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Track a Tsunami

Tsunamis, or gigantic waves, are one of the most destructive natural disasters. Discover how they’re formed, deep under the ocean surface.

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. Offshore earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and other Earth-moving events start tsunamis. Tsunamis can race along the ocean floor at speeds of up to 600 miles per hour (960 kph) while remaining undetectable on the surface. When they reach the shore, the underwater waves turn their speed into height and can rise 70 feet (21 m) above the water's surface when they crash into the coastline. Invite students to learn more about tsunamis, how people can protect themselves during this weather event, and illustrate what you’ve learned. Here’s one way to make a poster.
    2. Students divide posterboard into five equal sections with horizontal lines using Crayola® Erasable Colored Pencils. Draw a long vertical line to separate picture sections from a smaller description section. Add borders to the poster.
    3. With Crayola Washable Markers, students illustrate the five steps of how a tsunami is formed. Step 1 – An earthquake begins in the ocean floor; Step 2 – The ocean floor cracks from the tremors and part of the floor rises; Step 3 – Tons of water rise high above normal sea level; Step 4 – A massive swell of water spreads out in all directions; Step 5 – The tsunami hits the shore in huge waves that destroy buildings and flood everything in their paths.
    4. Students write short explanations about what is happening next to each picture.
    5. On more paper, draw a large wave and title for display. Cut it out with Crayola Scissors. Attach it to your poster with Crayola School Glue. Air-dry before hanging.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grade level text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    LA: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade level reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

    LA: Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.

    LA: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    LA: Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

    MATH: Represent and interpret data.

    SCI: Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions.

    SCI: Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

    SCI: Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard.

    SS: Explore the role of technology in communications, transportation, information-processing, weapons development, or other areas as it contributes to or helps resolve conflicts.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Integrate visual, spatial, and temporal concepts with content to communicate intended meaning in artworks.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Tsunami: Helping Each Other by Ann Morris & Heidi Larson; Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis: Projects and Principles for Beginning Geologists by Matthys Levy & Mario Salvadori; How Does an Earthquake Become a Tsunami? (How Does It Happen?) by Linda Tagliaferro

    Encourage students to work in small groups to research the evolution of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. What plans are there to build other warning centers around the world?

    Students illustrate a computerized buoy using Crayola Colored Pencils. Write a summary paragraph describing how this specialized buoy works to provide oceanographic information.

    Working in small groups, students sketch a world map, including country names and borders, as well as the names of significant bodies of water. Plot where tsunamis have originated and struck. The group will be charged with analyzing their data and contemplate why some regions are more likely to experience tsunamis.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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