Category: Unit 3: Plate Tectonics

A Volcano Case Study…LIC

A Volcano Case Study…LIC


Title: A Volcano Case Study…LIC

L.O: To investigate A volcano case study event in an LIC

Key terms:

LIC (Low Income country)

Causes and Consequences

Volcanic Eruption

Secondary Hazard


Lesson starter:

Image result for Key features of a volcano


Main development:

Crisis management with Google Earth

Montserrat eruption role-play (Part one)

A guaranteed excellent lesson which can’t fail, so ideal for Ofsted!

Pyroclastic flow
Photograph used with kind permission of MVO


I have come across several versions of the underlying concept behind this lesson, firstly at an INSET for Camden teachers in 1999 and subsequently in the Earthworks 3 text book by John Widdowson (published by John Murray, 2000). Earthworks, and the accompanying teacher’s resources, has been a personal source of inspiration to me for many years, and this lesson is very much based on John Widdowson’s work.
In collaboration with another colleague, I have developed some further activities and resources to enhance the role-playing element. Inevitably Google Earth offers an opportunity to extend the lesson into a very realistic learning experience, although the lesson is perfectly viable without it.

Special thanks to Sue Loughlin, Director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, and Adam Goss, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University for permission to use their photographs. Bill Innanen’s Montserrat Index page provided the missing link for a detailed map of the north of the island for part two of the lesson, as well as a host of other superb resources. Thanks also to Hodder Murray for permission to use the map extract from Earthworks 3 teachers resources. Adam Lawson has completed a brilliant movie to use as a lesson starter. Dan Williams contributed the risk assessment and hazard planning element of the exercise.


This is a well-established lesson idea. Students react to the events on Montserrat whilst in role as a crisis management team based at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. ICT is not necessary, though the lesson will be enhanced if one or more PCs are available. Google Earth and multiple computers provides the IC(T)ing on the cake.
There will be a lot of noise and movement, so be prepared! A colleague and I have recently tested the lesson with two classes working simultaneously, with great success.


Students will be able to describe the sequence of events on the island of Montserrat that led to a large scale evacuation of the island by…

Responding to a chronological sequence of events.
Annotating a map with the key events.

They will gain an insight into the process of crisis decision making through…

a decision-making exercise
Preparing a hazard map.



It is assumed that students are working in pairs or groups of three. Within the group there are roles for a geologist and a crisis planner and, optionally, an information coordinator (aka the runner). These roles are interchangeable. The activities will span two consecutive lessons. Ideally the following resources would be employed, although to be honest, the role-play would still work well without any form of ICT.
videoFootage from an exemplar lesson. This gives some indication of the key tasks and the sense of movement and collaboration that takes place (hopefully) Panic cam video clips (11.5mb WMV file, requires Windows Media Player)


Laptop computer or PC which acts as a teleprinter.
Digital projector & PC videoStarter movie by Adam Lawson (web site)
wordMontserrat map on A3 sheet and A4 (Word doc)
wordRisk assessment and hazard planning sheet (Word doc)
wordTeacher’s score sheet (Word doc)
wordHazard map from MVO (Word doc)
ppt filePower Point introduction (PPT)
ppt filePower Point Montserrat eruption (PPT) (2.1mb)
wordGoogle Earth help sheets

Google Earth files:
ge iconMontserrat placemark
ge iconMVO hazard map for plenary

The lesson:


Ideally there will be a PC and digital projector at the front of the class for the initial briefing and the final plenary session. A second PC or laptop situated in a corner of the room (or even outside the classroom in an empty room) acts as a teleprinter. If Google Earth is not available then there should at least be a wall map to locate the island.


Students enter the classroom and are directed to form teams of two or three. An introductory Power Point provides a simple 5Ws- type starter. A brief outline of the scenario is given to the students. Google Earth can be employed to locate Montserrat. Try the excellent Starter movie by Adam Lawson (web site)


The “teleprinter” Power Point is set to run for approximately 22 minutes. During this time there is frantic activity as the runners collect the information. The geologist in the team annotates the A3 map with details of the volcanic events. Following each report from the teleprinter, the crisis manager makes an appropriate decision. The governor (aka teacher) assesses each group’s performance in the risk assessment continually. This adds an element of competition between the groups, and provides an incentive to make the right decision under pressure.


Following the completion of the first activity, the Power Point is advanced manually to reveal the next task. The teams have approximately 8 – 10 minutes to prepare a map that divides Montserrat into three zones according to the instructions. This activity should see close co-operation between all three members of the team


Once time has elapsed for producing the hazard map the teams should display their finished work. This can be compared with the real hazard map produced by the MVO in September 1997. The real map is available as a Google Earth overlay, a Word doc or a live web page. If time allows, the highest performing group in the decision-making task and the hazard mapping, should be encouraged to talk about their successful strategies.



Discuss or comment on the lesson at Digital Geography

Web Links:

Montserrat Volcano Observatory online
Photographs from Adam Goss Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University
Bill Innanen’s Montserrat Index page contains some brilliant resources, for example his animation of the MVO risk maps, and a quicktime VR panorama. Also on the site are the only detailed island maps available on the web. Absolute gold dust!
Montserrat information from Wikipedia
ZJB Radio Montserrat Live live streaming
Montserrat Newsletter
Article on redevelopment of the island from DFID
BBC Scotland have an excellent online activity that makes a good follow-up activity. Some curious spelling errors though!
Geography Pages has ideas for teaching about Montserrat
CNN report on evacuation
Montserrat Government press release covering the events depicted
Montserrat Volcano Observatory chronology of eruptive events 1992 – 1997
Soufriere Hills report from Volcano World
Montserrat information CIA factbook
Article on sustainable development of the island
Map Action is a British charity that provides maps for disaster areas around the world. It’s a good link for reminding students of the importance of maps when dealing with emergencies
Hodder Education (select Earthworks from the drop down box)
Predicting Volcanic Eruptions an interactive exercise from the USGS (thanks to Richard Treves)

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I have received permission from the owners of all the copyrighted material used in these resources. Please DO NOT repost any of the material from this page. The Creative Commons License covering the rest of the site does not apply to the images on this page.