} CAS: Teachers - Be Prepared for an Earthquake

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Anytime Lesson Plan: Be Prepared for an Earthquake


In this activity, students will learn what to expect during an earthquake and then identify ways to prepare for an earthquake.


In this activity, students will:

  1. learn what to expect during an earthquake,
  2. identify ways to prepare for an earthquake.


  • timers (one for the class or enough for pairs/groups of students to each have one)
  • earthquake preparedness kit content images (one set per class)
  • preparedness kit content cards sheet (one per student)
  • piece of construction paper (one per student)
  • student worksheet (optional)
  • supplies for sound effects (optional)
  • Earthquake by Milly Lee or another narrative book of an earthquake (optional)



  1. Place some small earthquake hazards in the classroom, such as potted plants and picture frames on the wall.
  2. Print large and small images of the preparedness kit contents and cut the cards out. 
  3. Print student worksheet, if desired, one half sheet per student.


Discuss what students already know about earthquakes. Ask questions such as:

  • How many of you have felt an earthquake? 
  • Have you heard stories of earthquakes?
  • What types of things do you think you would feel (senses and emotions) during an earthquake?
  • If it hasn’t already been discussed, introduce the idea that some earthquakes are minor and can barely be felt, while other earthquakes are intense, with very strong shaking and a lot of resulting damage. 


  1. Describe what a larger earthquake would feel like.  Have students imagine they are standing on a raft on the ocean or a waterbed.  Ask them to show what it might be like to try to stand.  Describe how in an earthquake, the ground moves in waves. Get all the students moving as if they were trying to stand during a strong earthquake.
  2. How long does an earthquake last?  Demonstrate how long a minute of earthquake feels like:
    • Explain to students that in most earthquakes shaking rarely lasts for over a minute in any one area. Strong shaking from a major quake usually lasts from 30 to 60 seconds. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake lasted about 60 seconds. In the 1964 Alaskan earthquake, the shaking lasted 3 to 4 minutes - an extremely long time. This does not happen very often.
    • Write intervals of 10 seconds on the board (up to 1 min 30 sec). This is a good time to practice counting by 10s and reinforce how many seconds are in a minute. 
    • Explain that students will be estimating how long a minute lasts.  First, have them practice shaking.  Remind them that the earth moves in waves and that they can shake in waves as well.
    • Have students turn their backs to the board and close their eyes.   Tell students to start shaking on the signal.  Students should stop and sit down when they think they have been shaking for a minute.  You might want to have them practice a few times.
    • When you have given the signal, count how many students stop at each 10 sec interval (tally this on the board).  After all the students have stopped, you can have the class turn around to see what they estimated. 
    • Have students identify how close they were to a minute, who had the shortest earthquake, the longest, etc.
    • Now do the same exercise, only with everyone facing the board and being given a start and stop point. 
    • Discuss what might happen to the things around them if the ground was shaking for a minute.
  3. Know what to do during a quake.  Explain that you are going to talk through an imaginary earthquake to help students understand they should do during a real one - “Drop, Cover, and Hold.” Direct students to practice the following actions:
    1. Drop: Get under the table or desk.
    2. Cover: Turn away from the windows.
    3. Hold on: Put both hands on the back of your neck.
    4. Hold on: If your desk or table moves, hold onto the legs and move with it.
  4. Talk through a script of an earthquake while they practice getting under desks or tables.  Use your imagination or this example script from FEMA:
    Imagine that you hear a low, rumbling, roaring sound. The noise builds, getting louder and louder, for a few seconds. Then, Wham! There’s a terrific jolt.  The floor seems to be moving beneath you. It’s hard to stand up, or even stay in your seat. If you do stand up, you might feel like you’re riding a raft down a fast river. When you walk, it’s like trying to walk on a trampoline or a waterbed.
    You hear someone say, “Earthquake! Drop, Cover, and Hold!”  I want all of you at your desks to take cover as quickly and quietly as you can, right now.  
    The building is creaking and rattling. Books are falling from the bookcase. Hanging lamps and plants are swaying. Suddenly a pot falls to the floor and smashes, and the plant spills. A window pane just shattered, and glass is falling to the floor. The table is sliding, too. Be sure to stay in the drop, cover, and hold position under your desk. If your desk is moving, grab the legs and move with it.
    Pictures are moving on their nails. Oh! That one just fell off the wall and crashed to the floor. The desk drawers are sliding open. The lights begin to flicker on and off... they just went out! Now the door swings back and forth on its hinges. Bang! It slams shut. There’s silence now. The shaking is over.”
  5. While reading the script, you can assign students to help make the noises described in the story.  If desired, you can even provide students with props to make the different noises.  Read through the script a few times to help students have a strong mental image of what things might happen during an earthquake.
  6. After they have experienced the earthquake reenactment a few times, create a list on the board of objects that fell or moved that might injure someone (hanging lamps, potted plants, window shattered, door swinging, pictures on the wall, drawers and cabinets).  Have students point out things around the classroom that might be hazards during an earthquake (bravo if there aren’t many, but make sure to plant a few.) 
  7. Brainstorm ways to make the hazards safer in the event of an earthquake (securing things down, special earthquake hooks, latching drawers and cabinet doors).
  8. Being “prepared” for an earthquake.  Define preparedness.   Do they know of things that they can do to prepare for a big earthquake? (They already did two things – know what to do during an earthquake and identify hazards before an earthquake hits, they will also need to make an emergency plan and have supplies ready if there are problems after the quake)
    1. Discuss what a disaster preparedness kit is and why it is important to have (you and your family might be without electricity, water, and access to grocery stores for a few days, you may not have access to transportation).
    2. Pass out the large images of items that might go into the kit to the class, 1-2 images per pair of students.  Ask each pair to decide if the item that they are given is something that should go into a disaster kit or not.  Make sure they have an explanation of why or why not. 
    3. Have each pair go around and report to the class what they thought about whether their item should be included, group the items by if they are good or bad to have in the kit.  You can also have them rank the items from most to least important to have in the kit once they have all presented.
    4. Pass out one sheet of kit content cards to each student, along with a piece of construction paper.  Have the student (with or without help, depending on their ability) write “My earthquake kit” or something similar on the top of the construction paper. 
    5. Next, they will cut out the cards that they think are most important for their family to have in the kit.  Make sure they have at least 5 things, though all the cards are valid items for an earthquake kit.  If students think of other items to put in, have them draw or write them on their paper.
      Items for preparedness kit:
      • Water for each family member for at least three days (allow at least 1 gallon per person per day) and purification tablets or chlorine bleach to purify drinking water from other sources
      • Canned and non-perishable food, at least a three-day supply, and a manual can opener
      • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and extra batteries
      • Flashlight and extra batteries
      • First aid kit
      • Fire extinguisher
      • Duct tape
      • Whistle
      • Adequate supplies of medications that you or family members are taking and extra eyeglasses
      • Wrench to turn off utilities
      • Waterproof, heavy-duty plastic bags for waste disposal
      • Camp stove to cook on outdoors (store fuel out of the reach of children)
      • Small toy or game for comfort
      • Do not include perishable food, large toys, and items needing to be plugged in
      Refer to the “Stock Up for Safety” for other ideas of items that can go in the kit.
  9. Tell your students the final thing they can do to be prepared is to make a plan with their family.  This plan can include where to meet up and an out-of-state phone number to call to relay messages. Have each student at the bottom of their kit write “Don’t forget to make a plan.” 


  • Use a narrative story book to help personalize the earthquake experience. Earthquake by Milly Lee is a great example that describes how one girl from Chinatown experienced the 1906 quake.  After reading the book, discuss the story: What happened during the earthquake? What happened right after the quake? What were the consequences of the quake?
  • Practice read aloud skills The example earthquake script is a great opportunity to practice read-aloud skills.  Cut the script into sections and give each student the chance to read their line.
  • Test students’ knowledge online.  Play “Quake Quiz SF” (http://quakequizsf.org/).  Players are given 6 different locations in which an earthquake might take place and then are asked what they should do in each situation.
  • Connecting to the Earthquake exhibit.  If you will be bringing your class to the Academy, you can reinforce both what the experience of an earthquake is like and how to prepare for one in our new earthquake exhibit. 
    • San Francisco Shake Experience: Students can experience what an earthquake actually feels like in the shake experience.  This short simulation will provide students with an opportunity to experience the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1906 San Francisco earthquakes.  The shake experience links nicely to what students learned about how long earthquakes last and the sounds that they might hear during an intense earthquake. Though children 3-6 years old are allowed on the shake table in small chaperoned groups, there are a few things of which to be aware:   (1) though allowed, this experience can be frightening, so make sure to properly prepare your students; (2) for safety's sake, everyone must be able to grip the railing securely; (3) wheelchairs are accommodated in the Shake House exhibit; and (4) children ages 3 years or younger are not permitted in the Shake House.
    • Earthquake preparedness: One section of the exhibition highlights the steps that you can take to prepare for an earthquake. Have students explore this section of the exhibit and report what they learned about the safety steps that they should take before, during, or after an earthquake.


Image credits for preparedness kit content cards:

California Content Standards


Health Education

  • 1.2.S.  Identify emergency situations

Math: Measurement and Data

  • K.MD.4. Demonstrate an understanding of concepts time (e.g., morning, afternoon, evening, today, yesterday, tomorrow, week, year) and tools that measure time (e.g., clock, calendar)

Grade 1

Health Education

  • 5.1.S.  Analyze steps to take in emergency or potentially dangerous situations

Math: Measurement and Data

  • 1.MD. 3. Tell and write time in hours and half-hours using analog and digital clocks.
  • 1.MD.4. Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another.

Grade 2

Math: Measurement and Data

  • 2.MD.7. Tell and write time from analog and digital clocks to the nearest five minutes, using a.m. and p.m. Know relationships of time (e.g., minutes in an hour, days in a month, weeks in a year).



There is a 62% probability that at least one earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or greater will occur on a San Francisco Bay region fault before 2032.  The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake measured 6.9 on the moment magnitude scale (Mw), while the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake measured 7.8. The United States Geological Survey has a superb description of many of the possible hazards during and as a consequence of a large earthquake in the Bay Area (http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/2005/15/).

Before doing this lesson with your students, make sure to familiarize yourself with the 6 steps to take to prepare for an earthquake: make a plan, secure your home, get a kit, “drop, cover, hold on”, check for hazards, and stay connected.  The attached files, “Get Quake Ready” and “Stock up for Safety”, and the San Francisco Dept of Emergency Management (http://72hours.org/) website, have a lot of great information on how to prepare for an earthquake. 


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