Plate Tectonic - Hazards (K)

  • Analyzing sounds created by earthquakes.
  • Distinguishing sounds of different items.
  • bang
  • crash
  • earthquakes
  • hazards
  • rumble
  • sound
  • volcanoes
  • Internet
  • bells, glass, wooden blocks, and other materials that make sounds when dropped
  • Earthquake Slideshow

Students distinguish the different sounds of an earthquake.

Building collapse caused by earthquake. 


An earthquake's destructiveness depends on many factors. In addition to the amount of energy released from the initial fault rupture, the depth where the earthquake begins (the focus), the distance a structure is located from the epicenter, local geological conditions, and the design of buildings can all influence the amount of damage that takes place.

The energy released by an earthquake travels through the Earth as seismic waves. Seismic waves travel at different speeds, depending on the material they move through, as well as the type of motion they transmit. Seismic waves cause an oscillatory, sometimes violent movement of the Earth's surface. Many of these waves make noise, because they are at a high enough frequency that we can hear them. In addition some animals can hear other seismically caused vibrations that are not audible to humans. During an earthquake, noise is also caused by falling objects and other ongoing destruction.

  1. Explain to the class that they have been discussing earthquakes and volcanoes for the last few weeks and now it is time to discuss the hazards associated with earthquakes.
  2. Remind the students that earthquakes and volcanoes are natural events. This lab attempts to get students thinking about the intensities of an earthquake and what hazards may occur during a disaster.
  3. Explain that earthquakes make the ground shake as seismic waves travel through the Earth. Explain that people can hear these sounds. Also discuss sounds that are made when different things fall or break during an earthquake. Point out items in the classroom. Students should imagine the sounds that would occur if the objects fell or broke. Remind the students that many times a severe earthquake will shut down electrical power. In the dark, using one’s sense of hearing is very important.
  4. Instruct students to close their eyes or cover their heads. Make different sounds and have them guess what fell or broke. Discuss as a class their reactions to each sound. Show pictures of earthquake damage that can found under "Slideshows" on our website ( and have the students simulate the sounds that may have occurred during that instance in each picture.
  5. Describe different earthquake situations that may occur while students are at school. Ask the students what action they would take in each of the situations you describe. For example, while in the classroom a rumbling sound is heard and the window panes begin to break - what do you do? This could mean a very strong earthquake and students should turn away from the glass and duck under their tables. There is never "one" answer during an earthquake. Logic and reasoning must be part of earthquake safety in assessing the situation. If you have a plan at your individual school during an earthquake, discuss this with students. You will alleviate many fears during an earthquake, if the students have a sense of what to do in advance. If you live in an area that has no earthquakes, many of these precautionary steps are also valid in other disaster situations. Remember that this is a mobile society and children may be visiting or moving to a state that does have earthquake dangers.
  6. Additional earthquake damage imagery is available at:
    This NOAA website has excellent photographs of recent events

[Back to Plate Tectonic Grid]
  [Back to Hazards (K)]