Hands-On Science and Literacy Lessons About Weather and Climate

A common perception of the polar regions is that both experience severe weather and are characterized by a cold climate. While this is true, it is important to remember that the Arctic and Antarctica are quite different in terms of geography and, as a result, have profound differences in their weather and climate. A comparison of the regions will help students not only understand the weather and climate of these two places but also the many factors that influence weather and climate. See “Weather and Climate: The Short and the Long of It” in this issue for more information about how the weather and climate of these two places differ.

Before beginning a study of polar weather, it is imperative that students understand basic weather concepts, terminology, and instruments used in meteorology. Observing local weather patterns will help develop these concepts before expanding to a national or worldwide comparison.

These hands-on experiences also help students create nonlinguistic representations of weather vocabulary and concepts, an important tool in vocabulary development. See “Vocabulary Development and Nonlinguistic Representations: How Can Science Help?” in the Professional Learning department for more information.

Finally, understanding weather and climate allows students to begin exploring the topic of climate change – one that is particularly relevant to the polar regions. While not ready to deal with climate change in all its complexity, elementary students can begin to learn about the topic through children’s literature, discussion, and modeling.

We’ve divided lessons and activities into four sections: General Weather and Climate, Comparing and Contrasting Weather and Climate, Polar Weather and Climate, and Climate Change. By beginning with a study of weather and climate close to home, then expanding to compare and contrast home weather with weather in other locations, and finally examining places far away, students will more easily master the content.

For each science lesson, we’ve included the appropriate National Science Education Standards. You can read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free PDF. The content standards are found in Chapter 6.


GENERAL WEATHER AND CLIMATE

Use these lessons and activities to help your students develop an understanding of weather and climate in their hometown.

What Is It Like Outside Today? (Grades K-1)
Students learn to read a thermometer and color paper thermometers to show temperature. Students also begin to explore how a range of temperatures fit into each of the seasons. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the Science and Technology Content Standard.

To further integrate literacy skills into this lesson, read the books about seasons from Issue Three’s Virtual Bookshelf.

Weather Walks (Grades K-2)
Students will learn about weather by taking walks in various types of conditions: sunny, rainy, windy and snowy. Each type of walk includes language arts and literacy connections. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard and Earth and Space Science Content Standard.

To further integrate literacy skills into this lesson, try the following:

How Does My Garden Grow? Writing in Science Field Journals (Grades K-2)
This lesson involves students in recording observations in a field journal. While the lesson intends for students to keep a journal about a class garden, similar journals could be used during and after the weather walks. This lesson meets NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12.

Calendar & Weather Book (Grades 1-2)
Students will record and track weather patterns daily throughout the year. This activity is well suited for inclusion in a morning meeting or circle time. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the Science and Technology Content Standard.

To further integrate literacy skills into this lesson, try the following:

I Wonder: Writing Scientific Explanations with Students (Grades K-2)
This lesson encourages second-grade students to ask questions about a specific topic, research a particular question using a variety of resources, and write a scientific explanation. This lesson meets NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 12.

Cloud, Rain, and Fog (Grades 1-2)
Students will learn to identify information from a nonfiction book on weather by asking questions and focusing on the text features of the book. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Earth and Space Science Content Standard.

To further integrate literacy skills into this lesson, try:

Weather: A Journey in Nonfiction
This research project is designed to engage primary students in nonfiction text, in both print and digital format. This lesson meets NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 6, 7, 8.

In grades 3-5, students begin to investigate weather in a more detailed way, learning about the components of weather, weather instruments, and forecasting. The following eight investigations are meant to be used as a comprehensive unit on weather. We’ve provided a literacy lesson to complement the unit as a whole.

This unit meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the Science and Technology Content Standard.

Investigation 1: Clouds (Grades 3-5)
Students observe and record different types of clouds.

Investigation 2: Thermometers (Grades 3-5)
Students practice using thermometers, make homemade thermometers, and use thermometers to record and graph temperature data.

Investigation 3: Wind (Grades 3-5)
Students create a wind vane and an anemometer and then use their instruments to observe and record weather data.

Investigation 4: Air Pressure and Barometers (Grades 3-5)
Students learn about barometric pressure, create a homemade barometer, and observe and record weather data.

Investigation 5: Severe Weather (Grades 3-5)
Students explore web sites to learn about severe weather. While this lesson plan is written for Utah, it can be easily adapted to any state.

Investigation 6: Collecting Weather Data (Grades 3-5)
In this investigation, students collect weather data for two weeks. They will start seeing patterns and be able to make predictions.

Investigation 7: Interpreting Weather Data (Grades 3-5)
Students graph, compare, and interpret the weather data from Investigation 6.

Investigation 8: Weather Forecasts (Grades 3-5)
Students will learn how to predict and evaluate weather forecasts.

To further integrate literacy skills into this unit, try:

Weather Detectives: Questioning the Fact and Folklore of Weather Sayings
This lesson explores the truth and reliability of weather-related sayings, such as “Mare’s tails and mackerel scales make tall ships take in their sails.” This lesson meets NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12.


COMPARING/CONTRASTING WEATHER AND CLIMATE

Use these lessons and activities to help your students compare and contrast the weather and climate of their hometown with other locations (including the polar regions).

How’s the Weather – in Africa?! (Grades K-2)
In this lesson, students describe and later compare how weather affects human activity in two places on opposite sides of the world. The lesson can be adapted to include other locations. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, Earth and Space Science Content Standard and the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard for grades K-4.

How’s the Weather Today? (Grades K-2)
This lesson asks students to think about the weather in their area and introduces them to weather and temperature trends in different latitudes of the United States. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard for grades K-4.

Weather Complaints (Grades 3-5)
This lesson asks students to consider the weather and climate where they live and in other places and to think about the ways in which people complain about the weather. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Earth and Space Science Content Standard and the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard.

To further integrate literacy skills into these three lessons, try:

Postcard Creator
This interactive tool from ReadWriteThink helps students learn the parts of a postcard and create their own cards. A pdf document provides tips for using the tool. This lesson meets NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12.

Weather Scope (Grades 3-5)
In this project, students observe and track weather in their hometown and two additional locations (why not the Arctic and Antarctica?) to learn about weather, factors influencing weather and climate, and weather forecasting. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the Science and Technology Content Standard.

To further integrate literacy skills into this lesson, try:

All About Our Town: Using Brochures to Teach Informational Writing
This lesson teaches students about informational writing through brochures. The lesson could be modified so that students create their own brochures about the weather and climate of an area they’ve been tracking. This lesson meets NCTE/IRA Standards: 4, 5, 7, 8, 12.

Creative Climates (Grades K-5)
This activity involves creating a climate map to illustrate the world’s different climate zones. Modifications and literacy integrations are provided for younger and older students. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard.


POLAR WEATHER AND CLIMATE

Few lessons focus exclusively on the weather of the polar regions. To incorporate this topic into your teaching, begin with this issue’s Feature Story and Virtual Bookshelf. We’ve highlighted an animation and two web sites that provide temperature data for various polar locations. Many of the lessons listed above can be modified to include the Arctic and Antarctica.

British Antarctic Survey
The home page of this web site lists current temperatures (in Celsius) at various locations in Antarctica.

Arctic Map with Weather Data
This map shows communities, villages, and research stations throughout the Arctic. Click on a yellow dot to display current weather information for that location.

Interactive Arctic Climate Map
Click on labeled points in the Arctic to view a graph of the annual temperature cycle for that geographic location.

Why Is It Cold at the Poles? (Grades 3-5)
This animation from the EducaPoles site explains why the poles are colder than other places on earth.


CLIMATE CHANGE

Use these lessons and activities to help your students develop an understanding of climate change and how it is affecting the polar regions. Younger students should be introduced to the basic ideas of global warming (see our Virtual Bookshelf ) and resource conservation. Upper-elementary students can begin to investigate the topic in more detail.

Be Energy Wise! (Grades K-2)
In this lesson students learn how electricity comes into their homes and what household appliances and devices use electricity. They create reminders and posters to help their families remember to turn off lights and reduce hot water use. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard.

To further integrate literacy skills into this lesson, try:

Teaching Audience Through Interactive Writing
This lesson supports students in learning about audience through interactive writing.This lesson meets NCTE/IRA Standards: 4, 5, 6, 11, 12.

Modeling the Greenhouse Effect (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson students will model the greenhouse effect and draw conclusions about global warming. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard.

People Changing the Atmosphere (Grades 4-5)
By keeping a “CO2 Journal,” students establish the connection between human activity and global warming, while simultaneously discovering what they can do to reduce global warming. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard.

To further integrate literacy skills into these two lessons, try:

Sing! Sing a Song! (Grades 3-5)
After learning about climate change, students work in small groups to write, sing, and make a recording of a song.This lesson meets NCTE/IRA Standards: 4, 5, 6, 11, 12.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright June 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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