Model Volcanoes

What You Need


Model Volcanoes Photo Credit: Clipart.com.


To represent volcanoes with models and sketches.


Students at this grade level should learn what causes earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods and how those events shape the surface of the earth. They may show more interest in the phenomena, however, than in the role the phenomena play in sculpting the earth. It is a good idea, therefore, to start with students’ immediate interest and work toward the science. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 71.)

Students at this level have probably had some previous experience with freely exploring materials, images, and ideas about natural phenomena such as volcanoes. (See the Science NetLinks lesson Erupting Volcanoes!) While they will still be awed by the phenomena of volcanoes and eruption, they are now ready to “work toward the science” as they learn more about volcanoes.

In this lesson, students will explore volcanoes through the making of models and reflect upon their learning through drawing sketches of their models. As most students have never actually seen a volcano, this is an area of learning that remains fairly abstract. Making models of volcanoes provides students with a means to make the unfamiliar more familiar. “Students can begin to formulate their own models to explain things they cannot observe directly. By testing their models and changing them as more information is acquired, they begin to understand how science works.” (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 268.) As they make their volcanoes, students will hypothesize, test, problem-solve and discover various concepts related to volcanoes.

Once they have finished making their models, they will experiment with making their volcanoes erupt. Students will observe how eruption changes the original form of their volcano models. In this way, students see first hand how this type of phenomena 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 adopted from the 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

As part of the planning process, it is helpful to prepare yourself by learning more about volcanoes. Although you will not teach students complicated volcano facts, furthering your own understanding about volcanoes will give you the background you need to respond to students’ questions in ways that are most appropriate for their developmental level. The following webpages are good resources for your own background.

If you are planning to make your own volcano model for student observation (see the Development section of this lesson), then you will want to prepare your model in advance.

Be sure to measure and mix dry and liquid material (in the kitchen, garage, or laboratory) in prescribed amounts, exercising reasonable safety.


You might begin by asking students what they know about volcanoes. Open-ended questions will encourage students to share with you what their current level of knowledge is, and give you a good idea of what kind of information students need or what particular interests they have about volcanoes. It is not important that students are accurate in their understanding of volcanoes at this point. One of the values of this project is that students will have opportunities to test out their knowledge and make their own discoveries. For a class discussion, you might ask:

  • What do you think volcanoes look like?
  • Do you think they all look the same?
  • What do you think volcanoes are made of?
  • If you could touch a volcano, what do you think it would feel like?
  • Describe what comes out of a volcano during eruption. (You will need to make sure everyone understands what eruption means.)
  • What sound do you think volcanoes make when they erupt?
  • What do you want to know about volcanoes?

After students have discussed some of their ideas about volcanoes, they might be interested in seeing a real volcano erupt. The Ring of Fire site shows a short film clip of an actual volcano erupting. This visual and auditory depiction will help students form an idea of what we mean by volcanoes and eruption.


If you go to Building Volcano Models, on the Volcano World website, you will 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. Alternatively, 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 pose.

Have students work in small groups for this project. Working together will facilitate extended discussion about volcanoes. 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. 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 My Volcano 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?

Give students a tape measure and ask them to measure their volcanoes. Ask them to document their measurements on their student worksheets.

Once students have recorded their measurements, they can make their volcanoes erupt. Some of the ideas listed on the Building Volcano Models site describe how to make the volcano erupt. If there is no such description, the combination of baking soda and vinegar will give you an erupting effect. Students can experiment with different proportions of baking soda to vinegar to create the eruptions. This is a meaningful learning opportunity as students experiment with the concept that different proportions yield different results. If possible, videotape these eruptions or take before/after photographs.

Now students will have fun watching their volcanoes erupt. At this point, allow your students to simply observe the eruptions. 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—either by watching a videotape or viewing photos of the eruption, or by watching a volcano model that you made ahead of time erupt. For this reason, it would be helpful for you to make your own volcano in advance (see Planning Ahead).

After watching their volcanoes erupt, you can ask students to watch the videotape/or 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?”


Students will benefit from the opportunity to reflect upon what they have learned about volcanoes and about making models. Consider leading a discussion that encourages students to share their experiences by asking:

  • When you first began making your model, what did you expect?
  • When you finished your model, was it what you expected?
  • What was different from what you expected?
  • What was similar to what you expected?
  • What was difficult about making your model?
  • How does your model differ from a real volcano?
  • How is your model and a real volcano similar?
  • Describe your volcano’s eruption.
  • How did the eruption change your volcano?
  • Did anything about your volcano stay the same after eruption?

After this discussion, refer students to the My Volcano After It Erupted student sheet. Here students will sketch their erupted volcanoes and measure again, and they will reflect on any changes that occurred. You can talk with them about the usefulness of documenting changes with numbers and sketches. “Instead of saying that something is big or fast or happens a lot, a better approach is often to use numbers and units to say how big, fast, or often, and instead of claiming that one thing is larger or faster or colder than another, it is better to use either absolute or relative terms to say how much so.” (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 295.)

To help students understand the usefulness of quantifying data, you can lead a discussion asking questions like:

  • What helped you know what to sketch?
  • What did you want to include in your sketch?
  • What will your sketch help you remember about your volcano?
  • Why do you think we measured our volcanoes?
  • What new information do we have now that we measured our models?


For a related Science NetLinks 3-5 lesson on models, see: Bottled Model Lungs.

Students can look through each other’s student sheets to get ideas about the multitude of ways one can make models. This exchange will also provide students with examples of how differently shaped models have different measurements and that each model can be described through a sketch.

The following websites may also offer you additional ideas on ways to extend this project. Have fun!

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks