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Flooding 2: Investigating the effects of river floods

fast-flowing floodwater beside house

Suitable for GCSE

5.2 million properties in England are at risk of flooding:

  • 3.8 million properties are at risk of surface water flooding
  • 2.4 million properties are at risk of river and coastal flooding.

Of these 5.2 million properties, 1 million are at risk from river, coastal and surface water flooding. Floods have serious social and economic impacts on the properties and communities that are affected. The Environment Agency provides flood warnings and advises those at risk of floods to prepare a personal flood plan to try to reduce the impact of flood damage on their own home and property.

In this resource, students can investigate the effects of flooding by considering both quantitative and qualitative evidence. Interviews with victims of flooding provide an insight into the economic and physical impacts of flooding on people. They also reveal some surprising evidence about the resilience of communities when they work together. The video clips used in this resource could be used to introduce the concept of vulnerability. If you wanted to provide an extension activity, students could be directed to the National Flood Forum which is a charity that helps, supports and represents people at risk of flooding. The National Flood Forum web page on the impact of flooding on communities provides a useful summary of the different ways in which flooding is perceived by members of any community.

  • Why are some members of a community more vulnerable than others to the effects of flooding? How can they be supported?
  • How can communities develop flood resilience?

Specification requirements

Knowledge and understanding of the effects/threats/consequences of flooding is a requirement of 7 of the 8 reformed GCSE qualifications. The use of proportional symbols to represent data and the use of qualitative evidence such as interviews is a requirement of all reformed GCSE qualifications. Download the Specification audit.

Learning objectives

This resource can be used to meet one or more of the following objectives:

  • investigate the physical and emotional impact of floods on people of different ages
  • develop numeracy skills by analysing patterns on a map which uses proportional circles or by constructing a map with proportional circles.

Download the Assessment Objectives.


1.1 Investigating physical and emotional impacts of floods – use of qualitative data

Few students will have had first-hand experience of flooding. However, qualitative data that provides evidence of the impacts of flooding is readily available in the form of photographs, videos and interviews. The Environment Agency document that describes the floods of December 2015 shows photos of some effects of the flooding on pages 10 and 11. Students could begin their investigation with the images on page 10:

Page 10

  • How deep is the flood water?
  • Why is it brown?
  • What kind of damage would this flood water do if it got into your home?
  • What does this evidence tell us about damage inside people’s homes?

The photos in the top right and bottom left of page 11 are worth discussing carefully:

Page 11 top left

  • Can you tell how deep this water is?
  • Would it be safe to drive or walk though this water? If not, why not? What are the potential risks?

Page 11 bottom right

  • What damage has been caused to this bridge? What processes would have caused this damage?
  • How might this flood damage affect the local community?

To take their investigation further, students will need to see or hear first-hand testimony from flood victims. The links that follow will take students to a number of short video clips in which people who have experienced the impacts of flooding describe their experiences. Interviews are a form of qualitative data. The analysis of an interview requires a different approach to that of a questionnaire, which often relies quite heavily on closed questions.

In an interview, the analysis relies on a process called coding, in which the interview is broken down into very short chunks. Chunks are coded using categories (words which effectively summarise the meaning of each chunk). Codes are then summarised before patterns and trends in the codes can be seen. Coding is an A level skill, but this exercise provides the summary codes so that your GCSE students can still discover the common themes that are revealed in these interviews.

Students can use this template to summarise the data from each interview. There are five interviews to listen to. Two record the experiences of children. The video links are listed below:

Sophie’s story – flooding in Tadcaster 2015. An Environment Agency video.

Children, young people and flooding – recovery and resilience. Part of a project undertaken by Lancaster University to investigate the impact of flooding on young people.

Channel 4 news – describes the impacts of flooding on children.

Where’s the bureau – part of a project undertaken by University of the West England, Bristol, to investigate the impact of flooding on communities in Gloucester.

People in the village – another video from the University of the West England, Bristol project.

  • What similarities are there between the interviews? What differences can you see?
  • What surprises you most about the interviews?
  • What can we learn about how victims of floods should be treated?
1.2 Investigating flood risk in Cumbria – use of proportional circles

Use the Environment Agency document that describes flooding in the winter of 2015/16 to investigate the scale of the flood risk problem in the UK. Pages 2, 6, and 8-11 are particularly useful. Students could focus on the following enquiry questions:

  • How big is the flood risk? What is the cause of this risk?
  • What was the cause of the flooding in December 2015?
  • Which areas were affected and why were these areas so badly flooded?

Page 2 describes the overall scale of the flood risk in England. Look at the numbers and discuss what they mean. Explain that sometimes it is difficult to relate to large numbers such as this. Some simple numeracy skills could be used to aid understanding. Students could add 5.2 to 23.8 to calculate how many properties there are in total.

  • What proportion is at risk?
  • On average, every sixth property is at risk. How many homes are in your home town?
  • How many would be at risk if one in six were flooded? Is this likely? If not, why not?
  • Why are average figures, like those on page 2, sometimes deceptive?

Page 8 shows the number of properties flooded during the winter of 2015/16.

  • What spatial patterns are shown?
  • Why are the areas affected by these storms different?
  • What makes Carlisle, Kendal and Cockermouth so vulnerable to flooding?

The strengths and limitations of the Proportional circle map could be discussed and students could draw their own map with some of the raw data.


Other lessons in this series:

Flood risk and flood management: Introduction
Flooding 1: Causes of river floods
Flooding 3: Response to floods: Oxford Case Study
Flooding 4: Managing the upper drainage basin
Flooding 5: Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)
Flooding 6: Managing river floods – exploring the role of the Environment Agency
Flooding 7: Coastal flooding at Chiswell
Flooding 8: Managed realignment
Flooding 9: The role of the Environment Agency in coastal management and the development of shoreline management plans

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