ACTIVITY: Designs That Survive Storms

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
The activity below draws from the content in the page Designs Solutions for Hazards.


Large storms bring destructive winds, rain, and storm surge.


What materials or building designs help a house survive a storm? How can homes be built, or modified, to keep people dry and safe during strong storms?

Guiding Questions:

  1. How can we build our homes to withstand hurricanes?
  2. What elements are important to consider when preparing for natural hazards?


Build a cardboard house and engineer storm-resistant features.


A demonstration of this activity on a NOAA Live! Webinar (recorded Feb 3, 2021).

Video URL
NOAA Live! Webinar 67 - Designed to Survive: Prepare Your Home to Withstand Storms


  • Student worksheet and teacher answer guide (attached below):


    This teacher guide follows the procedure written here and in the student worksheet with additional instructions and guidelines. We highly recommend starting this activity by introducing the Phenomenon, Inquiry, and Guiding Questions from the top of this webpage.

Part A: Build a House:

Part B: Testing Storm-Resistance
Storm-simulating materials:

  • fan
  • large tray 
  • water
  • measuring cup
  • water pouring device
  • sponge (without scour pad; normal size cut in half works well)
  • measuring cup or graduated cylinder (or other liquid measuring device)

House designing materials:

  • attaching material (e.g., playdough, string, paper clips, glue, hot-glue, tape)
  • waterproof material (e.g., plant leaves, foil, paint, waxed paper)
  • lifting material (e.g., playdough, blocks, chopsticks, small rocks) 

Teacher Recommendations:

  • Review the building materials used in The Three Little Pigs story and discuss how each type of material was affected by wind.
  • Look at different types of houses (in real life, in books, or on the computer), and discuss the benefits of designs to specific locations and to storm resistance.
  • Encourage students to use natural (or scrap) materials and to bring in materials from home (Fig. 4).
  • For each test, place a sponge that has been wetted and squeezed dry inside the house. After the test, squeeze the sponge into to graduated cylinder to measure the amount of water that entered the home.
  • Compare designs across student groups to look for evidence of common solutions.
  • The activity Modeling a Hurricane will help students connect the relationship between wind strength, waves, water action, and the need to design storm-resistant structures (see Activity Questions).
  • Explore this activity about designing homes to resist erosion: Help Batman Build a Safe and Stable House by Masters et al., 2018.


Build Your House

  1. Build a simple house using only cardboard, scissors, a ruler, and the house template. (One house per group of 2-4 works well.)

Wind Simulations

  1. Test your cardboard house in high wind conditions (using a fan) (Video 1). 
    Video 1. Wind at speed 1 (lowest) tested on a house without modification.
  2. Experiment with turning your house so that different sides face the fan (Video 2).
    1. Is there a difference? Describe.
      Video 2. Wind speed 1 (lowest) tested on a house without modification facing an alternate direction.
  3. Write down observations about what happens to your house.
  4. Think of modifications and write a hypothesis about how they will help your house survive in strong winds.
    1. Modify your house (Fig. 1). 
      Image caption

      Fig. 1. Cardboard house made using the provided template and reinforced with playdough "tie-downs" for added strength and wind protection.

      Image copyright and source

      Image courtesy of Kanesa Duncan Seraphin.

    2. Test your modified house against the high winds.
      1. Use the most destructive placement of your house (from step 2a).
      2. Use the same fan, and start at low speed.
        1. Increase the fan speed to test your design modification at higher wind speeds.
    3. Observe and describe what happens.
      Video 3. Wind speed 4 (strongest) tested on a house (in same position as video 1) with a reinforced roof.

Flood and Rain Simulations

  1. Image
    Image caption

    Fig. 2. 1/2 a dry household sponge placed in house to collect rain and flood water.

    Image copyright and source

    Image courtesy of Karen Duncan.

    Rain on your house!

    1. Place your house in a bucket or other water-catching device.
    2. Remove the roof and place a dry sponge inside (Fig 3). Replace the roof.
    3. Make it Rain! Use the measuring cup to slowly pour 2-3 cups of water over the house (Video 4). You may have to experiment with how much water to use, but the same amount should be used in each rain trial so that you can compare.
      1. What happens to the roof?
        Video 4. Rain pouring down the roof of a model house without modification.
      2. What happens to the bottom of the house?
        Video 5. Effect of flood water on the model house.
      3. Can you tell if more water is coming in through the roof or the bottom?
        Image caption

        Fig. 3. Sponge water squeezed into graduated cylinder (about 30ml).

        Image copyright and source

        Image courtesy of Karen Duncan.

        1. How could you test your hypothesis?
      4. Remove the sponge from the house and squeeze the water into the graduated cylinder (Fig 4). Measure the amount of water.
  2. Engineer modifications to make your house more water resistant. Remember that water can reach your house from above and below.
    1. Think of modifications and write a hypothesis about how they will help your house survive in strong rain and floods.
    2. Modify your house.
    3. Test your modified house again against rain and flooding. Observe what happens and then write a statement to claim how your engineering design:
      Image caption

      Fig. 4. Student cardboard house retrofitted with plant leaves for water-resistance, and playdough stilts to withstand flooding.

      Image copyright and source

      Image courtesy of Kanesa Duncan Seraphin.

      1. did (or did not) help the house stay dry in strong rain.
      2. did (or did not) help the house stay dry when the ground was flooded.

Activity Questions:

  1. Which material or design that worked best to protect your cardboard house against the followng. For each claim, provide evidence and write out your reasoning.
    1. Wind?
    2. Rain? 
    3. Flooding?
  2. In this activity, the rain came straight down and the flood water was not moving. However, during a storm, water can move quickly with a lot of force. How do you think fast moving water would affect your house differently? 
  3. During tsunamis, a lot of damage can be caused by large objects moving with rushing water. How can we help protect buildings from things like telephone poles and shipping containers washing around in the water?
  4. During hurricanes, many people cover their windows with hard material, like plywood. How does this help protect their home?
  5. Describe the area where you live and the types of threats to the home you live in.
    1. For example, do you live near the ocean, near a stream, or somewhere very windy or rainy?
  6. Did native people in your area engineer homes to survive severe storms? What do you think, and what is your evidence?
  7. What types of engineering modifications might help make the home you live in more storm-proof?

Related Conversations


I was excited to see this photo on instagram yesterday. It is super interesting to look at traditional roofing styles. As pictured in Fig. 1A (Norway), the Faeroe Islands also use traditional, living grass roofs. Faeroe is a North Atlantic archipelago located 200 miles (320 km) north-northwest of the United Kingdom and about halfway between Norway and Iceland—are an autonomous country of the Kingdom of Denmark.

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If students watch the Ocean Today storm surge video prior to the activity, they can start planning their storm-resistant features in advance.

Students can also bring in cardboard and other materials to help with gathering supplies (and so that they have the needed materials for their designs).

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Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawai?i, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.