Lesson Plan: Volcano

Introductory lesson on writing paragraphs depicting a sequence of events for all learners, with technology options

Grade level(s): 4+

Subjects: Science, Language Arts

National Standards:
NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts

Communication Skills
Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Communication Strategies
Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes. NL-ENG.K-12.6

Applying Knowledge
Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

Applying Language Skills
Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

National Science Education Standards 5-8 Content Standard D - EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCE

This is an introductory lesson focusing on writing paragraphs to depict a sequence of events, in this case using a model volcano.  Each child will be a part of a group and have to work together to follow the directions.  They will take pictures after each phase and write a clear sentence for each one. The pictures will be the plan they follow in writing a good paragraph depicting a sequence.  Because writing can be laborious and abstract, this activity will provide concrete planning and structure to the process of paragraph-writing for special education students.


  • Students will participate in creating a model volcano, photographing each step.
  • Students will write sentences under each picture using sequential words (first, then, last; or first, second third)
  • Students will write a paragraph using the sentences they created with topic and closing sentences.


  • Digital camera
  • Written directions
  • Volcano: 
    • plywood (for base)
    • salt dough
    • paper mache or plaster (to make the sides of your volcano
    • 2 liter bottle
    • paint
  • Lava:
    • 1 tbsp. baking soda
    • 1 tbsp. liquid dish soap
    • drop of red food coloring
    • ¼ cup of vinegar
  • printed pictures the group took with room to write sentences (picture plan)- or technology option
  • Notebook paper- or computers
  • Pencil

Anticipatory Set:

The best anticipatory set would be to do this while you are studying volcanoes.  The groups could all be assigned different types of volcano and challenged to create them with the materials they have. 

Other alternatives:

  • Watching a video of volcanoes erupting
  • Talking about volcanoes as a group brainstorm to assess prior knowledge (perfect for interactive whiteboards- save the file and come back to it at the end of the lesson)  
  • Reading stories about volcano eruptions in history, such as Mt. St. Helens or Vesuvius

Explain that we will be using our own volcanoes to help us write paragraphs, letting our writing "erupt" from what we see.


  • Model how to write the paragraph as they will write for this project.  Choose a fast activity that shows clear steps for which you have already taken pictures (making a sandwich, putting your shoes on). 
  • Walk through the steps with them exactly as they will (build, take pictures, picture plan, paragraph); taking as much time they seem to need to understand the writing portion (emphasizing problem areas, such as topic or closing sentences).
  • Divide students up into groups.  Give each group the materials and the written directions. 
    Directions should include: 1. Lay out materials (list them) and verify you have everything.  Take a picture.   2.  Stand two liter bottle on the plywood and build the walls of your volcano using (specify materials).  Take a picture.
  • Creating the volcano may take a while, so allow a few hours of class time over the course of a few days for groups to finish. 
  • Leave camera out for groups to snap pictures after every step on the directions.  (Have your students help you later determine which volcano was theirs or keep a sign next to the volcano with names on it)
  • After each group has photographed their volcano erupting, on the computer, put the groups’ volcano pictures in order on one page with room to write under each one. SAVE the files with student names or initials in case you need them again!
  • Print off the sequenced pictures or allow each student to SAVE the file with his/her own name to add sentences later.
  • Each student writes/types a sentence under the pictures, using the words first, second, third, or first, then, last.
  • Check over each student’s picture plan before they write their paragraph. 
  • Each student will write a paragraph using a topic sentence, the sentences on their picture plan ( can copy/paste if working on the computer) and a closing sentence. 

For students who really struggle with sentence structure, provide colored numbers they can place next to each sentence, providing a starting place for their sentence.  Emphasize to them on their picture plan that 1 is said “first,” 2 “second,” 3 “third,” etc.  Demonstrate out loud for them when reading their sentences.

During building and photographing of volcanoes, sequencing pictures, and after written work is completed, use this rubric (or one of your own creation) to assess student's achievement of objectives.

Technology options and tips:
If you have access for students to do the entire writing portion of the project on computers, have each group make a word processing file with their sequenced images, then save it.

Model the rest of the writing process on an interactive whiteboard or projector.

Allow each student to open his group's picture file and immediately RENAME as "picture-plan-myname." Students can then add text boxes under the pictures for the sentences. Save again. Start a new document (or page) for the final paragraph, and allow students to copy/paste the sentences from the picture plan, adding the topic and closing sentences.

Another alternative is to use a class wiki, uploading the full set of pictures from each group for students to insert in their individual wiki pages for picture planning and paragraph writing. Learn more about wikis in the TeachersFirst Wiki Walk-Through. If your wiki is password-protected (private), you will not need to worry abut safety issues of including student pictures. Or take the pictures showing only the students' hands. Be sure to share the address/password to see the finished wiki with parents, so they can share in the excitement.

*Standards for the English Language Arts, by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, Copyright 1996 by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.  Reprinted with permission.