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Understanding WeatherUnderstanding-Weather

  • Subject:
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  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Infrared rays from the sun enter Earth's atmosphere. The gas carbon dioxide (CO2), which is given off by oxygen-breathing organisms and produced by the burning of fossil fuels, traps the sun's warmth within Earth's atmosphere. This phenomenon is known as the greenhouse effect .
2. The greenhouse effect is important to life on Earth because it provides our planet with the warmth it needs for animal and plant life to thrive.
3. The burning of certain fuels creates excess CO2, which traps even more heat within Earth's atmosphere, possibly creating a phenomenon known as global warming , which may be harmful to life on Earth.


For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on the greenhouse effect
Computer with Internet access
Materials students will require to create the greenhouse models they design (examples: clear plastic wrap, craft sticks, cardboard, scissors, tape)
Several lamps with strong incandescent light bulbs
Several indoor/outdoor thermometers
Graph paper


1. To assess what your students already know about the greenhouse effect, ask them to explain to you how Earth stays warm enough for animal and plant life to survive and thrive. If they say that the sun provides Earth with warmth, go on to ask them what keeps the sun's warmth within Earth's atmosphere.
2. If students' answers do not include the greenhouse effect, introduce the term to them now.
3. Even if students have heard of the greenhouse effect, they may not fully understand how the process works. Have them use materials you have provided and the Internet to research the greenhouse effect. They should come away understanding the following:
  1. Infrared rays from the sun enter Earth's atmosphere.
  2. The warmth given off by the sun's infrared rays is trapped within Earth's atmosphere by the gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.
  3. O2is given off by green plants.
  4. The burning of certain fuels, such as the gas used by cars, creates excess CO2.
  5. Some scientists and environmentalists believe that excess CO2may be trapping too much of the sun's heat and causing global warming—a rise in temperature that could prove harmful to life on Earth.
4. Explain to your students that the phenomenon they have been researching is called "the greenhouse effect" because Earth can be compared, in certain ways, to a greenhouse in which plants are grown. Tell them that they are going to create their own model greenhouses to observe the greenhouse effect firsthand.
5. With your class, brainstorm a list of structures in their everyday lives that act as greenhouses—that is, that take in the sun's warmth and trap it. Examples are cars with nontinted windows or rooms with large window areas.
6. Divide your class into groups, assigning each group the following tasks:
  1. Design a structure that will act as a greenhouse.
  2. Create the structure.
  3. Measure and record the changing temperatures within the structure over a 24-hour period.
7. Allow time for groups to plan and design their greenhouses, cautioning students to plan structures that will require only materials that can be easily obtained at home or in school. Group members should collect the materials they will need that afternoon and bring them to school the following day, when they will build their structures.
8. When each group has built its greenhouse, have students take and record the temperature inside the greenhouse.
9. Leave each greenhouse on a windowsill where it will receive a sufficient amount of warmth from the sun to raise the temperature, or leave each greenhouse under a lamp with a strong incandescent bulb.
10. Have group members observe and record temperatures at regular intervals for several hours.
11. The changes in temperature within each group's greenhouse should be recorded by each student on a graph that shows times of day on one axis and temperature readings on the other.
12. Have each student write a summary of his or her data and an explanation of his or her observations.

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Have students research global warming and debate whether the phenomenon exists and, if so, whether it is a real threat to our environment.

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Discussion Questions

1. What makes our weather change from day to day? Explain how wind, water, the surface of the Earth, and the energy from the sun work together to influence what happens to our weather.
2. Scientists often use models to help them understand and predict the weather. Have you ever used a model before? Explain what your model was and how it helped you to either understand something more clearly or predict what would happen in a particular situation. Discuss any potential drawbacks to using models for predictions.
3. As the old saying goes, hindsight is better than foresight—people often see things more clearly after they've happened than before they've happened. Discuss the challenges that your local weather forecaster faces each day when determining the weather report.
4. There are some scientists who follow tornadoes in specially equipped cars to study them more closely. These scientists were used as the basis for the popular movie Twister . What characteristics and training would qualify someone for such a dangerous task? Would you consider having a job such as this yourself? Why or why not?
5. Discuss the ways in which human activities might be affecting Earth's climate.
6. Despite the fact that hurricanes batter the southeastern coast of the United States year after year, people continue to choose to build homes there. Speculate about why this is the case, and discuss the role that our government should (or should not) play in either promoting or discouraging these choices.

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You can evaluate your students on their graphs and explanations using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: graph carefully prepared and accurately reflects the required information; explanation clearly and accurately summarizes information recorded on graph and observations made by student; written work free of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
Two points: graph satisfactorily prepared and accurately reflects the required information; explanation adequately summarizes information recorded on graph and observations made by student; written work has several errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
One point: graph carelessly prepared and fails to accurately reflect the required information; explanation unclear, incomplete, and contains inaccuracies; written work contains numerous errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining a minimum number of temperature readings to be recorded on the graph.

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Weather Folklore
Share with your students some examples of weather-related folklore, such as "Ring around the moon, 'twill rain soon" and "Red sky at night, sailors' delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning," and invite students to contribute additional examples. Have each student select and research one such saying with an eye toward investigating its accuracy in predicting the weather. Students should use the library and the Internet to research the origins and accuracy of their sayings and explain in writing what they have learned. (You might also ask students to perform simple observation experiments to test their sayings for accuracy.)

Tornadoes with a Twist
Tornadoes are formed in part when warm air gets trapped beneath cold air. When this warm air finds an opening, it spirals up like an inverted bathtub drain, or vortex. Such movement of warm air through cold air is called a convection current. Because air behaves like a fluid, students can observe convection currents firsthand through an experiment involving water. Provide students with a beaker of hot water and a small amount of colored cold water. Make sure that the temperature difference between the two samples is as great as possible, but be sure to emphasize safety when students are handling very hot water. Have students slowly and carefully add cold water to the hot water using an eyedropper and record their observations. Ask them to write conclusions based on their observations. You may want to explain the following:
  1. Cold water sinks to the bottom because it is denser than warmer water.
  2. Two air masses of different temperatures interact in a similar way.


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Suggested Readings

Can It Really Rain Frogs?: The World's Strangest Weather Events
Spencer Christian and Antonia Felix. John Wiley and Sons, 1997.
Everything you ever wanted to know about weather, but from a humorous slant, is contained in this book. Read about raining frogs, hurricane names, historic hailstorms, or the weather-forecasting ghosts of Mt. Nebo, or try some of the weather experiments detailed in its pages.

Weather: An Explore Your World Handbook
Discovery Channel. Random House, 1999.
A compact overview of weather, from storms, winds, and clouds to the effects of El Ni—o. A glossary, index, list of weather contacts, symbols, and charts enhance this lively, colorful work.

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USA Radar
This site contains the current weather radar maps of the USA

The Weather Dude
Geared to sdtuents and teachers, this site inlcudes curriculum activities, quizzes, weather resources and songs

National Climatic Data Center
Acess to recent and past worldwide temperature, precipitation, droughts, hurricanes are available atthids interactive site

The Weather Channel
Complete weather information for the United States and the world with good teacher resources available on topics such as heat index and wind chill.

Covis Geosciences
Multimedia modules provide students with information on atmospheric science.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    barometer
Definition: An instrument for determining the pressure of the atmosphere and hence for assisting in forecasting weather and for determining altitude.
Context: She read the barometer and determined that the air pressure was falling.

speaker    coronal mass ejection
Definition: Explosions in the sun's corona that emit solar particles.
Context: A coronal mass ejection can disrupt power grids and satellites.

speaker    global warming
Definition: There is a growing body of research that supports the idea that global warming is caused by a buildup of greenhouse gases.
Context: The idea of cloning human beings raises ethical and moral concerns.

speaker    high pressure system
Definition: An area in which the air is more dense than in surrounding regions, causing outward-blowing winds.
Context: A high pressure system is passing over the eastern section of the United States today.

speaker    low pressure
Definition: An area in which the air is less dense than in surrounding regions, causing inward-blowing winds.
Context: An area of low pressure is responsible for today's weather.

speaker    supercell thunderstorm
Definition: A highly organized thunderstorm that produces extreme weather events.
Context: Supercell thunderstorms are one frequent cause of tornadoes.

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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, 9-12
Subject area: earth science
Understands basic features of the Earth.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows the composition and structure of the Earth's atmosphere (e.g., temperature and pressure in different layers of the atmosphere, circulation of air masses).

Benchmark 6-8:
Knows ways in which clouds affect weather and climate (e.g., precipitation, reflection of light from the sun, retention of heat energy emitted from the Earth's surface).

Benchmark 6-8:
Knows factors that can have an impact on the Earth's climate (e.g., changes in the composition of the atmosphere; changes in ocean temperature; geological shifts such as meteor impacts, the advance or retreat of glaciers, or a series of volcanic eruptions).

Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that the sun is the principal energy source for phenomena on the Earth's surface (e.g., winds, ocean currents, the water cycle, plant growth).

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows the major external and internal sources of energy on Earth (e.g., the sun is the major external source of energy; the decay of radioactive isotopes and gravitational energy from the Earth's original formation are primary sources of internal energy).

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows that weather and climate involve the transfer of energy in and out of the atmosphere.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows how winds and ocean currents are produced on the Earth's surface (e.g., effects of unequal heating of the Earth's land masses, oceans, and air by the sun; effects of gravitational forces acting on layers of different temperatures and densities in the oceans and air; effects of the rotation of the Earth).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: geography
Knows the physical processes that shape patterns on Earth's surface.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows the consequences of a specific physical process operating on Earth's surface (e.g., effects of an extreme weather phenomenon such as a hurricane's impact on a coastal ecosystem, effects of heavy rainfall on hill slopes, effects of the continued movement of Earth's tectonic plates).

Benchmark 9-12:
Understands how physical systems are dynamic and interactive (e.g., the relationships between changes in landforms and the effects of climate such as the erosion of hill slopes by precipitation, deposition of sediments by floods, and shaping of land surfaces by wind).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: technology
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that science cannot answer all questions and technology cannot solve all human problems or meet all human needs.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows that science and technology are pursued for different purposes.

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Joyce Nelson Bailey, master science teacher, nature lover, and freelance curriculum writer.

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