Charting the effects of earthquakes on buildings


In this lesson, students have the opportunity to simulate earthquakes and their effects on buildings. This activity is ideal for students working in groups.


Students will use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will learn about earthquake-proof construction and research how earthquakes affect buildings.
  • Students will use an online earthquake simulation tool to collect data on how earthquakes can affect buildings.
  • Students will communicate their conclusions based on the data they collect.

Lesson procedure


Have any of you ever been in an earthquake? If you have, what was the experience like? What emotions did you experience? If you’ve never experienced an earthquake, how do you think you would react to one?

One of the main dangers of earthquakes is the collapse of buildings. Is there a way to determine if a building can withstand an earthquake? What types of earthquake-proof construction do you think can help buildings survive? Do you think constructing earthquake-proof buildings is a new idea, or has it been practiced for centuries in some cultures?

In this activity, you will work in groups, or alone, to simulate earthquakes of different magnitudes online and observe how they affect buildings. First you will make construction choices that you think will help a building survive an earthquake. Then you’ll choose the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. After the simulation you’ll examine the earthquake-proof construction to see how effective it was. You will chart your simulated data in Office Excel so you can develop conclusions based on your findings and present them in a written report.

Teacher Tips

  • A tale of two disasters

    Encourage students to compare the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti with the one off the coast of Chile. How did magnitude, location, and building materials affect the relative amounts of human and structural damage caused by those earthquakes?

  • Expect the unexpected

    Ask students to come up with some different examples of planning ahead for an unexpected emergency. How do they decide whether the risk justifies the time, work, or cost required to prepare for the potential risk?

​Student activity

Follow the steps below to guide your students through this lesson plan.


Note teachers: Please download the student activity handouts located in the sidebar under Software and Materials Needed, for additional details about the main activities for this lesson plan.


  1. Create buildings that can withstand earthquakes and simulate earthquakes.
  2. Use this earthquake simulation Web site to discover where to build and how to construct buildings that have better chances of surviving earthquakes.
  3. Keep track of your data in the following Office Excel template:  Simulating earthquakes.
  4. Record and save your conclusions in an Office Word document.
  5. Use the online earthquake simulation tool to simulate 8–10 different earthquakes. Change the location of the buildings, the earthquake-proof construction, and the magnitude of the earthquakes. Make sure you keep track of your data in the Office Excel spreadsheet so that you can use the data to record your conclusions.
  6. Reflect on what you discovered or discuss it with your group. Think about the following:
    1. Did you find that the location of a building makes a difference? If so, why?
    2. Did you notice whether certain types of earthquake-proof construction worked better than others? List the ones that were more and less successful.
    3. How much does the size of the earthquake affect the damage that the building sustains?
  7. Record your conclusions in an Office Word document.
  8. Add the data from your Office Excel file to your report to support your findings.
  9. Save your work.

Lesson extension activities

Ask your students to conduct additional experiments with the online simulation tool.

Ask your students to combine the class data to obtain more information and formulate more general conclusions.


Assess students’ answers to the questions in the main activity section. Their conclusions should address each question and reference the data they collected with the online simulator.

You can also assess how accurately they presented their data.