Stop Disasters!


Play the game by going to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction website.


Screenshots used with permission from the UN ISDR



Aims: for students to develop their critical thinking, collaboration, reading and note-taking skills, widen their lexical range, and practise using the first and third conditional in the context of a disaster simulation
Resources: Stop Disasters! game, one computer with Adobe Flash player per 2-3 students, worksheet
Age: 11-14, 15-18
Level: B2+
Time: 45-60 minutes plus optional extension


Before the lesson

  1. Prepare a worksheet for students to complete while they play the game:

    Disaster type: Location: Terrain:
    Difficulty level: Population: Budget:
    Useful language: during the game

    Let’s [put some defences here].
    Maybe we should [put the hotel here]?
    I think we should [develop this land].
    It’d be a good idea to [build the hospital here].
    If we [build a house here], we’ll [be able to accommodate ten people].
    If we don’t [buy an early warning system], people [won’t be able to evacuate] in time.
    If we [plant trees here], it might [save lives].
    If we [had more money], we could [build another hotel].

    Buildings destroyed: Total damages: Population housed:
    Population dead: Population sheltered: Population injured:
    School(s) built: Hospital(s) built: Mission successful:
    Key facts found: Budget remaining: Final score:
    Useful language: post-game discussion

    Our most successful decisions were [building the hotel here and putting the defences here]. It was a bad idea to [put the defences here].
    I don’t think we should’ve [developed this land].
    I think we should’ve [built the hospital here].
    If we’d [built more houses here], we could have [saved more people].
    If we’d [bought an early warning system], people would have [been able to evacuate] in time.
    If we’d [planted trees here], it might have [saved lives].
    If we’d [had more money], we could have [built another hospital].

During the lesson

  1. Introduce the theme by asking students to brainstorm as many kinds of natural disasters as they can. Get feedback from different groups. Use images, screenshots from the game or the first page of the game to elicit ‘tsunami’, ‘hurricane’, ‘wildfire’, ‘earthquake’ and ‘flood’.
  2. Tell students to choose one type of disaster and create a mind map with the following headings: ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘how’. Set a time limit of five minutes for them to write as much information as they can. Collect feedback from one or two groups, or ask groups to exchange mind maps and comment on them.
  3. Explain that students are going to take part in a simulation and attempt to minimise the impact of their disaster. Put students into pairs, in which student A is the surveyor and student B is the official. Explain that As will play the game and Bs will give instructions and write information on the worksheet.
  4. Tell students to start the game and choose the ‘medium’ version, which lasts 15 minutes, unless they trigger the disaster. Hand out the worksheet and ask them to complete the first section before they start building.
  5. Focus students’ attention on the useful language. Students begin the scenario, discussing their ideas in English. Tell them to change roles every three or four minutes.
  6. Once 15 minutes have passed, ask students to watch the disaster and make notes on the worksheet in the final section. This should include a discussion of what went well, what went badly, and what could have been done differently to get a better result. Here students can also use the news report to help them.
  7. Put pairs who have worked on the same disaster into groups of four and tell them to share their experiences, saying what they could have done differently to reduce the impact of the disaster. Get feedback from one or two groups.


Depending on your students and the time available, you could:

  • ask students to repeat the same disaster in new groups, this time making different decisions and noting down all 15 ‘key facts’ in their own words
  • ask students to all choose the same disaster and then doing a role play once the disaster has happened, in which local people complain to officials, who must justify what they decided
  • set a homework task in which students write a letter from someone in the community to local officials about the disaster or officials write a report saying what happened
  • set the game as a homework task and ask students to write a more detailed reflection, in which they describe what they did, why they did it and what they learned from the game
  • ask students to discuss natural disasters in their country or region.


Do you feel you could use this lesson idea with your students? If so, how would you integrate it into your curriculum? How would you make sure your students used English?

Can you think of any other ways of using Stop Disasters! in the classroom?

This plan is partly based on an idea taken from Digital Play, the award-winning blog and book about digital games in English language teaching written by Kyle Mawer and Graham Stanley. It is also based on a lesson plan by Mike Farley, founder of ChangeGamer.



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