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Rapid Changes in Earth's Surface- A Model Third Grade Guided Inquiry Unit: Exploratory Openers

Exploratory Openers

These activities are meant to give students a chance for hands-on exploration of topics related to the areas they will research. You may want to set up stations and allow students to select several activities.  You may also want students to engage with these activities as they complete their research, to add more information to the experience.  


This experiment shows how animals stay warm in  extreme cold. 

  • How can this idea be used by humans?
  • Try using other items to insulate your hand from the cold. 
    • styrofoam
    • fabric
    • yarn
    • dirt
    • paper
  • Study how homes are insulated. How would you change this if you lived in a cold climate? 
  • What if you were trapped outside in a blizzard, how could you build a shelter to protect you from the cold? 


  • What makes a hurricane grow larger?
  • What makes a hurricane move faster?
  • Which way to hurricanes spin and why?
  • What is the ideal environment for a hurricane to grow?
  • What causes damage during a hurricane?


Tornado tubes can also be purchased from craft stores.

  • Observe how the tornado starts and how long it takes to disappear.  What can you do to make the tornado keep spinning? 
  • How is what you have created related to an actual tornado?
  • What makes this tornado easier to see?  What makes an actual tornado easier to see?
  • Which direction is your tornado spinning? Can you make it spin the other direction? Do real tornadoes spin a certain direction? 


Simulation:  Take the lid from a copy paper box. Draw a target inside the lid.  Students use sugar cubes or similar items to build houses, buildings, walls inside the lid.  Carefully lift the lid and tap the underside of the box on the center of the bulls-eye to see the effects. 

Earthquakes are linked to many other natural disasters. 

  • What do volcanoes and earthquakes have in common?
  • How are earthquakes related to tsunamis?
  • How are earthquakes related to landslides?
  • Would earthquake-proof structures be helpful in other natural disasters? 
  • What makes a structure earthquake-proof?
  • Does the distance from the epicenter of the quake make a difference?


  • Observe what happens when you add the vinegar.  Do you see or hear anything before the chemical reaction takes place? 
  • Do actual volcanoes give any warning sign before they erupt?
  • How is this volcano similar to a real volcano?  How is it different?



  • Why do you think most wildfires are fought with the help of helicopters?  
  • What factors make it difficult to put out a wildfire?
  • What other resources could be used to fight wildfires? 

Robot Safety

Challenge students to utilize different robots to address safety concerns that arise during natural disasters. 

  • Navigate the robot through an area of damage
  • Design a way for a robot to bring emergency supplies to trapped individuals
  • Design a robotic tool to clear away damage

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