The Sleeping Mountain

Scenario by Janice Cooper, revised by Ramya Chari and curated by Dr. Glenn Jaecks (U.C. Davis) - Starting Point page by R. Teed (SERC).

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This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


In this role-playing scenario, students represent townspeople whose lives and livelihoods are endangered by an active volcano that may or may not erupt in the near future. They must debate whether to invest in or to abandon their town. The site outlines the roles and includes a description of the original, real volcano that inspired the scenario, Mammoth Mountain in California, with a list of links. Before the debate, the students must research monitoring volcano activity and write a paper about it.

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Learning Goals

Students will:

  • Examine methods used to monitor volcanoes.
  • Evaluate the risks of volcanic activity in a fictitious setting
  • Experience the ways in which volcanoes affect the lives of the people living near them.

Context for Use

The debate should take one discussion period and student preparation a little longer than that.

Description and Teaching Materials

The Sleeping Mountain scenario is well-developed and includes links, scientific background, and characters. Students will need access to research materials, including Internet-capable computers. It is interesting to compare the resort's Ski Trail Map and the USGS information. Variants of one or both of these should be given to certain students (depending on their perspective of the area).

Teaching Notes and Tips

This exercise is ready to run, although educators may wish to customize the scenario a bit. I would add the USGS Mammoth Mountain Page (more info) to the "required" list.


There is a 3-page paper due the day of the debate on volcano monitoring that will help prepare the students. The assignment includes links to helpful advice on writing papers.

References and Resources

An interesting counterpoint to the links about the geologic hazard at Mammoth Mountain provided in the Sleeping Mountain Scenario are these optimistic tourist-business sites. Understandably, none of them mention the active volcano under the resort.

Other approaches to role-playing that involve volcanoes are: