Jump to Content or Main Navigation

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Wall of Water: Tsunami!

ESOL Levels: intermediate, advanced

Asia, Sri Lanka
Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
Environment, Health, Science, Social Studies & Geography
60 minutes

Students will learn what a tsunami is, what causes it, how fast it travels, what it looks like, its devastating effects upon landfall, where it occurs and why it occurs in certain geographic regions. The effect of a 2004 tsunami on the island nation of Sri Lanka will be closely examined.

Sri Lanka, an island nation about the size of West Virginia, is located just 18 miles off the coast of India in the Indian Ocean. With a population of about 21 million, tourism and trade make up over half the gross domestic product. Though Peace Corps had closed its program in 1998 when a tsunami hit the country in 2004, Peace Corps Response (formerly known as Crisis Corps) sent experienced Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to help out. Approximately 30,000 people perished from the disaster and 400,000 were displaced causing widespread damage.



  • To identify characteristics of a tsunami
  • To locate on a regional and world map where tsunamis occur or are most likely to occur
  • To explain why tsunamis occur in particular geographic regions
  • To state the impact of tsunamis
  • Accurately use a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases 



  1. Introduction
    1. Have students locate Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and Japan on a world map.
    2. Ask students if they had heard about the 2004 and 2011 tsunami that affected these countries. Have them describe and explain a tsunami and its effects.
      1. If students do not know, define tsunami: a series of waves created by an underwater disturbance such as an earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption, or meteorite. (Source: FEMA )
      2. First, view "Asia Tsunami" slide show and discuss why tsunamis occur in the North and Southeastern regions of Asia and where they could occur in the United States. Also have students identify after-effects of the tsunami on Sri Lanka.
      3. View one or more of the following:
        1. Video of the effects in Japan from the 2011 Japanese tsunami
        2. Photographs and video of the effects in Northern California from the 2011 Japanese tsunami
        3. Photographs of structural damage inflicted by the 2004 tsunami on the island of Sumatra (Indonesia) and video
  2. Have students form pairs. Distribute one question (see Supporting Documents) to each pair. Using the following websites, allow 10-15 minutes to research each question and write the answer:
    1. Tsunami (intermediate) – Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
    2. Tsunami (advanced) – Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
    3. Life of a Tsunami – United States Geological Survey (USGS)
    4. Tsunami: the Great Waves – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  3. Students will present findings to the class citing sources. 

Frameworks & Standards

Enduring understandings
  • Certain types of weather occur in certain parts of the world due to climate, geography and location.
  • Forces of nature cannot be controlled, only prepared for in case of emergency.
Essential Questions
  • How are location and land forms related to weather and climate?
  • What are precautions for personal safety in case of a severe weather systems or natural disaster?
  • What is your understanding of humans' ability to control nature and its forces?


PreK-12 English Language Proficiency Standards

  • Standard 1: Communicate for social, intercultural, and instructional purposes within the school setting.
  • Standard 5: Communicate information, ideas and concepts necessary for academic success in the area of science.
  • Standard 5: Communicate information, ideas and concepts necessary for academic success in the area of social studies.

National Science Education Standards

Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science

  • Structure of the earth system

Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Populations, resources, and environments
  • Natural hazards

National Council for the Social Studies

Thematic Strand I: Culture

  • Cultures are dynamic and change over time

Thematic Strand III: People, Places and Environments

  • Understand the relationship between human populations and the physical world

U. S. National Geography Standards

Essential Element I: The World in Spatial Terms

  • Use maps and other geographic representations to acquire, process and report information
  • Analyze spatial organization of people, places and environments

Essential Element II: Places and Regions

  • Physical and human characteristics of places 


Language Arts

  1. Have students read aloud and practice engaging, dramatic reading: Crisis Corps Sri Lanka by Darren D. Defendeifer (see Featured Readings)
  2. Write a family disaster plan
  3. Review the school's disaster plan and discuss precautions for personal safety.
  4. Students take the online quiz: FEMA for Kids: What did you Learn?
  5. Illustrate an information poster about a severe weather system or natural disaster that might occur in your area including the following:
    1. Definition of the severe weather or natural disaster
    2. Photos (2 or more)
    3. Locations of where they frequently occur
    4. How to prepare for one


  • Distribute vocabulary picture/word cards (small) (see Supporting Documents) . On map of the United States, students attach to places where each type of severe weather or natural disaster is most likely to occur. 
Browse More Lesson Plans