ALEX Lesson Plan


Build a Better Shelter

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:elisa harris
System: Hartselle City
School: Hartselle City Board Of Education
Author:Stephanie Roden
System: Hartselle City
School: Crestline Elementary School
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 35493


Build a Better Shelter


Students will use information from Lessons 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this unit concerning tornadoes, including the type of damage tornadoes cause and the locations where they typically occur. Students will work in groups of three to design a structure that will withstand and protect people from tornadoes. Each team will represent an engineering firm. They will select from a variety of materials available and sketch their design on poster board prior to constructing a prototype. Students will present their designs to the class and will undergo a wind test.

This unit was created as part of the ALEX Interdisciplinary Resource Development Summit.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 3
Geographic and Historical Studies: People, Places, and Regions
9 ) Identify ways to prepare for natural disasters.

Examples: constructing houses on stilts in flood-prone areas, buying earthquake and flood insurance, providing hurricane or tornado shelters, establishing emergency evacuation routes

Unpacked Content
Strand: Economics, Geography
Course Title: Geographical and Historical Studies: People, Places, and Regions
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Investigate and explain ways to prepare for natural disasters.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • flood-prone areas
  • earthquake insurance
  • flood insurance
  • hurricane shelters
  • tornado shelters
  • emergency
  • evacuation routes
Students know:
  • Appropriate ways to prepare for natural disasters in order to minimize negative effects.
  • Vocabulary: flood prone areas, earthquake insurance, flood insurance, hurricane shelters, tornado shelters
Students are able to:
  • Establish an emergency plan.
Students understand that:
  • There are appropriate ways to prepare for natural disasters in order to minimize negative effects.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SS.AAS.3.9- Participate in a classroom discussion about different types of natural disasters and ways to prepare for them.

SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 3
15 ) Evaluate a design solution (e.g., flood barriers, wind resistant roofs, lightning rods) that reduces the impact of a weather-related hazard.*

NAEP Framework
NAEP Statement::
E4.11: Humans depend on their natural and constructed environment. Humans change environments in ways that can either be beneficial or detrimental for themselves and other organisms.

Unpacked Content
Scientific And Engineering Practices:
Engaging in Argument from Evidence
Crosscutting Concepts: Cause and Effect
Disciplinary Core Idea: Earth and Human Activity
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • Merit
  • Claim
  • Problem/solution
  • Design solution
  • Impact
  • Reduce
  • Weather-related hazard
Students know:
  • Engineers design solutions to reduce the impact of weather related hazards.
  • Problems caused by weather related problems.
  • Humans can not eliminate natural hazards but can take steps to reduce their impacts.
  • Some design solutions are more effective than others.
Students are able to:
  • Identify impacts of a weather related hazard.
  • Identify the effects of solutions to a problem that reduces the impact of a weather related hazard.
  • Make a claim about a designed solution that reduces the impact of a weather related hazard.
  • Communicate evidence to support the claim about a designed solution that reduces the impact of a weather related hazard.
Students understand that:
  • There are cause and effect relationships between weather-related hazards and design solutions created to reduce their impact.
  • There are benefits and risks to given solutions created when responding to the societal demand to reduce the impact of a hazard.
AMSTI Resources:
AMSTI Module:
Weather and Climate

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.3.15- Identify practices that keep people safe during severe weather.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will understand that tornadoes cause property damage.

Students will describe damage to structures caused by tornadoes.

Students will analyze types of tornado damage and construct a structure that could address an area of concern.

Students will present their design prototype and explain why they developed their design solution.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

Greater than 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

Digital devices (Chromebooks, computers, iPads)

Poster Board

Markers or Colored Pencils



Rubber Bands

Popsicle Sticks


Small Wood Pieces

Wooden Dowels

Gorilla Glue

Drinking Straws

Pipe Cleaners

Craft Wire

Foam Board

Modeling Clay 


Technology Resources Needed:

Chromebooks, computers, iPads



Student Background

Students will use background knowledge from Lessons 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this unit concerning tornadoes, including the type of damage tornadoes cause and the locations where they typically occur. Students will use the Pros-and-Cons-Tornadoes graphic organizer which they created in Lesson 3 of this unit ("Preparing for Natural Disasters: Tornado Lesson)" as background information and prior knowledge.

Teacher Background

Teachers will need to provide internet access and guidance on research skills in order for students to gather information through internet searches about tornado damage and types of structures that are the safest during a tornado. This information can be gathered from the links provided in the materials section. 

Lesson 3 in this unit ("Preparing for Natural Disasters: Tornado") should be completed prior to this lesson. The graphic organizer Pros-and-Cons-Tornadoes which is completed in Lesson 3 is attached: Pros-and-Cons-Tornadoes. The information in Lesson 3 will provide the background knowledge for students to build upon.


Before the Lesson:

1.  Students will work in groups of three.

2.  Remind students that they have completed research regarding tornado shelters in Lesson 2 of this unit, "Preparing for Natural Disasters: Tornado".  Students will be building upon research completed in this lesson.

3.  Lead students in brainstorming possible ways structures might be damaged during a tornado.

4.  Share the two YouTube videos with students and discuss how tornadoes can damage buildings. Tornadoes can cause buildings to be damaged by flying debris, ruining the structure, or blowing away the roof of a building.

5.  Compare the list created in step 1 to the evidence of storm damage observe from watching the videos.

During the Lesson:

1.  Explain to students that they will be creating their own three-dimensional model of a tornado-proof shelter. They may focus on particular areas of a structure such as a better way to secure walls, anchoring foundations, improving roof shingles, or the roof design. Students should be creative with their ideas.

2. Provide the following two websites to students to gather information for their structure designs:  Explain to students to look under the tornado safety tab and select storm shelters to read about additional types of storm shelters.  This information will aid in their designs.  Students may find chapters two and three helpful in reading about dangers of tornadoes and possible safe room designs that are effective in storms.

 3.  Students will use information learned in Lesson 3 of this unit, "Preparing for Natural Disasters: Tornado" and earlier in this lesson, to plan a storm shelter design that will stand up to high winds with their groups.  

4.  Students will name their engineering firm. The name of their firm should appear on their poster.  

5.  The groups will begin planning their designs based on research gathered. The planning should be described in each student's science journal.  Planning will include sketches of their design, description of types of materials they will use, and dimensions of their structure.

6.   Students will sketch their final idea on the poster board and label the components.

7.  Students will post their engineering firm name and design title to Padlet. Padlet is a free online bulletin board that can be used to display information. Teachers can create a bulletin board, allow students to join, and they can post their exit slips or comments to the board for the teachers and class to view.

8.  Once students have finalized their design idea, they will begin constructing their prototype of the structure.  The prototype will be a scaled down three-dimensional version of an actual structure. Teachers can create a LEGO, K'NEX, Tinkertoy, or Popsicle stick house type structure as a sample of a three-dimensional model to serve as an example for students.  It is helpful to save student samples to provide examples for future classes.  

9.  The various materials will be presented as options for students to use to create their model.  

10.  Students will present their engineering firm name, their poster explaining their design idea, their final prototype, and a description of materials used.

11.  Designs will undergo a 1-minute wind test from a fan to determine if the structure can withstand the wind force.

After the Lesson:

Students will create an entry in their science journal addressing the results of their wind test:

  • Did your structure withstand the wind?  
  • Why do you think your structure was or was not successful?  
  • What changes do you think could be made to improve your structure?

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Assessment Strategies

Formative assessment:

Exit ticket at the end of day one - Padlet:  Students post their design idea

Science Journal including a description of their design plan

Summative Assessments:

Presentations of final structure - Rubric provided in the attachments for the final project

Science Journal - the reflection of results of the wind test.



Students can research and analyze types of structures that have been most effective in tornadoes.  They can use Tinkercad (online design program) or Sketchup and create an engineered drawing of their structure.


Grouping with students with advanced skills can provide modeling for students in need of intervention.  

Guidance from the teacher in limiting the materials available may benefit students who have difficulty making decisions or are hesitant to start when having more options.


View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.