Erupting Volcanoes!

What You Need


Erupting Volcanoes!


To learn about volcanoes by making a volcano model.


"Students should learn what causes earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods and how those events shape the surface of the earth. Students, however, may show more interest in the phenomena than in the role the phenomena play in sculpting the earth. So teachers should start with students’ immediate interest and work toward the science." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy p. 71.)

For grades K-2, working with students’ immediate interests about the phenomena of erupting volcanoes is appropriate and probably the most meaningful way to introduce the topic of change. This lesson presents volcanoes through the making of volcano models. While students are constructing their physical representations of volcanoes, they will be filled with questions about volcanoes as well as how to build their models. This process will provide students with a tangible reference for learning about volcanoes and give them a chance to problem-solve as they build their models.

Students will also be fascinated with the eruption aspect of volcanoes. In this lesson, students will be able to observe how the eruption changes the original form of their volcano model. In this way, students see first hand how this type of phenomenon creates physical change. While students at this level may struggle to understand larger and more abstract geographical concepts, they will work directly with material that will help them build a foundation for understanding concepts of phenomena that sculpt the earth.

Many of the ideas in this lesson have been adapted from University of North Dakota's Volcano World website. To meet the needs and interests of your particular group of students, you can explore this site further to get additional creative ideas.

Planning Ahead

It would be helpful to have a resource book available for students so they can refer to it themselves.

It may also be helpful to prepare yourself by learning more about volcanoes. The following Web pages are good resources for your own background:

It is suggested that you make your own volcano model in advance of doing this lesson with your students so that you can use your model to demonstrate an eruption.


Most students have not seen a volcano first hand. Many students at the K-2 level may be unfamiliar with what volcanoes are. A good place to start is to show students a photograph of a volcano. For an online still photograph, students can go to Current Volcanic Activity. Or, if you have other pictures of volcanoes, make these available to students.

After students have seen photographs, you can talk with them about how volcanoes have "hot liquid" inside of them (if your students are ready, you can tell them that this is called magma). Sometimes this magma comes out of the volcano really fast (when the magma comes out, it is called lava). When this happens, we say the volcano is erupting.

Visit the Ring of Fire site with your students. This site shows a short film clip of an actual volcano erupting. To view the video, click on "Video Clip" near the top of the page. This visual and auditory depiction will help students form an idea of what we mean by volcanoes and eruption.

Students will also have fun physically playing out the concept of eruption. Have them crouch down on the floor. Tell them that they are volcanoes. Inside they have hot liquid getting ready to come out. As the liquid begins to rise, their bodies begin to rise. Soon the lava comes out the top, very fast and strong. Have them act this out by standing and jumping up, with their hands extended to the sky, and making eruption sounds!


Tell students that they will now have a chance to make their own volcanoes. Before they begin, lead a discussion about what they already know about volcanoes and the questions they may have.

Some helpful questions to facilitate this discussion might be:

  • If you were to touch a volcano, what do you think it would feel like?
  • What sound do you think volcanoes make when they erupt?
  • What do you want to know about volcanoes?

Go to Volcano Models to find many ideas for creating different types of volcanoes, including lists of necessary materials. You may want to choose a model that is appropriate for your group of students, or you can offer students the opportunity to vote on which model the class will make. Although the class as a whole will make more than one volcano, if everyone makes the same model, students will have more opportunities to compare and contrast as they work on this project. At this level, keeping the number of variables to a minimum is appropriate because it helps students focus on the questions you are posing.

Have students work in small groups for this project. Working together will facilitate extended discussion about volcanoes. The students' questions and discussions with each other will help you know what kind of further information they are looking for about volcanoes, and their questions will shape the additional group discussions you will likely have in the classroom.

Questions you might anticipate from students may be less about volcanoes themselves and more about how to make their models. This provides an excellent opportunity for problem-solving, both individually and among the group. Although the Building Volcano Models site suggests particular materials for making each volcano model, having other materials available for students supports their individual efforts to solve problems they may encounter while structuring their models.

Once students have completed their volcanoes (but before they erupt), refer them to the Volcano 1 student sheet. Encourage students to draw pictures or write words that describe their volcanoes.

To help them document their observations, you might ask them:

  • What does your volcano look like?
  • What shape does your volcano have?
  • What is the texture of its surface?
  • Does your volcano look the same from every angle, or does it look different when you turn it around?

You can also provide students with string and ask them to measure their volcanoes, cutting the string to fit the size of their models. They can measure around the base of the volcanoes, as well as the height. You can ask, "When you measure your volcano with string, what do you find?" This will be a reference for them when they consider how their volcanoes may have changed after eruption.

Now students will have fun watching their volcanoes erupt. (Some of the ideas listed on the site describe how to make the volcano erupt. If yours does not, the combination of baking soda and vinegar will give you an erupting effect.)

Students may have difficulty thinking about particular observation questions during these eruptions because they will be so enthralled with the process of eruption. It is valuable for students to be involved with the eruptions in this way. Students will more easily be able to think critically about what they are seeing when they watch a volcano erupt a second time. So, if possible, videotape these eruptions or take before/after photographs. Then you can play the videotape of the eruptions (or show the before/after photos). Another alternative would be to create an eruption using a volcano that you made in advance.

After watching their volcanoes erupt, you can ask students to look at the video/photos or watch yours erupt with particular questions in mind. For example:

  • Where is the "lava" coming out from?
  • Where is the lava going?
  • What do you hear as the lava is coming out?
  • Have you seen anything like this before?
  • What does it remind you of?

Students have now been challenged, both during the process of constructing their models and in class discussions, to think about many aspects of volcanoes. Just as you asked them at the outset of this project, you can ask them again, "What do you want to know about volcanoes?" Be sure to answer as many of their questions as possible, as well as provide suggestions for how they can find their own answers.


The Volcano 2 student sheet will give students a place to document the changes they have been able to observe. To help them think about these changes, ask:

  • What does your volcano look like now?
  • Is your volcano the same shape now that it has erupted?
  • Touch your volcano. Does it feel different? In what ways?
  • What made your volcano change?
  • When you use your measurement string, what do you find now?
  • Compare your volcano before it erupted to your volcano after it erupted. What is different? What has changed?

Refer students to the Volcano 2 student sheet and ask them to draw or write about the kinds of questions you have just discussed. It will be helpful for them to have their volcanoes in front of them as they do this.

To encourage students to consider how their models helped them learn about volcanoes, lead a discussion that includes the following questions:

  • How do you think your volcanoes are like real volcanoes?
  • How do you think they are different?
  • When you made your volcanoes, what helped you know what they looked like?
  • How could you have made your models better?

In a simple discussion, you can also look at some of the recommended children's books with students to help them connect the idea of physical, geographical change. Just as their volcanoes changed after eruption, so too do real volcanoes. This causes some change on the earth's surface.

Consider asking your students to write a story or poem about volcanoes.

Or, students may enjoy putting their volcano ideas to music with either words or simply with instruments. Dramatic play opportunities are creative ways for students to communicate their new-found volcano knowledge.

These ideas offer students ways to reflect upon what they have learned. By writing a story or creating volcano music, or whatever the choice may be, students are challenged to think about how the pieces of their volcano project fit together to make a whole picture. They are also challenged to document in a new way, as well as to communicate their learning to others. These are important and meaningful science processing skills. This is excellent experience for the students and gives you an idea of what they learned from doing this project.

At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Describe their volcano models and how they made them.
  • Communicate their observations to another person.
  • Understand how their models changed after eruption.
  • Ask questions about volcanoes that indicate a higher level of understanding about them.


Help students navigate Kids' Volcano Art Gallery. Here they will find volcano drawings done by other young students and have the option to submit their volcano drawing (from their student sheets) to this website. Students could also share their drawings with the rest of the class by giving a presentation or by helping to assemble a class volcano book.

Students may enjoy submitting not only their volcano drawings, but also a poem or story they wrote, or the photographs you took of their project to the Volcano World website.

Encourage students to create more volcano models with different materials. See Building Volcano Models for several ideas for constructing volcanoes.

The following websites may be useful to you as you work with your particular group of students on ways to extend this project. Have fun!

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards
AAAS Thinkfinity