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Lesson Plan

Huge Mistakes that Led to Catastrophe: Learning about Human-made Disasters throughout History

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Huge Mistakes that Led to Catastrophe: Learning about Human-made Disasters throughout History

Grades 5 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Nine 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Kathy Wickline

Kathy Wickline

Tolono, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



After reading Sally Walker's nonfiction book Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1918 or other nonfiction books that illustrates a human-made disaster, students examine how other great mistakes in history affected mankind and caused change in the world. For example, they can discover that massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics lead to increased security at all subsequent games. They can learn that the sinking of the Titanic led to safety policy changes so that all ships needed enough lifeboats to carry all passengers in case of an emergency. While listening to each other's presentations created using technology, students take notes to compare and contrast their disasters using the Compare and Contrast Chart printout. Then students pair up to create Venn diagrams to illustrate their notes.

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Compare and Contrast Chart: Students will use this printout as they listen to each other’s presentation to prepare for creating Venn diagrams.

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Labbo and Place state students are motivated to learn when they are provided with opportunities “to gain knowledge not typically encountered in textbooks. The fit is also good when students have occasions for gaining new literacy skills and strategies.” In this lesson students take an in-depth look at various human-made disasters that are not usually discussed in detail in textbooks. They can also see a relationship between acquiring research skills typically taught in language arts classes to increasing their understanding about how human-made disasters have affected the world. In her article Nolan relates that technology offers a platform for building essential proficiencies. Technology provides opportunities for students to apply their reading skills, evaluate information from various sources, combine that information, and then communicate their findings to others. Students are given the opportunity to use technology twice in this lesson as they will present using a tech tool and then use the Venn Diagram Mobile App or Venn Diagram Student Interactive to illustrate their comparison and contrast skills.

Labbo, Linda D. and Karen Place.  “Fresh Perspectives on New Literacies and Technology Integration.”  Voices from the Middle. March 2010:  9-18.

Read more about this resource


Nolan, Sara. “How Technology Fuels Learning.” MindShift Blog, KQED.org. September 16, 2011.

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