Volcanoes – Fun Science Lessons for Elementary Students
Time for puns
Remember: if you ever find yourself in lava, don’t panic! Just go with the flow.
Let’s explode into learning today about one of the most powerful things on Earth, a volcano.
Below are discussion questions ready for a Volcano Unit Study. These questions are based around the amazing book, “Volcanoes” by Dr. Franklin Branley, part of the Let’s Read and Find Out science series. Every question listed below in the discussion can be answered by this detailed, accessible book! It is designed that an elementary student can follow along and answer this non-fiction text by themselves, or young students in preschool and elementary can answer questions orally after hearing each page read aloud to them.
I really recommend checking this book out in the library or buying a copy if you want to follow along.
Volcanoes, by Franklin Branley
Click here if you want to jump ahead to videos of volcanoes.
What happened at Mount Vesuvius?
What did that do to the city of Pompeii?
What happened after Mount Tambora exploded?
What happened that next summer, even across the world?
How far away could Mount St. Helens be heard before it blew up?
What did the nearby lakes fill with? What happened to the trees?
Who are the people who study and measure earthquakes?
How did geologists know that Mount St. Helens was likely to erupt again?
Our gradss and dirt and homes are on the top layer of soil. Far underneath that, the layers of Earth are split into large moving portions called _________.
What happens where two plates push apart?
What is magma?
What happens when two plates slide against each other?
What ocean is near Mount St. Helens?
What two plates were affecting Mount St. Helens?
Does the heat in a volcano rise up, or fall down?
Use this map to color or show where the volcanoes are, and where the plates are. You do not have to color all the volcanoes!
Most volcanoes and earthquake occur on the Ring of Fire. This happens around the _________ Ocean, from the __________ Plate.
Is Hawaii, which has volcanoes, created from where two plates collide?
What can happen if there’s a weak spot on a tectonic plate?
Does Hawaii have active volcanoes?
What happened at Parícutin, Mexico to the farmer’s field?
What is now where his farm was?
The three kinds of volcanoes are ______________, ______________, ________________.
Volcanic eruptions helped create Earth’s atmosphere.
How fast did rock travel during Mount St Helens eruption?
How many active volcanoes are there on Earth?
Do the planets Venus and Mars have volcanoes?
Does the moon have volcanoes? Are they active?
Which moon of Jupiter is regularly erupting?
Connection Questions: [after finishing the text]
Do you have any volcanoes nearby? What earthquake activity happens where you live?
Do volcanoes look the same every day? Are there the same number of volcanoes that there always was? Are volcanoes that exist now going to be active forever?
Which volcano type would you visit if you wanted to see regular, small-scale eruptions?
Which type of volcano blows up and that changes the mountain height near it, often causing a crater?
Which volcano type would cause the most destruction, so we hope they don’t blow up often?
Do the build-your-own-“volcano” experiment, using baking soda and vinegar,
Wow, that’s a lot of information about seven different marsupials. These questions do not have to be written down by the student. They can be asked and answered orally. They can be used as trivia questions. They can be a jumping off place for researching more.
These discussion questions might want to be asked over several read-throughs, so that the first reading of the book lets the student make a first impression – learning what is volcano, what does it look like – and then later readthroughs have the student describing the plate tectonics, comparing types of volcanoes, and identifying some on the map. Volcano learning can come in layers, much like the earth itself!
Again, all answers for this discussion book can be found in “Volcanoes” by Franklin Branley. It is a rich resource for young readers, overflowing with volcanic information. I have been to volcanoes, climbed up one and bicycled around it, but I didn’t know about the volcano near Mexico City that formed in a farmer’s backyard overnight. Nor did I know about the sheer quantity of volcanoes around the globe.
Book highlighted: Volcanoes, by Franklin Branley
Volcano Chapter Books for Children
I Survived: The Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980, by Lauren Tarshis.
This beginner’s chapter book covers the eruption and aftermath of Mount St. Helens in Washington state, from a child’s perspective. Great for second through fifth grade readers.
This beginner’s chapter book covers the explosion of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii, in the year AD 79. It would be good for a volcano unit study, an Italy unit study, or when studying Ancient Rome. These books are good for first grade and up (reviews from parents of 1st graders say that their children were left a bit confused at times, but gaining knowledge). Second through 5th graders generally LOVE the “I Survived” series because it puts them right in the action.
And, spoiler alert: the book has a happy ending (for the main character).
Magic School Bus Episode, The Magic School Bus Blows Its Top (on Netflix)
PBS NOVA documentary, “Volatile Earth: Volcano on Fire” is available, free on Amazon Prime. The reviews have lots of happy 4-year-olds being volcanology enthusiasts from watching this documentar, building their preschool vocabulary of ash and magma and eruption.
Documentary Series, “Life on Fire: Wildlife on the Volcano’s Edge” is available, free on Amazon Prime. This is a six episode series looking at the people and wildlife that live near volcanoes. Episodes take viewers to Iceland, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga. See salmon migration be thrown off by volcanic activity, and shrimp co-exist with their volcanic habitat. This series has some content advisories but may be suitable for upper elementary volcano enthusiasts. It is rated TV-G, suitable for a general audience.
Find the nearest volcano to you https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/volcano-map.html
United States Geological Service Website (for detailed volcano info): https://www.usgs.gov/natural-hazards/volcano-hazards/about-volcanoes
Volcano Safety, how to evacuate safely if you live near a volcano: https://www.ready.gov/volcanoes
Best Volcanic Videos for Elementary Students
Theme Music – Jimmy Buffet, “Volcano”
Lava movie, from Disney
This is a short feature movie, a song about lava and the formation of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean. The characters (two volcanoes) use Hawaiian words.
Volcano Educational Videos for kids
Discusses Hawaiian shield volcanoes, the Lo’ihi volcano underneath the water’s surface in Hawaii. Then discusses cinder cone volcanoes like Paricutin in Mexico. Then discusses stratovolcanoes. Mount St. Helens and the eruption of 1980 is discussed. There are 169 volcanoes in the United States. Discusses the Ring of Fire, Krakatoa, Mount Vesuvius, and Yellowstone National Park.
What makes volcanoes erupt?
Begins with the story of Parícutin, the volcano that formed in a farmer’s field in Mexico. Discusses the different types of volcanoes that form – shield volcano, cinder cone volcano, and stratovolcano
What is a supervolcano?
This discusses 1816, the year without a summer. The eruption of Mount Tambora.
Literature Connection: “Darkness”, a poem about a supervolcanic eruption that happened in 1815.
Lord Byron’s “Darkness” often remembered as “I Had A Dream”, was published in July of 1816, in the aftermath of the supervolcano that erupted in 1815. It discusses the cold, the famine, the burning forests, the largescale destruction from the ecological aftermath of the volcano. Lord Byron lived in Europe, far from the blast of the Indonesian supervolcano – but the volcano’s effects were felt worldwide.
This poem is great for middle school and high school students, but it may interest upper elementary school listeners. These two clips are dramatic retellings of the Lord Byron poem, “Darkness” about how the volcanic eruption and “year without a summer” affected everything from death, to birds, to kings.
Version 1: Sounding like Gandolf reading it
Version 2: A Modern-Day Reading of it
This Youtube video, created by National Geographic, has a lot of live action images of volcanoes.
Iceland Volcano, close up with drone footage:
Iceland volcanic eruption filmed close up from drone footage.
This volcanic eruption footage includes a close up of bubbling magma, and has flowing lava cooling on the surface of this volcano in Iceland, near Reykjavik.
Kilauea volcano in Hawaii
This volcano video shows the geothermal activity, solidifying lava, and a lava lake forming at Kilauea, a volcano on the island of Hawaii.
Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano: Lava Land (full documentary)
Underwater divers look at the effects of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii from under the surface. This is an 50 minute, full-length documentary about the active volcanoes in the Hawaiian islands. At minute 7, they show how Lo’ihi island (the newest Hawaiian volcanic island) is forming.
Volcano in Guatemala
This video is a news report from the not one, but 3 erupting volcanoes in Guatemala. It discusses the residents nearby, in a public safety manner. How do you evacuate people? Is it even safe or possible to evacuate? If students are interested in natural disaster evacuation plans, this video would be a good starting point for figuring out what a community would need in order to help their residents. It includes an interview with a woman who lives right under Vulcan del Fuego (Volcano of Fire) in Guatemala. She has plenty of experience dealing with volcanic activity having grown up in the village.
Volcano Science Experiment
A science fair volcano is not complete without Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Hot Water. Here are some videos that explain how to make a science fair volcano experiment
Science Fair Volcano
This science fair volcano has a cleaner, more vibrant reaction. Perfect experiment for vinegar and baking soda reaction, or a model of how volcanic lava flows from a rise of gases in the magma.
If you made it this far, thank you for spending this time with me learning about volcanoes, one of the most mysterious and magnificent things on Earth. Don’t forget to join us on more explosive science fun by subscribing with your email address.
Do you live near a volcano? What is the nearest volcano to you – even if it’s really far away.
I’ll start. Looking at this map, it looks like I would need to head south to Haiti or west to New Mexico to find the nearest volcanoes. The Morne La Vigie volcano in Haiti and the Raton Clayton volcanic field in New Mexico are the volcanoes nearest me. Find your nearest volcano at: https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/volcano-map.html