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1906 San Francisco Earthquake Offline Lesson
An offline lesson describing the effects of the quake and fire 

Additional 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Photographs

Before, During and After the Fire Photos

Call Building Photographs

Howard Street Photograph

San Francisco Chronicle - April 18, 1956

Go To Teacher Lesson Plans

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake resulted in great property destruction and great loss of life. This lesson will use photographs to examine the effects of the earthquake and the fire.


  • Analyze photographic data for evidence of earthquake damage
  • Determine cause and effect of the earthquake and the fire

Student Task:

Students will examine photographs of the 1906 earthquake and its effect on specific locations. They will then decide if the destruction came from the earthquake or the fire.

Time Required: One 45-minute class period

Grade Level: 4, 8, 11

Lesson Connections and Standards References:
California Department of Education

  • History—Social Science Standards:
  • Historical and Social Sciences Analysis Skills
    Grades Nine through Twelve
    Chronological and Spatial Thinking:
    4Historical Research, Evidence, and Point of View:
    Historical Interpretation: 4

Subject Areas: History-Social Science, Language Arts, Technology

Resources Used:

Fullerton Collection
California State Archives

Materials and Preparation: Before class begins, download and print the following materials:

Building Analysis Call Building
Building Analysis Circled Building
Building Analysis Howard Street
Call Building Photos
San Francisco Before, During and After Fire Photos
Howard Street Building Photo


  1. Discuss with class the need for careful analysis of photographic data. Tell the class that photographs are often used to determine the outcome of insurance claims. Tell the class they will be in the role of an insurance adjuster after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Discuss the provision in most insurance policies which does not allow coverage for "Acts of God" (earthquake, hurricanes, and floods). Tell students that they will be making decisions about individual building's coverage. If the earthquake destroyed the building, then coverage must be denied. If by fire, the company must pay.
  2. Distribute the three building analysis sheets. Print enough copies of the earthquake/fire photos to allow student access to them. Ask them to examine the photos to complete their building analysis forms.
  3. Conduct a class discussion of the results of their observations. Ask students to justify the decisions they made as adjusters.
  4. Point out to students that some buildings were destroyed when the army dynamited blocks of them to make a fire break to keep the fire from spreading. As a class, decide if a building destroyed in this manner would be covered by insurance.
  5. An excellent web site for more information about the 1906 earthquake is the Museum of the City of San Francisco. It has many photos, eyewitness accounts, newspaper articles, and various reports.

Evaluation Criteria:

  1. Building analysis forms - accuracy and thoroughness of observations.
  2. Participation in class discussion.


  1. Have students look and the photos of San Francisco before and after the fire. Ask them to identify buildings that survived the quake.
  2. Discuss the difficulty in housing the people made homeless from the fire. Download and examine the photos of the refuge housing and the tent cities created for the homeless. Discuss whether the people should pay for staying there and how long they should be allowed to stay.
  3. Have students take the role of a survivor of the earthquake. Ask them to write a letter to a relative describing their experiences.
  4. Explore the role of plate tectonics in earthquakes, and how they apply to San Francisco.

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