Students will understand the following:
Groups will need the following materials for their demonstrations:
Adaptations for Older Students:
Rather than explain the causes of lightning to the class, have each student do research on the causes of lightning and write a brief paragraph explaining the physics behind a lightning strike.
You can evaluate your students on their descriptions using the following three-point rubric:
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining what information should be included in the paragraphs.
The Truth about Lightning
Invite your students to develop lightning-facts brochures for elementary-age children. They should illustrate the brochures with as many drawings as they think are necessary to educate younger children about the hazards associated with lightning. When the brochures are complete, have students present them to a local elementary school class along with a short presentation covering the major points of the brochure. Students should include facts about the following topics in their brochures:
a. Cloud formation
b. Evolution of a lightning bolt and electrical charges
c. Lightning production
d. Temperature of a lightning bolt
e. Lightning conduction
g. Scientific research on lightning
h. Lightning safety
In this activity, students will create and study an artificial cloud. Have them follow this procedure (or demonstrate it to them): Pour a cup of cool water into a clear 2-liter soda bottle with the label removed. Cover the bottle, and shake it vigorously for a minute or so to saturate the air inside the bottle with water. Open the bottle, and pour out the water. Carefully light a wooden match and blow it out gently. Insert the match into the open bottle so that smoke goes into the bottle. Cap the bottle tightly. Squeeze the bottle as hard as you can and hold it for several seconds. Let it go, and you'll have a cloud! Shine a flashlight through the bottle, and hold a piece of black paper behind it to see the particle motion.
Have students write a description of cloud formation. Have them include how this demonstration was similar to that of real cloud formation. What practical applications might a large-scale cloud maker have?
The Electrical Nature of Storms
Donald R. MacGorman and W. David Rust. Oxford University
This current work covers atmospheric electricity and how it is made manifest in storms.
Storm Chaser: In Pursuit of Untamed Skies
Warren Faidley. Weather Channel, 1996.
The logistics of tracking dangerous storms, including lightning, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes, is covered in this publication by a meteorological leader in the media. Includes color illustrations.
Theatre of Electricity
Provides information, great graphics, and a quiz on lightning and electricity.
Lightning and Atmospheric Electricity at the GHCC
Great scientific information on lightning. Be sure to check out Lightning Primer.
National Lightning Safety Institute
Lightning safety facts, Ben Franklin quotes, and lightning questions answered.
Lightning Information Index
Facts about lightning and weather information.
Project Safeside: Lightning Safety
Explains the ins and outs of lightning safety.
Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.
Context: Strong convection currents lift smaller droplets higher and higher, and in the cold reaches of the upper atmosphere they freeze into ice crystals.
Context: Ninety percent of all lightning never touches the ground—it occurs inside the thunder cloud or jumps from cloud to cloud. A single bolt can illuminate an entire cloud from the inside. We call this sheet lightning.
Context: Sprites are immense. They shoot up from the top of a 12-mile thundercloud to heights of 60 miles or more.
Context: Lightning begins in the negatively charged region at the base of a cloud. Here, thin, barely luminous feelers called step leaders zigzag through the cloud.
Context: This explosive heat produces a massive, deafening shock wave—thunder.
This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: science
Understands energy types, sources and conversions, and their relationship to heat and temperature.
Benchmark (6-8): Knows that energy comes in different forms, such as light, heat, chemical, nuclear, mechanical, and electrical.
Benchmark (6-8): Understands that energy cannot be created or destroyed but only changed from one form to another.
Benchmark (6-8): Knows that electrical circuits provide a means of converting electrical energy into heat, light, sound, chemical, or other form of energy.
Benchmark (9-12): Knows that all energy can be considered to be either kinetic energy (energy of motion), potential energy (depending on relative position), or energy contained by a field (electromagnetic waves).
Benchmark (9-12): Knows that weather and climate involve the transfer of energy in and out of the atmosphere.
Frank Weisel, earth science teacher, Tilden Middle School, Rockville, Maryland.