Preparing for Natural Disasters: Tornado

Learning Resource Type

Lesson Plan

Subject Area

Digital Literacy and Computer Science
English Language Arts
Social Studies




The lesson will begin by students performing a think-aloud as they consider the similarities of five words:  tornado, shelter, basement, underground, and safe room. Students will use a pros and cons graphic organizer as they read articles on three different types of tornado shelters: underground shelters, part of the house shelters, and prebuilt shelters. The students will find the advantages and disadvantages of each type of structure. At the end of the lesson, the teacher will create a table that lists all the shelters and the pros and cons of each. Students will then determine which shelter they feel is most efficient in an "exit slip" response. 

This unit was created as part of the ALEX Interdisciplinary Resource Development Summit.

Social Studies (2010) Grade(s): 3


Identify ways to prepare for natural disasters.



  • flood-prone areas
  • earthquake insurance
  • flood insurance
  • hurricane shelters
  • tornado shelters
  • emergency
  • evacuation routes


Students know:
  • Appropriate ways to prepare for natural disasters in order to minimize negative effects.
  • Vocabulary: flood prone areas, earthquake insurance, flood insurance, hurricane shelters, tornado shelters


Students are able to:
  • Establish an emergency plan.


Students understand that:
  • There are appropriate ways to prepare for natural disasters in order to minimize negative effects.

Primary Learning Objectives

  • Students will collect information from various websites on constructing tornado shelters.
  • Students will arrange the information on the different types of tornado shelters from non-fiction text passages in a graphic organizer. 
  • Students will analyze the structures and determine which structure they feel has the most potential to remain intact during a tornado.


Before Strategy/Engage: 10 minutes

1. The teacher will write the following words on the board: tornado, shelter, basement, underground, and safe room. Ask students to brainstorm on paper how they think these words are connected. Allow students 5 minutes to brainstorm and write their thoughts on paper.

2. The teacher should call on various students. The teacher can guide students, if needed, to how the words are connected to safety for civilians and how shelters are a way for people to prepare for national disasters like a tornado.

During Strategy/Explore & Explain: 70 minutes

1. Pass out the Pros and Cons Graphic Organizer. Each student should receive three graphic organizers. Show students how to write each type of tornado shelter at the top of the page: Underground Shelter, Part of the House Shelter, and Prebuilt Shelter. 

2. Model for students how to find pros and cons of an underground shelter by using the article "Tornado Shelters & Safe Rooms: Choosing The Best Storm Shelter For Your Home" from Weather Tips Guide. Put a copy of the article under a document camera in order to highlight the pros in yellow and the cons in green. The teacher should highlight the pros of an underground shelter from the article (ex. cost). Then ask students to find the cons in the article (ex. flooding). Have students call them out as the teacher highlights them in green. Transfer the highlighted information into the graphic organizer. (15 minutes)

3. Ask the students to read the other articles while looking for pros and cons to each type of shelter and writing the information on their graphic organizer as modeled before.  (40 minutes)

4. After forty minutes has elapsed, call on students to share their findings. On chart paper or the board, create a large table that lays out the pros and cons of each of the three tornado shelter designs the students researched: underground shelters, part of the house shelter, and prebuilt shelters. The teacher should write the pros and cons of each on the chart paper or board to reflect the student answers. (15 minutes)

After Strategy/Explain & Elaborate: 10 minutes

 1. Ask students the following question as an "exit slip" writing prompt: Which design of a tornado shelter do you think is the best to assist citizens with public safety? Do you think there is an alternative design that could be made or a hybrid of the ones already available? Remind students that they may look at their notes of the pros and cons of each design.

2. Students will write the answers on the paper by using both writing and drawings. The teacher should circulate the room as students write, reminding students to reference their graphic organizer.

Assessment Strategies

Formative Assessment: The teacher should informally assess students by questioning in the before strategy and during modeling of how to find the pros and cons of an article. The teacher should circulate the room and give guidance to students as they work on their graphic organizers while reading. 

Summative Assessment: The teacher should formally assess students by reviewing each student's three Pros and Cons Graphic Organizers of each type of shelter at the conclusion of the lesson. The teacher should review each student's "exit slip" to ensure the students have achieved the stated objectives of the lesson.


Students can expand their knowledge of storm shelters by reading about local companies that provide shelters in the Tennessee Valley including Valley Storm Shelters.


If students struggle finding information on devices, the teacher can make copies of the articles and allow the students to use green and yellow highlighters to find the information as the teacher modeled. 

Total Duration

61 to 90 Minutes


Student Background Information: Prior to this lesson, students have read nonfiction texts on how climates impact weather which can, in turn, produce different natural disasters due to the geographic location. Students then read texts on tornadoes specifically, focusing on the cause and effect of tornadoes. If students need to review this lesson, students can watch the video Tornadoes 101 from National Geographic.

Teacher Background Information: In the south, tornado shelters are often recommended because of the likelihood of tornadoes in the area due to the warm, humid air in the Gulf of Mexico often meeting the cool air from Canada. In turn, many different options for tornado shelters exist including underground shelters, a shelter that is part of the house, and a premade shelter. Each type of shelter has its own pros and cons. 

The teacher should make all required copies prior to teaching the lesson. Each student will need three copies of the graphic organizer

Materials and Resources

Student Materials (per student):

Notebook paper

Pencil or pen


"Taking Cover: A Guide to Tornado Shelters" from National Geographic

"Tornado Shelters & Safe Rooms: Choosing The Best Storm Shelter For Your Home" from Weather Tips Guide

"The Safest Place to Be During a Tornado" from Shelter Insurance

"Safe Rooms" brochure from the National Weather Service

Teacher Materials:

Copies made for Pros and Cons Graphic Organizer

Document camera

Green and yellow highlighters

Technology Resources Needed

Internet-capable technology devices (iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, etc.)

The teacher will need a document camera (ELMO).

Approved Date


Owner (Author)