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Wade in the water

When a river bursts its banks, streets can become fast-flowing streams and buildings may flood. It's distressing and damaging. It can be dangerous. But familiar city streets that turn into watery playgrounds also provide a temptation for fun and adventure. Use a widely-viewed photograph from this autumn's UK floods as a springboard to explore students' attitudes to risk. Test their knowledge of what can go wrong - and how to put it right.  

Feelings about floods

Show students the photograph and ask for words that sum up the scene. They might describe the physical scene, how it makes them feel, or how they imagine those pictured might be feeling.   

For instance, include wet, but also words like fun, risky, filthy, destroyed, misery, adventure or waste. Is there a general agreed view about the scene, or many different ones?

Discuss the news story and setting. The picture was taken in York in late September 2012 and shows a man carrying a friend through floodwaters. The River Ouse had burst its banks following heavy rain. In three days the North Yorkshire fire and rescue service had over 500 calls and attended over 300 incidents.   

This photograph was very widely used in newspapers and on websites in the UK and across the world. Why? What aspects of the photograph appeal to picture editors and readers? Talk about human interest and drama. Compare this photograph with images students have seen of floods in countries overseas. Is this typical or not? Do editors look for different types of pictures from home and abroad? If so, why might that be?

By the end of the activity students will be able to describe the emotions provoked by a news photograph and say what elements in it might appeal to editors and readers.

Count the hazards

Invite students' views on the piggyback manoeuvre. How safe and secure is it? Take a vote - would you have done this? How confident and comfortable do those in the picture look?   

Ask students to list the hazards that the couple face and their consequences. For instance, the man being carried might slip off, the man carrying might stumble, a drain cover on the street may have lifted off. Consequences could be a soaking in filthy water, a broken limb, a head injury and so on. Discuss the risks, how likely they are to happen and how severe the impact would be. Don't forget to mention that floodwaters are often contaminated by material from the sewage network. Then vote again on whether students would do it. Talk about alternatives.

By the end of the activity students will be able to describe some of the hazards of piggybacking in floodwater and state their own assessment of such risks.

Business as usual

Note the blackboard in the left foreground of the picture suggesting that the pub is open as normal. "It's only a puddle." Do students admire that business-as-usual spirit? Is it a sound policy to "keep calm and carry on" when you are up to your knees in flood water? Is there sometimes a better alternative?   

Discuss the sandbags in front of the building - which make opening the door a bad idea. Does this suggest that at some point the pub managers changed their approach? Talk about the importance of staying alert and flexible during a fast-moving situation. Ask for examples from students' lives when they have had a hard decision to make - perhaps feeling ill and having to decide whether to stay at home or carry on. Or they may recall deciding to travel in another form of adverse weather such as snow. What influences the decision? How much does it matter what other people think? Try to identify some principles for deciding. Is it a gut reaction or can a rational approach work? How important is having accurate information?

By the end of the activity students will be able to identify some factors and circumstances when business as usual is not the best option.

Stuck upstairs

The building in the background is a former riverside mill converted to apartments for rent. It is actually on the far side of the river Ouse from the street in the foreground. Ask students to imagine that they were staying there in a first floor flat. They hear a flood warning, 24 hours before the river is expected to burst its banks. It is not thought that the river level will reach the first floor, but no one knows for sure.

Working in pairs or groups, ask students to draw up a list of items they want to have with them while they are trapped. Include basics such as food, clean water and medication. Also include personal items for entertainment and comfort. For each one, students have to think about what to do if it does not work. For instance, if they include an online computer or phone they must also plan for an electricity or phone network outage.

If students decide not to stay in the flat, ask them to say where they would go and what they would pack. Together identify the things students would find most difficult or problematic to be without. What are the most effective ways of ensuring they have everything they need?

By the end of the activity students will be able to list items they most value when cut off by severe weather, and describe how they would cope if they did not have them.

Everyday flood aid

Refresh some everyday first aid based on incidents likely in a flood. Look again at the picture and ask students to imagine the injuries that someone wading through floodwater might conceivably face. Build on the work done in the ‘count the hazards’ activity above - if you have done it. Possible injuries or health problems could include broken bones, head injury, hypothermia, bleeding and distress.

Then task students to find out what to do if they were the first person on the scene to help. Don't make the responses complex - just keep to the simple two or three steps that can really make a difference. Approaches to some situations are outlined, with opportunities to practise and be tested, on the everyday first aid website.

By the end of the activity students will be able to recognise injuries associated with wading through floodwaters, and identify first aid steps to help with such health problems.



This resource was written by PJ White in October 2012. For more news-related teaching resources, sign up to receive newsthink free every fortnight at


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