Researching Natural Disasters: Physical Impact | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G5:M4:U1

Researching Natural Disasters: Physical Impact

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In Unit 1, students build background knowledge about natural disasters to understand how they affect the places that experience them. In the first half of the unit, they research natural disasters in expert groups, focusing on answering the question: "How do natural disasters affect the people and places that experience them?" Students work with a variety of sources, including videos, informational texts, and websites, as they investigate their group's natural disaster and learn about how to stay safe during it. As they research, they think about how authors use reasons and evidence to support particular points, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s). For the mid-unit assessment, students read a new text about a natural disaster, explaining how reasons and evidence support points the author makes, and identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).

The second half of the unit opens with a Science Talk, allowing students to share their research about the natural disaster they studied in the first half of the unit, and draw conclusions about ways to stay safe during one. Throughout the rest of the unit, students plan, draft, and revise a public service announcement (PSA), explaining how to stay safe during the natural disaster they researched. As they write, they consider how to ensure their PSA is appropriate for the task, purpose, and audience, and learn how to use commas to set off words and phrases as a technique to engage the audience. Students also learn how to use punctuation to separate items in a series. For the end of unit assessment, students record their PSA and edit a paragraph for correct use of commas and semicolons.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • How do natural disasters affect the people and places that experience them?
  • Natural disasters can devastate people and places.
  • How can we prepare for a natural disaster?
  • We can prepare for a natural disaster by learning about what to do in the event of a natural disaster and preparing an emergency preparedness kit.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Researching Natural Disasters: Human Impact
  • Task: For the mid-unit assessment, students read a new text and explain how reasons andevidence support points an author makes, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s). For the end of unit assessment, students record their PSAs and edit a paragraph for commas and semicolons.
  • Targets: (standards explicitly taught and assessed): RI.5.4, RI.5.8, SL.5.4, SL.5.6, L.5.2a, L.5.2c, and L.5.4a
  • Texts: "How Well is Your Community Prepared?", "Know the Facts, Be Empowered!"


Each unit in the 3-5 Language Arts Curriculum has two standards-based assessments built in, one mid-unit assessment and one end of unit assessment. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize their understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the literacy block. But the module intentionally incorporates Science and Social Studies content that may align to additional teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below.

Next Generation Science Standards:

Earth and Space Science Performance Expectation:

  • 4-ESS3-2: Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.
    • ESS3.B: A variety of natural hazards result from natural processes. Humans cannot eliminate natural hazards but can take steps to reduce their impacts. (4-ESS3-2)

College, Career, and Civic Life C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards:

  • D2.Geo.9.3-5

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Central to EL Education's curriculum is a focus on ?habits of character? and social-emotional learning. Students work to become effective learners, developing mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration); work to become ethical people by treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion); and work to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service).

In this unit, students continue to work to become effective learners by showing perseverance, collaborating, taking responsibility, and taking initiative as they work in expert groups and write their PSAs.

Students also continue to work to contribute to a better world by applying their learning to help the community by explaining how to stay safe during a natural disaster in their PSAs.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Accountable Independent Reading

The ability to read and comprehend text is the heart of literacy instruction. Comprehension is taught, reinforced, and assessed across both components of this curriculum: module lessons and the Additional Language and Literacy block. Refer to the 5M4 Module Overview for additional information.

In this unit, students read research texts independently for homework, and engage in frequent research reading shares during the module lesson for accountability.

Supporting English Language Learners

The Meeting Students' Needs column in each lesson contains support for both ELLs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and some supports can serve a wide range of student needs. However, ELLs have unique needs that cannot always be met with UDL support. According to federal guidelines, ELLs must be given access to the curriculum with appropriate supports, such as those that are specifically identified as "For ELLs" in the Meeting Students' Needs column.

  • Prioritizing lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: To prepare for the Unit 1 assessments, consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 2-5, which focus on conducting research on natural disasters and identifying reasons and evidence an author gives to support a point, and include a Language Dive; Lesson 7, which includes a Science Talk; and Lessons 8-11, which focus on analyzing and drafting a PSA script and include a Language Dive. If necessary, consider placing less focus and condensing instruction in Lesson 1, which provides helpful background, practice, and repetition, but doesn't introduce as many new concepts.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in a Language Dive in Lesson 4, and ELLs can participate in an optional Language Dive in Lesson 10. Lesson 11 includes an optional Mini Language Dive for ELLs. These Language Dives support ELLs and all students in deconstructing, reconstructing, and practicing the meaning and structures of sentences from "How Well is Your Community Prepared?" and the Model PSA script. See the Tools page for additional information on Language Dives.
  • Conversation Cues: Encourage productive and equitable conversation with Goals 1-4 Conversation Cues (adapted from Michaels, Sarah and O'Connor, Cathy. Talk Science Primer. Cambridge, MA: TERC, 2012. Based on Chapin, S., O'Connor, C., and Anderson, N. [2009]. Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, Grades K-6. Second Edition. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications). See the Tools page for additional information on Conversation Cues.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Investigate the routines, practices, rituals, beliefs, norms, and experiences that are important to ELLs and their families. Integrate this background into the classroom as students explore the topic of natural disasters and the physical and human impact they can have on communities. Be sensitive to students' experiences and perspectives on these topics, and foster inclusive action by creating space for students to express their feelings about issues embedded in the text, while being aware that these discussions may unearth trauma or social stigma. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher for further investigation of diversity and inclusion.
  • Identifying Reasons and Evidence: In the first half of the unit, students work to identify reasons and evidence an author gives to support a point. ELLs may find it challenging to distinguish between reasons and evidence, as they only have one opportunity (Lesson 4) to practice this skill prior to the mid-unit assessment in Lesson 6. If possible, consider providing students with additional opportunities to practice skill outside of the lessons leading up the assessment, using a variety of texts. Discuss examples of reasons and evidence, and reinforce students'understanding by inviting them to articulate the difference between the examples.
  • Writing and Recording PSAs: In the second half of the unit, students receive explicit instruction in how to write a PSA script on the natural disaster they researched in the first half of the unit. They first analyze a model PSA script and then receive instruction in how to plan a PSA script before writing one. In the End of Unit Assessment, which takes place during Lessons 12-13, students are invited to record their PSAs. Consider taking time outside of the lessons before the end of unit assessment to practice with students who may feel nervous or insecure about recording their PSAs. Remind them to focus on the aspects of their presentations that they are confident about, and practice areas in which they need additional support.
  • Commas to Separate Items in a Series and to Set Off Words and Phrases: In the second half of the unit, students are introduced to using commas to separate items in a series, as well as to set off words and phrases. Before introducing each of these uses of commas, consider revisiting the work students did in Module 3 focused on using a comma to separate an introductory element from the rest of the sentence. Additionally, consider supporting students with additional practice in using commas in each of these ways throughout the school day, and inviting students to distinguish between their uses.
  • Celebration: Celebrate the courage, enthusiasm, diversity, and bilingual assets that ELLs bring to the classroom.

Technology and Multimedia

  • Ready.govAdditional reading and research: Students read additional texts and look at resources about preparing for a natural disaster.
  • Red Cross: Prepare for EmergenciesAdditional reading and research: Students read additional texts and look at resources about preparing for a natural disaster.
  • "The Importance of Being Prepared for a Natural Disaster" - Additional reading and research: Students read an additional text about preparing for a natural disaste

Additional Language and Literacy Block

The Additional Language and Literacy (ALL) Block is 1 hour of instruction per day. It is designed to work in concert with and in addition to the 1-hour Grades 3-5 ELA "module lessons." Taken together, these 2 hours of instruction comprehensively address all the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

The ALL Block has five components: Additional Work with Complex Text; Reading and Speaking Fluency/GUM (Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics); Writing Practice; Word Study and Vocabulary; and Independent Reading.

The ALL Block has three 2-week units which parallel to the three units of the module.

Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


  • Invite members of the community, family members, or teachers to come into the classroom to share their personal stories about natural disasters.


  • Invite scientists with expertise on natural disasters, particularly those relevant to the local area, to come into the classroom to talk to the students about them.


  • Visit a natural disasters exhibition at a local museum.
  • Visit an area affected by a natural disaster.


  • Share PSAs with other classes in the school.
  • Share PSAs with local radio/TV stations.
  • Create emergency preparedness kits for classrooms in school.
  • Create emergency preparedness kits for local community organizations or families in need.
  • Organize fundraising projects to raise money for an area affected by a natural disaster.
  • Collect necessary supplies to send to an area affected by a natural disaster.


  • Students research local history about natural disasters.
  • Students create posters for the local community about how to prepare for a natural disaster.

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