Ape Cave Background

An excellent supplement to this lesson can be found at Ape Cave and a supporting lesson can be found at Ape Cave Exploration.

Goal: To prepare for a field trip to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and exploration of Ape Cave (see also Ape Cave Exploration); or, in the absence of a field trip, to acquaint students with lava tubes in general.

Objectives: Students will demonstrate ability to

  1. Explain the formation process of a lava tube
  2. Define geologic features to be found in a lava tube
  3. Write creatively about lava tube formation
Key Concept: Prehistoric lava flows, like other volcanic activity, leave behind evidence of their occurrence in the form of geologic structures like Ape Cave, and the uniquely specialized ecosystems that occupy them.

Summary: Students brainstorm and discuss their current level of knowledge about caves in general, and are introduced to a specific type of cave: lava tubes. Students speculate and free-write about the concept of lava cave, share their imaginings ; learn how these tubes are actually formed, through teacher lecture and discussion or small group activity; and then apply this new learning to creative illustration and writing activities.

Content Areas: Science, environmental studies, language arts

Materials Needed:


  1. Lava Cave Task Sheet
Field Trip Supplement:
  1. Ape Cave: A Guide to Exploration (may be duplicated for older students)
Instructional Strategies:
  1. Clustering/Mindmapping (Guided Fantasy)
  2. Cooperative Learning (Expert Group/Learning Team.)
Instructional Sequence:
  1. Write the word "cave" on the chalkboard, to serve as the center of a cluster. Ask students what images associated with this word come to mind, and what pieces of information about caves they already have. Categorize their responses (e.g., types, how they look inside, what is required to explore a cave, how they are formed, etc.) If lava tubes are not mentioned, add this term to the cluster and highlight.

  2. Using the term as a trigger to imagination, invite students to freewrite for five minutes about what alava tube might be: how it would form, where you might find one, how you would expect it to look, how it might feel/sound/smell inside a lava tube, etc. Have students save their writing to compare with what they will write after further activity and discussion.

  3. With a combination of lecture, discussion, and/or guided imagery, present information on the major features of a lava tube. With older students, a research assignment using the expert-development/learning team approach works well. Provide students w ith Lava Task Sheet. Based on the descriptions provided, or research they have done, have them sketch their impressions of lava tube features. If a field trip is planned, these should be saved for comparison with sketches following cave exploration.

  4. Have students write a story (individually or collectively) about the formation of Ape Cave from the perspective of lava. Encourage students to begin by creating a "character sketch:" for example, lava might be described as a "smooth talker," "lets n othing get in his/her way," "goes with the flow," etc. Explain that evaluation of the story will include accuracy and proper sequencing of events in lava cave formation, as well as creativity. Tie evaluation to skills currently being studied in language arts: spelling, capitalization, sentence structure, etc.

Extension Activities:
  1. Diagram the formation of a lava tube.

  2. Draw a blind contour cross-section of a hallway or other area resembling a cave. (To draw a blind contour means to sketch what is seen without looking at the paper, trusting the eyes to guide the hand.) Combine the blind contour with a regular cross -sectional drawing, in preparation for what students will see in the cave and materials they will have access-to if they are to explore it.

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