on the atmosphere and the hazards and benefits that volcanoes pose to humans.
  • This day begins with a lesson and demonstration on how calderas are formed and how scientists can predict volcanic eruptions.
  • Next, there is a lesson on a few of the most destructive volcanic eruptions in recorded history.
  • Finally, there is a review game to help students prepare for the test. The game can take up to an hour to complete, but can also be ended at any point.
  • Students are given a multiple choice and fill in the blank exam. The answer key is provided.
Week 3 daily lessons are optional.
  • Students are put in groups of 3 and they either choose or are assigned a volcano to research. A list of volcanoes and instructions are given in the teaching notes. Students will need access to a library or computers.
  • This day, the students will prepare their presentations. The instructor can assign posters and/or PowerPoint presentations. If PowerPoint presentations are assigned, students will need access to computers.
  • Students present the information that they found. This can take more than one day depending on the number of students in the class and the time allotted for each presentation.

Volcanic Eruption (

Kirkjufell Volcano Eruption

Sampling Lava
Lesson Specifics
  • Grade Level: 9
  • Time Frame: 2-3 weeks
  • Objective: Give high school students a basic understanding of volcanoes, how and why they form, how they are monitored, and the impacts they have on humans and the environment.
  • California State Earth Sciences Standards 3e: "Students know there are two kinds of volcanoes: one kind with violent eruptions producing steep slopes and the other kind with voluminous lava flows producing gentle slopes."
  • California State Earth Sciences Standards 3f: "Students know the explanation for the location and properties of volcanoes that are due to hot spots and the explanation for those that are due to subduction."

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