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Home, Home on the Beach

Investigate the effects of storm wave action on man made structures on a beach or island and determine the best place to build an ocean front structure on an island.

By Margaret Olsen, SouthEast COSEE Education Specialist

You can download this activity as a Microsoft Word document, an Open Document, or an Adobe PDF.


  1. To investigate the effects of storm wave action on man made structure on a beach or island.
  2. To determine the best place to build an ocean front structure on an island.

Materials (per group)

  • Plastic container (large enough to build a barrier island of sand)
  • Gallon jug or similar container (to add water)
  • Sand
  • Water
  • A variety of materials to build structures with (shells, sticks, rocks, leaves, grass, straws, cardboard, etc.)
  • A source of wind energy. Examples include a block of wood (which you move in the water), a fan, or a hair dryer.

Background Information

See the Waves Fact Sheet.


  1. Divide the class into 5 groups. Note: in this activity, all five of the groups can build their structures in a single container or in individual containers.
  2. In the container provided, build a barrier island out of sand. Include dunes, beach and area behind dunes.
  3. Using the materials provided:Experimental setup
    • Group 1: Build a structure on the beach.
    • Group 2: Build a structure directly in front of the dunes.
    • Group 3: Build a structure on top of the dunes.
    • Group 4: Build a structure behind the dunes.
    • Group 5: Build a structure in the middle of the island.
  4. Fill the container with enough water to simulate a beach and ocean.
  5. Generate waves with the block of wood or fan. Start with gentle waves and gradually increase the wave strength to make storm waves that hit the beach at least to the dune line.
  6. Record observations of the effects of the waves on the sand, dunes, and structures in the data table.
  7. If groups constructed their structures in individual containers: Interview a member of each group and obtain information on what happened to their structure. Record this information in the data table.


Group Location of structure or house on the island What happened to the structure during the storm?
Group 1    
Group 2    
Group 3    
Group 4    
Group 5    


Use the information in your data chart and what you have learned to answer the following questions:

  1. On what part of the island did you build your structure?
  2. What types of materials were used to build your structure?
  3. Describe any damage that your structure received as a result of the storm.
  4. How did your structure hold up compared to the other four?
  5. On what part of the island was the structure located that received the least damage?
  6. On what part of the island was the structure that received the most damage?
  7. What factors probably resulted in the most damage?
  8. What factors probably resulted in the least damage to the structures?


Describe what can happen to man-made structures built on or close to a beach on an island during a storm.

Explain how the type of construction materials and the location affect the probability of man-made structures to survive the force of waves during a storm.


Find news reports of damage to barrier islands from hurricanes. What caused the damage: wind, waves, or storm surge? What structures survived the storm?