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Volcano Folklore vs. Reality

Author: Tia D. Larese


Penn Alexander School

Year: 2017

Seminar: What is the Earth Made of?

Grade Level: K-12

Keywords: Chemistry, earth sciences, geology, volcano

School Subject(s): Chemistry, Environmental Science, Geology, Science, Space

 When faced with the ever-growing pressure of meeting common core standards in literacy and math, how can teachers introduce more science in early education? The answer: integration. Using a high-interest topic, such as volcanoes, teachers can not only capture their students’ attention, but they can teach required skills across content areas to meet the needs of local, state, and national standards. This unit will look at geology from different perspectives, teaching skills of reading comprehension, making connections, and informational writing while providing lessons and activities to encourage future volcanologists to explore the world and the changes that occur every day.

Download Unit: 17.4.05-unit.pdf

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Full Unit Text

As part of the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia (TIP), in the spring semester of 2017, I had the opportunity to take the class “What is the Earth made of?” with Reto Grieré, Department Chair & Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout the course, some of the topics we discussed were inorganic chemistry, chemical bonding, mineralogy, rocks, plate tectonics, mountain building, and weathering/erosion. In addition to an immense amount of content knowledge being transferred, I began to look at the Earth differently. Through each subject we encountered, I found myself analyzing the building blocks of the Earth from multiple lenses, unlocking mysteries, explaining phenomenon, and garnering a better understanding of how structures, well beyond the naked eye, are impacting our way of life and our understanding of the world we live in.


The complexity of inorganic chemistry and bonding is intimidating when looked at alone; however, when approached with the lens of finding patterns in our world, it’s an exciting topic for an adult, and probably even more so for a student. To truly begin understanding our Earth, one must delve into observing the building blocks of what composes the Earth. Elements, the smallest component we can distinguish, is made up of electrons, protons, and neutrons. Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev (1869) was the scientist who actually proposed the Periodic Table, whereby organizing elements in groups and columns based on their properties. Amazingly, he even predicted the existence of unknown elements using this pattern. The configurations, or the geometry of the orbitals and how they are arranged, will ultimately define how elements join together to form minerals. To a student, it is vital to understand that much of what seems random in nature is actually systematic and predictable.


Niels Bohr’s (1913) model helped to predict electronic configurations that were both systematic and periodic. In fact, the most stable form elements strive to become would be a noble gas structure, due to the least amount of energy exerted. However, we find many non-gas structures in our world, which imply that elements, much like people, come together to find stability. The three types of bonds in our world (Ionic, Covalent, Metallic) exhibit equilibrium, a balance of atoms both attracting and repulsing one another. Nobel Prize Winner Linus Pauling developed five rules for why atoms arrange themselves this way. This repetition in nature results in a beautiful, geometric pattern that exists on the smallest level. Students would be truly amazed to see repetition in the configurations and what composes our world, ultimately to recognize similar patterns in other areas.


Rocks and minerals can be beautiful and tangible for students; however, when approached with the lens of using rocks to discover information about history or how those minerals were formed, it can be powerful. Minerals are one of the key areas Earth Scientists study. When a child looks at a gemstone, they may initially notice its luster or vibrant colors. As an educator, I would want to share with my students the idea that every mineral is ultimately a crystal made of elements that grows over time, in different ways, reflecting the environmental conditions it was faced with. For example, heating or radiation can alter the color of gems. Crystals can also grow with “inclusions,” such as other solid minerals, liquids, and gases, which can tell you where it may have grown. Not only that, the luminescence of a mineral can actually help to date its age (i.e. pottery), while the magnetism of a rock or mineral can actually infer at which direction Earth’s magnetic north was pointing during formation. The electrical properties of a mineral and understanding whether or not it is a good conductor or insulator, also has implications for students to understand how we use minerals in our everyday lives. Through the study of rocks and minerals, students can make connections to the real world, by delving into history and everyday life.


The movement and changes of the Earth over time, whether it be the topic of plate tectonics, mountain building, volcanic eruptions, or weathering, are sensational topics that garner children’s attention. However when approached with the lens of studying its impact on humans and animals today and in the past, it can be truly enlightening. It seems improbable at first that the liquid outer core under the surface of the Earth has any impact on my way of life. When I learn that migrating animals rely on its magnetism, or the fact that it deflects solar winds and radiation rays from the surface, or even the Northern Lights are a result of the magnetism created by it, I have to realize that even if I can’t see the impact, its there and it is significant.


Our Earth was formed by a collision of objects in the sky. This energy transfer still results in 50% of the heat that our Earth holds, while the other 50% results from radioactivity for the surface. Today, many people even want to harness that geothermal heat to use for energy. It is also that heat flow that causes the continents to move. Through studying rocks and minerals, scientists have been able to develop their understanding of how the Earth looked millions of years ago. Pangea, or the formation of a super-continent, is evidenced from mountains in both the United States and Africa, the magnetism in rocks, glacier erosion, and even fracture zones that exists on two continents. Today, the continents we live on and the plates beneath them continue to move and each plate boundary (divergent, convergent, transform), the movement causes convections on a global scale.


Earthquakes and volcanoes depict a more-than-visible way that the Earth impacts people’s way of life, that is especially tangible for children in grades K-4. Whether a volcano is explosive or effusive, they transform the landscape around them and impact the people living there. For instance, the Hawaiian Islands, which over one million people call home, was formed from a “hot spot” in the Pacific plate. Yet, the fertile land is ripe for lush rainforests that have become a mecca for tourists. It is poignant for students to see some of the positive effects a volcano may have on the environment. Meanwhile, the explosion of E-15 in Iceland prevented air travel around Europe, costing the airline industry close to two billion dollars of lost revenue. For a child, it is important to see beyond the explosion, but rather the impact a volcano may have over time. In modern times, we can easily “google” information about volcanoes and understand the science behind them; however, we see throughout history that people developed stories to explain the sensational and devastating experiences with volcanoes. This idea was what prompted my desire to couple the study of science with literature, as a way for students to understand the impact of nature on the lives of people today and throughout time.


The class inspired me to reveal the dichotomy of science and folklore with a common vessel. By teaching about one topic through different lenses, it would help my students practice seeing the world from different perspectives, grounding their knowledge in real life, yet using the authentic excitement of nature to fuel their creative writing.


To prepare myself for writing this unit, I researched the history of volcano folklore, identifying key folktales in history across different cultures around the world. For each famous folktale, I had to research facts and information about the formation of the volcano. I developed some child-friendly stories to introduce the concepts of volcano folklore for my students and give a time frame or point of reference for students to compare and contrast different volcano formations around the world. To begin, I looked at more recent or famous eruptions that the students may be familiar with (i.e. Iceland, Pompeii).


In addition to the research of Volcano folklore, I further investigated the importance of teaching plate tectonics, the Ring of Fire, geology, and Earth dynamics. I focused on the guidelines of Science education and began developing key concepts to address when teaching my class about these topics.


There is a heavy emphasis in K-3 grades to develop a student’s reading and writing ability before they end 3rd grade. Students get at least 120 minutes of independent reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar, and spelling instruction daily, on average. In addition, students are also constantly being asked to develop their ability to read, write, and respond to texts in other subject areas, such as social studies, math and science, that it does not always leave teachers the opportunity to have student-led or hands-on learning in the classroom. As a result, there is a need for teachers to be intentional in making time to explore and exposing their students to the scientific method, experiments, and projects, while also meeting the curriculum needs of teaching reading and writing.


This unit is intended for students in Grade 3 & 4. They spend most of the day in a self-contained classroom except for a 45-minutes specialist class each day, in addition to a 30-minutes lunch, and a 15-minute recess. Students take a Science class twice a week and work on three large units of study over the course of the year with that teacher, in addition to Art, Music, Gym, and Technology.

The objectives of the unit will include the following:

  • Explain how volcanoes form and change over time,
  • Identify key figures in folktales and how people in the past used stories to explain the existence of volcanoes,
  • Understand the rock cycle, parts of a volcano, and the different types of eruptions,
  • Encourage students to study different rocks and minerals that are formed from a volcano,
  • Establish the history of plate tectonics, and study volcanic events in Earth’s history, including learning about the Ring of Fire.


This unit will include age-appropriate activities to develop literacy skills and engage students in hands-on discovery.

  • Whole Group Direct Instruction – The teacher will be at the front of the classroom explaining to students via a SMART board/ chalkboard / whiteboard.
  • Small Group Instruction – For students struggling with key concepts, the teacher will meet with them in small groups to review concepts and to differentiate learning.
  • Shared & Independent Work – Students will have the opportunity to complete tasks working with partners, small groups, and independently.
  • Graphic Organizers – Teacher-made worksheets using visual representations will help students organize their thinking.
  • Hands-on Exploring– Students will be engaged in activities that allow them to access and explore rocks, other Earth materials, and make models of scientific theories.
  • Think, pair, share – Students will have the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas with partners and with the whole class.
  • Group Centers – There will be opportunities for students to rotate through centers to further explore scientific concepts.
  • Questioning – An ample opportunity for group discussion will help facilitate student understanding. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy, teachers can craft key questions to help expand students’ thinking. These questions are crucial to monitor student understanding both in formative and summative assessments:
    • Level 1 (Knowledge)
      • What is ____________?
      • How did _________ happen?
      • Match the word with the definition.
    • Level 2 (Comprehension)
      • Can you explain what is happening?
      • Compare or contrast ____________
      • Draw a picture and include labels that show how this event happened or describe this object (volcano).
    • Level 3 (Application)
      • How would you solve _____ using what you’ve learned?
      • What would happen if ___________?
      • What might have happened if this ___________?
    • Level 4 (Analysis)
      • What is the relationship between ________ & ________?
      • What is the function of ______________
      • Examine how the different events or people work together.
    • Level 5 (Synthesis)
      • What changes would you make to ______?
      • How would you adapt __________ to create a different ________?
    • Level 6 (Evaluation)
      • What would you recommend _____?
      • Was it better that _______?
      • Judge the importance of volcanology or the study of folklore.


  1. Building Background Knowledge

Objective: Students will be able to identify the key details of different genres of folklore in order compare and contrast different genres of literature, as well as compare and contrast narrative elements.


Overview: Students will work together in groups to read and analyze folklore about volcanoes from different countries around the world. They will compare and contrast each country, legend, and reality using a T-chart. Then, teacher will review answers and explicitly teach facts and information to volcanoes.


Materials: Read Aloud, “Pele and the Rivers of Fire”

Graphic Organizers

Class KWL Chart

Class T-charts

Oregon State University Volcano Folklore Fact Sheets (See Appendix)


Hook: Watch video clip of Hawaiian eruptions & answer the question “What do we know and notice about Volcanoes” written on the whiteboard


Task: Day 1: The teacher will write the guiding question: How does folklore go? Students will brainstorm with partners what they know about myths, fables, and legends. The class will generate a list of typical patterns that they see in the genre of stories so they can watch out for them during the read aloud. The teacher will then read aloud the story “Pele and the Rivers of Fire.” Students will follow along and check for the elements of folklore that they notice.


Day 2: Students will work with partners or small groups to read a different story about volcano folklore from different places in the world. Each group will complete a graphic organizer that asks them questions about the elements of a folktale, but also prompts them to discuss what they know about volcanoes.


Review: The whole class will review the completed graphic organizers about narrative elements of a folktale.


For Next Time: The class will develop a K-W-L chart with what they already know about the topic, what they want to learn about the topic, and later in the unit, what they have learned about the unit.


Know About Volcanoes     Want to Know About Volcanoes     Learned About Volcanoes


Know About Myths            Want to Know About Myths             Learned About Myths



  1. Volcano Spotlight

Objective: To explain how volcanoes form and change over time, and to identify key figures in folktales and how people in the past used stories to explain the existence of volcanoes.


Overview: Students will read about important historical eruptions around the world. Students will work with partners to read about a specific type of volcano and eruptions and will share out with the class key facts and ideas.


Materials: Google maps (pre-made locations)

Eruption Kits – rocks, maps, history fact sheet, timeline, primary documents

Diet coke & mentos candy

     Baking soda & vinegar

     Different types of volcanic rock to compare & contrast


Hook: Teacher will model an eruption for the class using different materials.


Task: Small groups will be assigned an eruption kit. In each kit, there will be a variety of documents and materials that are featured from different major eruptions in history. For example, there will be rocks that represent the type of rocks formed after the eruption, photographs of before and after, a timeline of the events, photographs or paintings, a fact-sheet, and a map of the area. Students will fill out a graphic organizer of what they learned from each type of source of information.


Good Readers Can Read More Than Just Books

Item                                        What I Notice                                    What I Think (Infer)










Fact Sheet





3 FACTS YOU HAVE LEARNED _______________________________________________________________________









For Next Time:

Teacher will review the exit ticket and compile a list of questions that students have based on the lesson.


  1. Research

Objective: understand the rock cycle, parts of a volcano, and the different types of eruptions, to encourage students to study different rocks and minerals that are formed from a volcano, to establish the history of plate tectonics, and study volcanic events in Earth’s history, including learning about the Ring of Fire.


Overview: Students will choose a volcano that exists today that is interesting to them. From there, they will have the opportunity to turn the information about that specific volcano into their own volcano folktale. Teacher will model research techniques and offer writing lessons to help students focus their writing.

Materials:       Graphic Organizer

                       Small Earth-shaped ball

                       Flip-book graphic organizers

                        -Earth & Plate Tectonics

                        -Types of Volcanoes

                        -The Rock Cycle


Hook: Discovery Kids Virtual Volcano


Task: After students have learned about different types of eruptions, they will cycle through centers to create Earth & Volcano flip-books and complete graphic organizers to compare and contrast the different types of volcanoes and learn about the Earth’s structure. They will keep a folder of facts and information to use to develop their own folktale.
















Create a “flipbook” by creating different layered papers. On each sheet, you can describe the different layer of the Earth with facts and diagrams. Students can refer to it when talking about the Earth in their own research.


By: ______





Review: Students will write down on a post-it one fact or piece of information that they learned or found interesting. Then, as a group of 4, each person will bring their post-it and take turns sharing out with the group. The other members of the group have the opportunity to comment or ask questions before moving on to the next post-it.



























For Next Time:


  1. Writer’s Workshop

Objective: To identify key figures in folktales and how people in the past used stories to explain the existence of volcanoes, and to understand the rock cycle, parts of a volcano, and the different types of eruptions.


Overview: Students will gather information and craft a presentation about their selected volcano to share with families.


Materials: Graphic Organizer – Prewriting

                 Folktale Story Elements Dice


Hook: “Pass the Earth” Using an Earth-shaped ball, students will pass it around the classroom to create a story about volcanoes. Every time a student has the ball, they add another line to the story verbally. This story generator will help students brainstorm their own version of a tale.   The teacher will model how to use the story element dice game to get ideas for their folktale.


Task: Using a graphic organizer and story elements dice, students will generate ideas for a folktale that includes factual information about volcanoes. Print out a blank story elements cube and fill out suggested characters, settings, and plot events.

For example:

Character Cube: Gods, Goddesses, Spirits, Animals, Nature, Chiefs, Demi-gods, etc.

Setting Cube: Iceland, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Greece, United States, etc.

Plot Cube: Someone is tricked, Your character gets upset, There is a challenge, There is an argument, Something is wrong in nature, etc.


They will then fill out the graphic organizer and begin drafting their stories with the support of a writing partner and the teacher. Students will be encouraged to go back and reread other folktales and volcano books as mentor texts for their own story.






















Review: Students will share out one thing that they are proud of accomplishing that day.

For Next Time: Students will continue to independently write, edit, and publish their work throughout writing and hodge podge.


  1. Writers’ Celebration & Performance

Objective: To identify key figures in folktales and how people in the past used stories to explain the existence of volcanoes, and to understand the rock cycle, parts of a volcano, and the different types of eruptions.


Overview: Students will publish and present their stories with our school community.


Materials: Student dioramas

                 Student stories

               Project Description & Rubric for Assessment (See Appendix)     


Hook: We will begin with an opening from all students and welcome parents and families to our school.


Task: Each student will have the opportunity to design a diorama of the setting of the folktale. They should design a working model volcano that resembles to the structure of the volcano in their story, also taking into account the country of origin’s landscape, and details. They should also create puppets to represent the characters in their folktale and any props that are mentioned throughout the story. Each child will work on the diorama at home and present it along with the story for family members. They will have the opportunity to let their volcano erupt. This will be the culminating project grade for the unit.


The Core Curriculum of the School District of Philadelphia is aligned to the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Science Education, as well as English Language Arts Standards.   These standards include instruction on the following topics: Writing with different purposes, researching and reading for information, understanding different points of view, as well finding the relationships between the Earth and people. Students will focus on reading fictional and informational texts, preparing stories to teach about volcanoes, and exploring geology and volcanology.


CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 2-3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.


Buckland, Paul C., Dugmore, Andrew J., and Kevin J. Edwards. “Bronze Age Myths? Volcanic activity and human response in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic regions.” Antiquity, 1997.

*This article seeks to answer the questions of the influence of volcanic activity on people living near them.


Folklore. “Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes.” 1917.

*A collection of stories about Pele, other gods, and the people of Hawaii.


Nimmo, H. Arlo. “Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai’i: A History.” 2011.

*A history about Pele and her influence on the culture and landscape of the Hawaiian islands.


Westervelt, W.D. “Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes: Collected & Translated from The Hawaiian.” 2011.

*A collection of folktales from Hawaii.


Zellinga De Boer, and Donald Theodore Sanders. “Volcanoes of Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions.”

*Volcanoes are powerful landforms and this text seeks to explain how far their influence reaches.


Teacher Resources:

Friedrich, Walter L. “Fire in the Sea: The Santorini Volcano: Natural History and the Legend of Atlantis.” 2000.

*A great influence behind the idea of my integrated unit combining legend with science.


Geoscience News & Education.

* This is a great resource for volcano facts and additional activities for the classroom.


“History in the Headlines: Volcanoes.”

*An interesting collection of news articles about volcano findings.


Lauber, Patricia. “Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens.” 1993.

*A beautiful photographic journey of Mount St. Helens from its eruption to its revival many years later.


Oregon State University. “Volcano Folklore.”

*An inspirational site with a tremendous amount of research about volcanoes, but also the folklore and stories that surround them. Many of the stories were derived from the list and I encourage teachers to read about other volcanoes around the world.


Osborne, Mary Pope. “Ancient Rome and Pompeii: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #13.” 2006.

*The author does a wonderful job writing paired fiction and non-fiction texts to entertain young readers but also educate.



*An interactive site with songs and videos to help supplement learning about the Earth and geological terms.


Schreiber, Anne. “Volcanoes! (National Geographic Readers). 2008.

*This has been a mentor informational text in my classroom for many years because of the way it creatively writes about the topic of volcanoes. I encourage it to help students gain background knowledge but also learn some cool facts.


Wikipedia. “Volcano Folklore.” 2017

*A number of Wikipedia articles highlight the folklore around the world explaining volcanic activity in their region.


Student Resources:

Argueta, Manlio, and Elly Simmons. “Magic Dogs of the Volcanoes.” 1997.

*This is a traditional Salvadorean legend presented in Spanish and English.


Davis, Edith. “Pompeii… Buried Alive!” 1987.

*Third graders love learning about Pompeii and this text does a great job of explaining some of the details.


Discovery Kids Volcano Explorer.

*An interactive website that helps students understand the different compositions of volcanoes.


Furgang, Kathy. “National Geographic Kids Everything Volcanoes and Earthquakes: Earthshaking photos, facts, and fun!” 2013.

*A general fact book about volcanoes and the Earth.


Herman, Gail. “The Magic School Bus Blows Its Top: A Book About Volcanoes.” 1996.

*A text that helps weave fiction with non-fiction. The narrative form helps students to digest the loads of factual information they learn about volcanoes.


National Geographic Kids.

*Pictures, facts, and footage of volcanoes around the world.


Nordenstrom, Michael. “Pele and the Rivers of Fire.” 2002.

*Interesting read aloud and mentor text to introduce folktales.


Rusch, Elizabeth. “Will it Blow? Become a Volcano Detective at Mount St. Helens.” 2017.

*A text that helps students think like scientists, looking for signs of when a volcano may erupt.


Tonatiuh, Duncan. “The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes.” 2016.

*A mentor text that shares a Mexican legend about two volcanoes.


Van Rose, Susanna. “DK Eyewitness Books: Volcano & Earthquake.” 2014.

*Factual and highly visual text for all learners to supplement their understanding.