Archive for October, 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tools for Talking about Natural Disasters

Kristine Fielding teaches ESOL at Lone Star College in Houston, TX.

When 2017 began 10 months ago, I doubt many people predicted this year would be plagued by so many natural disasters. Daily news broadcasts report tragedies and upheaval that many of us thought unimaginable. Because of these calamities, people around the globe have found ways to help those affected, whether the victims are local or international.

We know that vocabulary acquisition is more successful if the words are meaningful to students. Even if our students were not personally affected by any natural disaster this year, it is easy for students to sympathize with others. Students may also have had past experiences that may relate to this year’s turmoils.

Below is a list of 65 terms that give students the building blocks to express themselves. I gleaned these terms from various news reports over the last few months.

aide
aftermath
avalanche
crisis
communicable diseases
contaminate
contribution
damage
debris
demolish
desperate
destroy
devastate
donate
earthquake
epicenter
epidemic
evacuate
FEMA
flash flood
government agencies
hail
heroic efforts
housing
hurricane
insurance
intervention
landslide
loot
needed supplies
pollute
posttraumatic stress syndrome
potable water
precaution
rebuild
recovery
refugee
relief
rescue efforts
resilience
restore
restrict
Richter scale
risk
rubble
search and rescue
severe damage
shelter
short-term aid
sinkholes
supplies
support
survivor
tornado
tremor
tragedy
trauma
tropical storm
tsunami
victim
volunteer
warn
wildfire
wind speed

As you discuss terms with students, it may be helpful to use graphic organizers to compare and contrast vocabulary words for different catastrophic events. For example, “wind speed” may not but used with earthquakes like it is with hurricanes, but “aftermath” could be used for both. The word “victim” can be used for anyone negatively affected by any situation, regardless if the event is natural or man-made. Word maps may also help students connect already-known words to new ones.

Sentence stems provide shape for students’ thoughts. Below I have included 8 sentence stems or stem groups that may be springboards for class discussion or journal entries.

I experienced a/an ____ (natural disaster). First, ___. Then ____. Finally, ____ (student describes her experience).

Before the ___, I was ____.
During the ____, I ____.
After the ____, I ____.

When I heard about the ____ (natural disaster), I felt _____ (emotion).

I saw pictures of the ____ (natural disaster) on the news. I saw ____ (specific details).

In ___ (year), there was a ____ (natural disaster) in _____ (place). This caused ____(results).

I wonder if…

I can prepare for a/an ___ (natural disaster) by…

I can help the people in ___ (place) by…

As I mentioned before, natural disasters may bring out the worst in Mother Nature, but they bring out the best in people. Below are two NPR reports of how people performed small acts of service that had huge impacts. Listening to these with your students may provide a chance to discuss human resilience and offer a hopeful note to an otherwise dismal topic.

Nick Fountain tells of Mexican teenagers delivering supplies on their bicycles after the earthquakes: http://www.npr.org/2017/09/23/553204495/packs-of-teens-on-bikes-join-volunteer-effort-after-mexico-earthquake

Kelly McEvers, host of NPR’s Around the Nation, reports how amateur ham radio operators were able to help Puerto Ricans who could not reach relatives in the United States: http://www.npr.org/2017/09/29/554600989/amateur-radio-operators-stepped-in-to-help-communications-with-puerto-rico

In an ideal world, we would never need to cover these topics in our classrooms. However, we live on a planet rife with dramatic events, natural or otherwise. We can help our students increase their abilities to communicate their ideas and experiences if we give them the tools.