2 Library Lessons on Natural Disasters
2017 has not been a kind year to many communities in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. Millions of people have been forced to pick up the pieces in the devastation left behind by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, a process that could take years in some places.
Children who have been affected by these and other natural disasters may feel confused and isolated, and reading books about kids going through similar experiences can help them process what has happened and feel less alone. (Check out Scholastic’s Helping Kids Cope with Natural Disasters page for helpful resources.) Children’s books can also help children in other regions comprehend the effects of natural disasters on impacted communities.
The following two lessons are based on books written from a child’s perspective on Hurricane Katrina, the deadly disaster that struck the New Orleans area in August 2005 and caused catastrophic flooding. Extension activities based on the general topic of natural disasters are also included. Students will practice problem-solving skills, as well as writing, researching and learning about the Dewey Decimal System.
1. What Would You Take?
Book: A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Peachtree, 2011)
Hurricane Katrina has moved inland when Louis Daniel and his parents discover that levees in New Orleans have failed and water is quickly flooding their home. They know they must evacuate quickly, and the only thing that 10-year-old Louis is able to grab is his beloved cornet. This turns out to be a good decision because while stranded in the Superdome, Daniel uses this horn to help him find his father and reunite the family.
Time Allocation: 20–25 minutes
- Students will listen to the story A Storm Called Katrina.
- Students will participate in an interactive problem-solving activity.
- A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg
- Survival Kit Cards
- Prepare the Survival Kit Cards before class. Copy the reproducible onto card stock and cut it into individual cards.
- Introduce the lesson by asking students if they have ever heard of Hurricane Katrina. Tell them that authors of fiction sometimes put imaginary characters in real places and have them encounter real events. Then, show them the cover of the book A Storm Called Katrina.
- Ask the students if they can think of a reason why the boy on the cover, Louis Daniel, might be playing his cornet.
- After a brief discussion, tell the students that they are going to discover the real reason Louis is playing his horn when they hear the story.
- Read the book to the students. This should take between seven and 10 minutes.
- Ask the students the following questions:
- Why was Daniel’s last-minute decision to bring his cornet with him a good one? (The water might have destroyed his favorite thing, he needed it to locate his father, etc.)
- How were Daniel and his “helpful horn” able to reunite the family? (His father was able to recognize the sound of the horn because it was different than the other sounds in the Superdome.)
- Tell the students they are going to participate in an activity where they will pretend that Louis and his family had some time to prepare a survival kit before they left their house to go to the evacuation center.
- Distribute one Survival Kit Card to eight different students.
- Instruct these students to read what is on their card and come to the front of the class.
- Students should hold the cards up so that others can see them and then organize themselves from right to left, in order of the item they think is the most important in a survival kit to the least important.
- Assure the students that there is no right or wrong way to rank the cards; it is a “what do you think” solution.
- Encourage class discussion by asking the following questions:
- Why are the first four things selected the most important? (Chances are they are absolutely necessary for survival.)
- Are there other items you would take with you if you had to leave your home in a hurry? (Most common replies include family photographs, pets, extra clothing and entertainment items like books and games. Remind students that when there is a fire in their home, they should not take anything with them. Talk about the reasons for the difference.)
- As an extension, have students build their own kits using the online game at Ready.gov.
- Conclude the lesson by asking students what they think Louis Daniel and his family will find when they return to their home.
2. Get Prepared With Information
Book: Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown and Company, 2010), a 2011 Coretta Scott King Honor Book
Lanesha, the narrator of Ninth Ward, tells her story with a sense of urgency. Her already-tense situation becomes more desperate as Hurricane Katrina approaches her home in New Orleans. Due to their limited resources and lack of information, Lanesha and her beloved grandmother are in peril. In the end, Lanesha’s creative problem-solving abilities come to the rescue, but she knows she still has a great deal to learn.
Time Allocation: 25–30 minutes
- Students will review and practice the use of the Dewey Decimal system.
- A set of Storming the Shelves Quest Cards
- The Dewey Decimal System Reference Chart
- Storming the Shelves shelf markers (prepare at least thirty)
- Card stock and scissors
- A copy of Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
- Collect and prepare the materials prior to class. The Quest Cards should be copied and cut into individual units. The shelf markers last longer if duplicated on card stock or laminated.
- Prior to instruction, check the books in the library collection to make sure there are materials that address the content on the Quest Cards. If not, do not use that card in the activity. (However, you can always encourage students to consider the encyclopedia as a source of information on these topics.)
- Introduce the lesson by telling the students that the statement “Knowledge Is Power” is true. Explain that the main character in the book Ninth Ward, Lanesha, discovered that knowing certain things helped her survive deadly Hurricane Katrina. Read the book to the students.
- Tell the students that when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, people had to act quickly in order to survive. Now they, too, are going to act quickly, but they are going to do so in order to gather information. Inform the students that they will be helping Lanesha find books where she might be able to look up information she either needs or is interested in.
- Display the Dewey Decimal System Reference Chart and review its contents with the students. Be sure to point out the sections of the library that contain each category. (If you are so inclined, pretend as if you do not have much time and need to hurry. It will set the tone for the students.)
- Place the students in groups of two or three and distribute the Storming the Shelves Quest Cards and Storming the Shelves shelf markers, one of each to each group.
- Demonstrate the activity by creating a Quest Card for yourself.
- It is best if your card refers to a book on a shelf that is easily accessible and visible to the students.
- Read the Quest Card to the class, find a book that might contain the needed information, remove it from the shelf, and place a Storming the Shelves Marker in the vacant space so that you know where to return the book. Example: Help Lanesha find out information about Louisiana.
- Instruct the students on what to do when you say “Go”:
- Students are to go quickly to where they think they may be able to find a book that contains information Lanesha might need.
- They are to remove one book, put the marker in its place, and return to their seat.
- There, they may look through the book to see if it contains the information they were seeking. Encourage students to check the book’s table of contents and index.
- Ask the students the following questions when they all have returned to their seats with a book:
- Were you able to find a book that might help Lanesha? (Note: Some students may discover that the book they selected does not contain the needed information. This is acceptable, because in this lesson the process is more important than the product.)
- Did using the Dewey Decimal system help you find the book?
- Would you like to check out this book to read for yourself?
- Conclude the lesson by instructing the students who do not wish to check out the books they selected to return them to the shelf and retrieve the shelf markers.
Inform students that the name of a hurricane is established by an alphabetical list that is repeated every seven years. It should be noted, however, that hurricane names are occasionally “retired.” (A complete list of retired names can be found at the National Hurricane Center website.) Challenge students to create a list of reasons why it may be a good idea not to repeat the names for some hurricanes.
Invite students to write an acrostic poem based on the topic of various types of weather conditions and natural disasters. In this type of poem, the letters of each line are arranged vertically to form the featured word. Topics might include clouds, drought, fog, haze, lightning, snow, rainbow, storm, sunrise, wind, avalanche, blizzard, earthquake, flood, hurricane, hailstorm, landslide, tsunami waves, thunderstorm, tornado, volcano and wild fire. Students may wish to illustrate their work.
Environment in trouble
The stories A Storm Called Katrina and Ninth Ward have a lot in common. They are told in first person, feature heroic young people, and include an adorable dog that needs rescuing. Both contain open-ended conclusions with Louis Daniel and his family leaving the Superdome and heading for home, and Lanesha and TaShon struggling to get to dry land. Ask the students to assume the voice of either narrator and write about what may happen next. What will they find when they get to their destination? How will they be able to survive? Who will help them? Will they be able to keep the dog?
- The Magic School Bus Inside a Hurricane by Joanna Cole; illustrated by Bruce Degen. Scholastic, 1997.
- A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renee Watson; illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Random House, 2010.
- Twister on Tuesday (Magic Tree House #23) by Mary Pope Osborne; illustrated by Sal Murdocca. Random House, 2001.
- Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery; illustrated by Jean Cassels. Walker & Co., 2008.
- Scholastic’s Helping Kids Cope with Natural Disasters page contains valuable resources to help educators talk to students about natural disasters.
- Ready.gov offers information and interactive activities for students, as well as resources for parents and teachers.
- An educator’s guide for Ninth Ward contains discussion questions, vocabulary words and curriculum connections to math, science and history.