Spanish Version

Catastrophe versus Accident -- You Decide

Science Activity


Explain to students that there is a difference between an accident (e.g., two cars crashing together) and a catastrophe (e.g., a major earthquake). The American Red Cross defines a catastrophe as any hazardous and extreme event that involves more than 100 people or causes more than one million dollars' worth of damage to property or the environment. Explain to students that catastrophes can be caused by both humans and nature. Talk about the kinds of natural disasters that can occur, and the types of disasters humans can cause.


  • Bulletin board divided down the middle by a thin line of colored paper or tape.
  • A label entitled "Accidents" for one side of the board and a label entitled "Catastrophes" for the other side
  1. For the period of a month, ask students to bring to class newspaper or magazine clippings about hazardous and extreme events.

  2. Have students read their clippings carefully to categorize them as accidents or catastrophes, using the "more than 100 people or more than $1 million" rule, and then post the clippings on the bulletin board under "Accidents" or "Catastrophes."

  3. At the end of the month, analyze the bulletin board to discuss these questions:
    • Were there more accidents or more catastrophes?
    • What was the most frequent type of accident?
    • What was the most frequent type of catastrophe?
    • Were there more catastrophes caused by extreme events in nature or more caused by human activities?
    • Which catastrophe involved the most people?
    • Which catastrophe cost the most in damage to property or the environment?
    • What accidents were most frequent in your city or town?
    • What catastrophes were most frequent in your city or town?

  4. Have students write an opinion essay of at least one paragraph to answer this question: "Where you live, which has most control over the environment, nature or humans?"

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