Life on a Fiery Planet

Life on a Fiery Planet


Goal: To illustrate for students effects on the evolution of human culture of volcanic events worldwide.

Objectives: Students will work cooperatively to:


  1. Apply knowledge of geologic processes gained in previous lessons about Mount St. Helens to volcanic events in other locations;


  2. Research the effects of one or more volcanoes other than Mount St. Helens on the physical landscape, human history, economy, technology, lifestyle, religion, politics, etc., of their geographical regions;


  3. Prepare a major small-group presentation in which findings are shared with the whole-class group.


Key Concepts: Physical changes in earth's landscape initiate responses that determine the community of lifeforms that can occupy that landscape, influencing not only plants and animals but the evolution of human life and culture.

Summary: Over several activity periods, teams of students select a group project for presentation to the large group, delegate research tasks among their members, conduct research on the geologic processes and effects on human evolution of one or more volcanoes in the country assigned to them, and cooperatively prepare their presentation.

Content Areas: Social studies, history, language arts, science

Materials Needed:


  1. Life on a Fiery Planet: Project Plan

Instructional Strategies:

  1. Cooperative Learning
  2. Eruption Simulation for Expert Group/Learning Team (instructions and handouts to be adapted for this activity)
  3. world maps and/or globes
  4. supplementary materials supplied by the teacher or available in the school library (suggestions follow lesson outline)

Instructional Sequence: 

  1. Have available or on the board the following list. Be prepared to help teams decide how many and which volcanoes they will study, depending upon materials available and number of students per group.


    • Group 1 -- United States: Augustine, Bogoslof, Katmai, Shisbaldin, Lassen Peak, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Kilauea, Mauna Loa
    • Group 2 -- Iceland: Askja, Grimsvotn, Heimaey, Hekla, Krafia, Laki, Surtsey
    • Group 3 -- Soviet Union: Bezymianny, Karymsky, Kiiuchevskoi, Tolbachik
    • Group 4 -- Indonesia: Agung, Dieng, Galunggung, Kawan Idgen, Kelut, Krakatau, Merapi, Papandajan, Peak of Ternate, Smuru, Tambora
    • Group 5 -- Japan: Asama, Aso, Bandai, Bayonnaise Rocks, Fuji, Oshima, Sakura-zima, Tarumai, Unzen, Usu
    • Group 6 -- Italy: Etna, Monte Nuovo, Stromboli, Vesuvius, Vulcano
    • Group 7 -- Costa Rica: Arenal, Irazu, Poas
    • Group 8 -- Ecuador: Cotopaxi, Guagua Pichincha, Reventador, Fernandina
    • Group 9 -- Nicaragua: Cerro Negro, Cosequina, Masaya


  2. Assign students to several small groups. (Number of teams depends upon size of class, and materials available, but 3 to 5 is optimal.) Distribute Life on a Fiery Planet, Project Plan.


  3. Assign to each group a country. (The volcanoes targeted for study may be chosen by teammates with teacher assistance, or teacher-assigned.)


  4. Explain that each student is responsible for a completed worksheet on one volcano, and for sharing everything he/she learned about that volcano with the rest of the team.

Instruct groups to select the kind of presentation they will prepare, from the following list of possible presentation designs, others proposed by the teacher, or their own, subject to teacher approval. (As an alternative, any one of the more comprehensive project designs could be assigned to all the groups.)

Suggested Presentation Designs:

  1. Videotape a newscast, written and performed as though one of your country's major volcanoes has just recently erupted. 
  2. Design a mural to illustrate changes a volcanic event in your country has created in human culture, physical landscape, climate and weather patterns, etc.
  3. Design a timeline that illustrates the eruptive history of your country's volcanoes.
  4. Role-play interviews with 'witnesses' to several of your country's volcanic events and their aftermaths.
  5. Write an epic poem from the perspective of a surviving witness to a the most devastating volcanic eruption your country has experienced.
  6. Based on what your group has learned about the history and predicted future of a presently dormant volcano in your country, plan a city to to be built in its vicinity. Consider such things as building construction, what kind of technologies will be important, how the economy will be sustained, transportation patterns, and evacuation plans in the event of another major eruption.
  7. Outline the history of a culture profoundly affected by volcanic activity in your country. Focus on those things that would be different had the volcano not been there (art, music, dance, housing, agriculture, religion, economic conditions, customs, etc.)

Attenborough, David, The Living Planet; (Little, Brown & Co., 1984)

Corcoran, Thom, Mount St. Helens: The Story Behind the Scenery (K. C. Publications, Inc., Post Office Box 14883, Las Vegas, NV 891144, 1984)

Decker, Robert and Decker, Barbara, Volcanoes (W.H. Freeman & Co., 1980)

The Making of a Continent (American Geological Institute, 4220 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302) (companion volume to PBS series by same name) 

Earth: The Restless Planet and Living on Our Changing Planet (Karol Media, 22 Riverview Drive, Wayne, NJ 07470-3191)

The Earth Explored (Advanced) (PBS video series, 28-minute geology videos, call toll-free 1-800-424-9763)

Planet Earth (Time/Life Series, 1982) (series includes "Continents in Collision," "Earthquake," "Gemstones," "Glacier," "Ice Ages," and "Volcano")

Our Violent Earth (Advanced) (1982 National Geographic Society, Educational Services, Department 85, Washington D. C. 20036)

Volcanic Eruptions of 1980 at Mount St. Helens: The First 100 Days (Geological Survey Professional Paper 1249, USGS, Geologic Inquiries Group, 907 National Center, Reston, VA 22092, 1982)