Catastrophe versus Accident -- You Decide



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.


  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:

  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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