Role playing the 2009 L'Aquila Earthquake and trial to debate responsibility for communicating and understanding risks and natural hazards

This page is authored by Amber Kumpf, Muskegon Community College, Muskegon, MI.
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In this activity, students reenact select key events leading up to, during, and following the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake and subsequent trial. At the culmination of the activity it is revealed by a student actor (judge) that scientists and a government official have been sentenced to six years' imprisonment. The teacher then reveals that this play is based on a true and relatively recent series of events. The activity concludes with a class discussion regarding responsibility for communicating and understanding risk. Possible expansion of the activity could include hazard assessment of students' houses/cities and recommendations for communicating those risks to the public.

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Learning Goals

Students should learn about earthquake predictability, risk assessment, and the various players involved to communicating and understanding risk and natural hazards. Ethical debate and critical thinking are the main skill focus of this activity. Expansions could also include skill focuses in technical writing, public communication, and oral presentation. Risk and resilience and geoscience are addressed by examining a real event and using its example to motivate students to critically examine their own exposure to hazards and the role of various players (scientists, government, citizens) in communicating and understanding risk.

Context for Use

This interactive activity could be part of a lab or lecture activity. It was originally used for an introductory college level physical geology course where students had previously learned about faults, seismic waves, earthquake hazards, and the predictability of earthquakes. An introduction to the history of the use of radon in predicting earthquakes and some of the debate surrounding it might be useful background, but a brief overview can be given during the play by student actors. This activity could easily be adapted for a more or less advanced group. Expansion into technical research on local hazards and communication of those hazards could be used for advanced study.

Description and Teaching Materials

The mechanics of this activity are as follows:

Before class:
Print and cut out individual actors' lines along with your narration: Narration and actors' lines (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 22kB Apr11 14). Also, print out the major scenes overview sheet Major Scenes for L'Aquila Role Play (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Apr11 14).

Step 1:
Using the list of actors Actor List for L'Aquila Role Play (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB Apr11 14) , have students sign up for roles in a play to be put on in the class that day. Some roles will be speaking parts, some actors will only mime actions, some will merely react/respond/fulfill casualty counts.

Step 2:
Encourage students to sympathize with their characters and improvise where the script allows.

Step 3:
Using the narration guide and actors' lines Narration and actors' lines (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 22kB Apr11 14) and the major scenes overview sheet Major Scenes for L'Aquila Role Play (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Apr11 14), play the role of director/narrator by guiding students through scene set ups, scene changes, and cueing students' lines.

Step 4:
Allow students time to digest and then share their reactions to the verdict. Guide further debate and discussion. Some suggestions are provided Debate Questions for L'Aquila Role Play (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB Apr11 14).

Teaching Notes and Tips

I typically do not tell students in advance which parts are speaking and which part are not.

Some students are uncomfortable being put on the spot in front of their peers (in one extreme case, to the point of leaving the classroom). However, some more reserved students shine when not given the option of choosing a background part.

The number of roles can be increased by increasing the number of scientists/government officials/citizens. In that case, you may wish to introduce additional lines for more active involvement.

You can choose when to tell students that the play they are enacting is based on real events. I have experimented with telling them in advance or waiting until after they discover the verdict of the trial.


Assessment is largely based on participation in the play and discussion and debate that follows after. You could have students draft a written response for a more concrete measure. I often question them on some aspect of the play/discussion in a quiz the next class period.

References and Resources