Beauty and Disaster

When a volcano erupted last May, the people of Hawaii's Big Island faced violent explosions, rivers of lava, and the fear that their beautiful island could be destroyed.

By Lauren Tarshis

Learning Objective: Students will study text features to gain a richer understanding of an article about a destructive volcanic eruption.

Lexile: 800L-900L
Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50

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Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
Further Reading

The vividly written, photo-packed book Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens by Patricia Lauber will bring your students back in time to another violent volcano eruption: the eruption of Mount St. Helens, in 1980. Unlike Kilauea, which is a shield volcano, Mt. St. Helens is a stratovolcano, the type known for its fiery explosions - a perfect compare-and-contrast opportunity!

Volcano Video Crash Course

National Geographic Kids has curated a collection of 12 fascinating videos that will give students a crash course in volcanoes: what they are, how they form, what effects they can have, and more.

Future Career Inspiration?

Would your students want to be volcanologists when they grow up? Together as a class, read this DK Find Out list of amazing facts about these scientists who study volcanoes. These brave men and women face many risks as they work to keep people safe from eruptions. 

More About the Story


Text features, vocabulary, figurative language, summarizing, key details, text evidence, inference, interpreting text, narrative and explanatory writing

Complexity Factors


Through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy, “Beauty and Disaster” describes the eruptions of Kilauea in spring 2018 and how they have affected the Big Island of Hawaii. On another level, the article also delves into how volcanoes affect our world more generally.


The article weaves together narrative and informational passages. It includes compare-and-contrast and cause-and-effect structures.


The article includes challenging academic and domain-specific vocabulary (e.g. magma, molten, observatory), as well as metaphors, similes, personification, and rhetorical questions.

Knowledge Demands 

Some background knowledge of Hawaii’s geography may be helpful, but is not required. The next mentions several different geographic locations, such as Italy and Indonesia, and references the pop singer Beyoncé.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary

  • As a class, compare the image in the top half of pages 4-5 with the image in the bottom half. Ask: How does seeing these two photos side by side help you predict what will happen in the article?
  • Ask a student to read aloud the Up Close box on page 6.
  • Show our video “Storyworks Author Visit: Beauty and Disaster,” which accompanies this article. Have students complete the video activity.
  • Project the vocabulary slideshow to preview words. Follow up with the vocabulary activity. Highlighted terms: magma, lava, remote, summit, molten, toxic, catastrophic, dwell

2. Close Reading

Read and Unpack the Text (45 minutes, activity sheet online)

Read the article as a class or play the audio version at Storyworks Online. Have students read it a second time in small groups, answering the close-reading questions. Regroup to discuss the critical-thinking questions.

Close-Reading Questions

  • In the first section, author Lauren Tarshis compares Kilauea to “a purring cat that transforms into a roaring lion.” What does this tell you about how the volcano changed? (figurative language) This comparison tells you that Kilauea changed from something that is considered harmless into something dangerous and scary, and that the change was dramatic and surprising.
  • Reread “Hawaii Is Born.” In your own words, explain how volcanoes formed the islands of Hawaii. (summarizing) Magma (melted rock) flowed up from cracks in the floor of the Pacific Ocean, becoming lava. This lava cooled and hardened in the freezing seawater. Over thousands of years, more and more hardened lava built up until it jutted out of the ocean, forming islands.
  • Look at the map at the bottom of page 6. How does this map support what you learned in the first two sections? (text features) On the map, you can see that Hawaii is far from other land, that it is made up of a collection of islands, that Kilauea is active, and that Joshua’s school is close to the volcano.
  • Based on “A Famous Mountain” and the diagram and caption on page 7, how are shield volcanoes different from stratovolcanoes? (text features) Stratovolcanoes are tall, cone-shaped mountains that explode violently, releasing hot gases, ash, and rock that can endanger the lives of many people. Shield volcanoes, which are shorter and domeshaped, usually erupt more gently and less suddenly. Lava spurts and oozes down their sides slowly, rarely becoming a serious danger.
  • Why do people like Josh and his family live around Kilauea, even though the volcano is active? Give at least two reasons. (key details) Reasons include that Kilauea was not considered dangerous, that the Big Island is filled with beautiful natural wonders, and that the volcano itself is dazzling and fascinating.
  • In “Death and Disaster,” what details help you understand why the Kilauea eruption was so terrifying? (text evidence) Details include that thousands of earthquakes shook the ground, that the volcano cracked open, that glowing-hot lava destroyed neighborhoods, and that poisonous gases were released.
  • Reread the last paragraph of “Death and Disaster.” Why do you think the author includes these questions? Who might be asking them? (inference) The author probably includes these questions to help readers understand the fears that Josh—and other people living near Kilauea—were feeling during the eruption.
  • Based on “Destruction and Creation,” how has the eruption affected people on Hawaii’s Big Island? (text evidence) The eruption has destroyed hundreds of people’s homes and possessions, buried neighborhoods, and filled a lake and a bay with lava.

Critical-Thinking Questions

  • Compare the Kilauea photo and caption on page 6 with the photos and caption on page 8. What does this comparison help you understand about the volcano’s transformation? (text features) In the photo on page 6, thin lava streams appear to trickle harmlessly into the sea; the caption describes Kilauea’s “gentle beauty.” But the photos on page 8 show huge waves of lava covering roads and neighborhoods, and the caption explains that these waves “burned everything in their path.” Comparing the trickles of lava with the waves helps you understand how extreme and destructive the volcano’s transformation was.
  • At the end of the article, Josh says, “None of us would be living in this beautiful place if it weren’t for volcanoes.” Explain what he means, using details from the article. (interpreting text) Josh is referring to the fact that the islands of Hawaii are made out of hardened lava from volcanoes. He may also mean that Hawaii’s beautiful, fascinating volcanoes have drawn people to live there.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Text Features

  • Distribute the text features activity, and have students complete it in groups. Then ask them to respond to the writing prompt at the bottom of page 9.
Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Ask students to imagine that they themselves took the photos in the article. Have them rewrite each photo’s caption in their own words, explaining what was happening in the picture and how they felt when they saw it in person.

For Advanced Readers

Invite students to research one of the stratovolcano eruptions mentioned in the section “A Famous Mountain.” They should then write a short essay comparing that eruption to the recent Kilauea eruption.

For ELL Students

The article’s volcano-related terms (e.g., magma, summit) may be especially challenging for ELLs. Provide additional visual support by exploring this interactive website together.

For Small Groups

Divide students into small groups to do a second read of the text. As they read, they should brainstorm alternative text features that would further add to their understanding of the article. Then regroup as a class to share ideas.