Help your students learn to research, think critically, and consider the government response in this Hurricane Katrina lesson plan. Find the full unit resource package on Teachers Pay Teachers.  

“I just don’t get history,” I whined.

Some of us just don’t have minds that latch on to dates and facts that feel random. But, at its core, history is a story. Give your students a story and they’ll latch on–even the most reluctant learners. Because “stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone” (1) according to Stanford Marketing Professor, Jennifer Aaker.

So let’s bring literacy to your curriculum through the power of story.

Evaluating the Role of The American Government (Hurricane Katrina)

This lesson series focuses on the role of the government during Hurricane Katrina. It uses Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans (2), a graphic novel, to help tell the story.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans, tells the devastating tale of the city of New Orleans when it was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This vivid graphic novel displays clear and, sometimes, haunting images of the events that happened in the fall of 2005 when many people were left to survive in this drowned city. On August 29, 2005, the water overwhelmed the levees that surrounded the city and those who had failed to evacuate were left to the mercy of the water and the government officials that would continue to fail them. It is a memorable story of shocking devastation and disaster that will leave the reader in awe.

Materials Needed

5-10 copies of Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

When the Levees Broke (3) docuseries

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Content/Subject Area

Social Science: American Government or 11th Grade ELA

Essential Questions

Did the American government act appropriately during Hurricane Katrina?

What responsibility does the government have to its people during a natural disaster?

Possible Standards

History Literacy Standards (Common Core)CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
History StandardsCalifornia Content Standard 12.10Students formulate questions about and defend their analyses of tensions
within our constitutional democracy and the importance of maintaining a
balance between the following concepts: majority rule and individual rights; liberty and equality; state and national authority in a federal system; civil disobedience and the rule of law; freedom of the press and the right to a fair
trial; the relationship of religion and government.
ELA Common Core StandardsCCSS.ELA.SL.11-12.1Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions
(one-on- one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12
topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own
clearly and persuasively.
a. Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under
study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts
and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful,
well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
b. Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and
decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual
roles as needed.
c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe
reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a
topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and
promote divergent and creative perspectives.
d. Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims,
and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when
possible; and determine what additional information or research is required
to deepen the investigation or complete the task.

Lesson Plan

Day 1:

Start with a few copies of the graphic novel and have students read and review it in small groups of three. Have them formulate 5-8 questions that they now have about Hurricane Katrina.

Day 2-4:

Show either part of or the whole docu-series, When the Levees Broke. After each episode (if showing the whole series), groups will create 3-5 additional questions to add to their previous list.

Day 5-6:

The groups will then research other sources of information to determine the answer to their questions.

Day 7-10:

Each student will now write an informal response to the two essential questions.

Then as a group, they will discuss their responses. And prepare for the Socratic seminar by formulating their group answers to the essential questions and gathering support from their research.

Day 11:

After research has been completed and an answer has been decided upon by each group, break them up into one or two Socratic seminar circles. Each group will choose one member to sit inside the circle, the other two will sit behind him/her and pass notes to the member in the circle (support, comments, points, or questions that they feel should be addressed). The inside group will discuss the questions, with support from their group members.

Day 12:

After the Socratic seminar, have all students complete a reflection on what they learned about the government, its actions during Hurricane Katrina, and the role of the government in the lives of its people.

Additional Resources for Expanding This Lesson

Additional Lesson Plans on Hurricane Katrina

Teaching The Leeves: A Curriculum for Democratic Dialogue and Civic Engagement

If you’re tired of hearing, “This is so boring,” try engaging your students with the power of story. Not only will they understand the content better, but they’ll pick up some literacy skills as well.

Want the Full Lesson Plan?

Want the full project with additional resources? Head to our Teachers Pay Teachers store


  1. “Harnessing the Power of Stories | VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab.” Stanford University,
  2. Brown, Don. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans. Clarion Books, 2015. 
  3. When the Leeves Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. Directed by Spike Lee, HBO, 2007.

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