A City Saved by a Volcano

Middle School and High School Teacher

Students will learn how the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy preserved two Roman towns.

Grade Level: 5 - 7th

Subject: Social Studies

Length of Time: 3-4 Class Periods

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Common Core Alignment

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.3 - Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.9 - Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.7 - Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).

Objectives & Outcomes

Students will be able to re-enact the disaster which happened in 79 A.D. in Italy when the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were totally buried by lava and ash from a volcano caused by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The students will be able to explain the importance of the discovery of these two buried cities.

Materials Needed

Fact sheet provided by the teacher about the event and resulting archeological discoveries, supplies

Prepare ahead of time:  Map of Italy for display indicating the location of the mountain and two cities.  A map of the city of Pompeii for display to indicate major buildings. Individual copies of the map for each student.  Supplies for volcanic eruption (vinegar, baking soda), and creation of small town.

Sources for Possible Use


Opening to Lesson

  • Ask students: How are things or objects from the past preserved?
  • Allow for a variety of responses, examples, discussion
  • Ask them to explain the difference between a preserved object and the mold of an object. (Be sure they understand the difference.)

Body of Lesson


  • Using a map of Italy, show students where Mount Vesuvius and the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum are located.
  • Tell the students what happened to Mount Vesuvius in August, 79 A.D.
  • Explain to students the chain of events which led to the discovery of the two towns after they had been buried for many centuries.

Guided Practice

  • Tell students they will re-enact the volcanic eruption and the preservation
  • The students will first research the history of the disaster using resources provided by teacher and Internet sites
  • Focus on the following for research:
    • Towns were like, population, people, differences in coverage by volcano, Pliny letters, what happened to residents, archaeologists discoveries, what was Roman life like, body casts, etc.
  • Once research is completed, have students crate model volcano and model town with a couple of objects to be “preserved”
  • Encourage students to measure distances based on a realistic scale model of location of town and volcano
  • Teacher will monitor the students’ progress
  • Do not allow “eruption” to take place until teacher is ready to observe each pair of student’s re-enactment
  • Once students are ready for re-enactment, remind students they are to record all observations in a journal
  • Following the re-enactment and recorded observations, students will write down conclusions, inferences, etc. based on the observations

Independent Practice

  • A one-page summary of the lesson discussing what they learned, how it affects future study for archaeologists, etc.
  • Students will research an active volcano today and write a one or two-page summary, include the effects of an eruption on a nearby town or city, and how the people in the area could remain safe.


Introduce some of the suggested sources, show a video, discuss problems with re-enactments.

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Assessment & Evaluation

Teacher-created or commercial quiz/test related to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  Journal pages assessed by teacher following lesson.

Modification & Differentiation

Students work in groups of three.  Two large groups of students assigning each student a specific task:  researchers, model makers, etc.  Eliminate the model building and use video from the Internet or other resources for students to study.  Have each pair of students present their findings to the class.

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