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: Hartselle City Board Of Education
  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):
TC2 (3-5)
8. Collect information from a variety of digital sources.
Examples: online libraries, multimedia dictionaries
  • Using technology tools to organize information
  • Demonstrating efficient Internet search strategies
  • Example: keyword search
  • Evaluating electronic resources for reliability based on publication date, bias, accuracy, and source credibility
  • SS2010 (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
    SC2015 (3)
    15. Evaluate a design solution (e.g., flood barriers, wind resistant roofs, lightning rods) that reduces the impact of a weather-related hazard.*

    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?

    **Some files will display in a new window. Others will prompt you to download.

    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.


    Each area below is a direct link to general teaching strategies/classroom accommodations for students with identified learning and/or behavior problems such as: reading or math performance below grade level; test or classroom assignments/quizzes at a failing level; failure to complete assignments independently; difficulty with short-term memory, abstract concepts, staying on task, or following directions; poor peer interaction or temper tantrums, and other learning or behavior problems.

    Presentation of Material Environment
    Time Demands Materials
    Attention Using Groups and Peers
    Assisting the Reluctant Starter Dealing with Inappropriate Behavior
    Be sure to check the student's IEP for specific accommodations.