Keep Your Eye on the Sky - Clouds and Weather

This lesson plan was developed by NSTA master teacher Caroline Goode through NSTA's partnership with NOAA.

Grade Level:5-8

Subject Areas

Earth Science, Atmospheric Science, Mathematics

Standards Alignment - National Science Education Standards

Earth and Space Science

  • Structure of the Earth system
    • Clouds formed by condensation of water vapor affect weather and climate.
    • Water, which covers the majority of the Earth's surface, circulates through the crust, oceans, and atmosphere in what is known as the "water cycle".

Science and Technology

  • Understanding about science and technology.
    • Science helps drive technology, as it addresses questions that demand more sophisticated instruments and provides principles for better instrumentation and techniques.

Abilities Necessary to Do Scientific Inquiry

  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze and interpret data.
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.

Earth and Space Science, K-4

  • Changes in earth and sky
    • Weather can be described by measurable quantities, such as temperature, wind direction and speed, and precipitation.

Time Required

Three 45-minute classes

Internet Resources

NASA S'COOL Cloud Identification Chart:

GLOBE Cloud Exploration:

Anatomy of Clouds:

NOAA's National Weather Service:

The Ceres S'cool Project:

Cloudy Days Are for Reading and Writing:

Graphing Temperature Data:

Plymouth State University Meteorology Program Cloud Boutique:

NOAA Education - Weather Resources:

Stories and Tales of the Weather Service:

Lesson Goal

Students will learn about two types of weather satellites, research cloud formations to identify weather patterns, learn that clouds can be used for real-time weather forecasting at an individual and local level, and gather cloud and temperature data to be used in creating graphs and reports.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will use the Internet to research weather satellites.
  • Students will write an informational article to explain how weather satellites orbit and transmit data.
  • Students will use the Internet to research and identify the four categories of cloud types: high, middle, low, contrails.
  • Students will use their cloud research to record cloud observations.
  • Students will use their cloud observations and temperature data to create graphs.
  • Students will demonstrate their understanding of clouds and weather in a lab report.

Prerequisite Knowledge

  • Computer/Internet experience
  • Vocabulary terms: geostationary satellite, polar satellite, orbit, radiometer
  • Prior knowledge of the water cycle
  • Representing data in graphs


  • Predicting weather is only done with satellite observations as seen on television.
  • Clouds only form from wind.
  • Clouds only move as the Earth rotates.
  • Clouds are not good indicators of real-time weather.

Classroom Resources

  • One computer with Internet capabilities for each group of three to four students, or one computer/monitor with Internet capabilities for whole class viewing.
  • Markers/colored pencils.
  • Poster board.
  • Science notebooks.
  • Copies of Student Worksheet #1, #2, #3 - one per student.
  • Recording Cloud Observations Data - Chart 1 or 2, seven per student - option: one copy of the chart per student, students use it to make six more charts in their notebook.
  • Optional: One empty two-liter soda bottle with cap, matches, water.

Click here for printable versions of all student worksheets and data observation charts

Procedures/Instructional Strategy (based on the 5E model):

Day One - Engagement Activity:

This activity introduces students to weather forecasting technology using satellite images.

  1. Write "weather forecasting" on the board and ask students to think about how meteorologists forecast the weather. Record responses on the board. Students should include weather satellites in their responses.
  2. Explain that surface readings and observations alone make it difficult to predict and forecast long-term weather conditions. Using satellite technology has enabled meteorologists to view and track severe storms as well as observe the movement of clouds over large regions.
  3. Organize students into groups of three to four and distribute a copy of Student Worksheet #1: The Clouds Below to each student. Give students 30 minutes to complete the worksheet.
  4. Using the information from worksheet #1, students will write a news article that describes the how weather satellites work and why they are important weather instruments.

Day Two - Exploration Activity:

In this class, students will discover that clouds are good indicators of real-time weather. As they research characteristics of different cloud types, they are gaining knowledge for the elaboration activity that follows.

  1. Prior to class, download and print the "NASA S'COOL Cloud Identification Chart", one for each group of students.
  2. Conduct a class discussion about weather satellites and their purpose. Ask students to think about how we might forecast our daily weather by observing clouds in the sky. Discuss how clouds and weather go together when looking at weather patterns.
  3. Organize students into groups of three to four. Give students about five minutes to brainstorm answers to the following with their group members:
    • Think about the types of clouds you see in the sky and discuss what type of weather generally brings these clouds to your area.
    • Have you ever been swimming outdoors when grey, dark clouds appear? If so, what did you do?
    • Draw two or three shapes of clouds you have seen.
  4. Each group of students should have a computer with internet access. Distribute one copy of Student Worksheet #2: Partly Cloudy Skies to each student and go over the directions. Explain that they will research their information online as a group; however, each student is responsible for completing their own worksheet.
  5. If there is time, have students go to "GLOBE Cloud Exploration" Web site to view a slide show of cloud types and then take the online quiz!

Day Three - Elaboration Activity:

Using what students have learned in the exploration activity, challenge them to become weather watchers by observing and tracking clouds in their area. Using one of the data charts below, students will record local cloud and weather conditions daily for one week.

Note: Each student will need seven copies of the data sheet.

  1. Explain to students that they are now prepared to be "Weather Watchers." Using what they've learned about weather instruments and clouds, they will gather weather data and complete a written weather report.
  2. Using one computer/monitor for whole class viewing, or several computer Internet capable computers for student groups, go to the "Anatomy of Clouds" Web site.
  3. Read the introduction together and assign either Recording Observations Data Chart 1 or Chart 2 to be completed in one week or more.
  4. If using Recording Observations Chart 2, review symbols and data chart entries with students while you are on the Web site together.
  5. Optional: Scroll to the "Investigation" template at the Web site and have students copy the template into their notebooks.
  6. To check student accuracy and work, go to the National Weather Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Web site or cut out the local weather from your newspaper or USA Today.
  7. At the end of the week, students will work in small groups to create a graph to represent their data. Students will use their data charts and graphs to complete the questions on Student Worksheet #3: Watching Clouds to write a detailed lab report to be graded as a project. This can be done for homework or in class.


Student Worksheet #1: The Clouds Below rubric:

0-50 pts = 50 pts
0-50 pts = 50 pts

Completed worksheet
Weather satellites newspaper article

Student Worksheet #2: Partly Cloudy Skies rubric:

5 pts each = 20 pts
0-20 pts = 20 pts
0-20 pts = 20 pts
0-10 pts = 10 pts
0-20 pts = 20 pts
0-10 pts = 10 pts

Correctly identifies parts of water cycle
Demonstrates understanding of how clouds form
Do clouds move? Explanation w/supporting details
Description of fog
Contrails paragraph correct
Cloud chart completed

Student Worksheet #3 Watching Clouds Project rubric:

5 pts each = 30 pts
0-30 pt = 30 pts
0-40 pts = 40 pts

Six data questions completed
Graph completed
Lab report completed


  • Conduct this demonstration to make a cloud in a bottle. (Be sure to stress that this activity can only be done with adult supervision!) Get an empty two-liter plastic soda bottle and a match. Put about an inch (2.54 cm) of water into the bottle, light the match, hold it inside the bottle for a few seconds, then drop it inside. Quickly put the cap on and shake the bottle to fill the air inside with moisture. Give the bottle a squeeze. The increased air pressure will warm the air inside. Then release the bottle and allow the lower air pressure in the bottle to cool the air inside. As the air cools, the water vapor inside the bottle should quickly condense on the smoke particles, forming a little cloud. It really works!
  • Extend the "Watching Clouds" observation activity for a month.
  • Use the "Recording Cloud Observations Investigation" template (attached), and have students work in groups to design their own weather investigation.
  • Enroll your class in NASA's S'COOL online cloud observation project at the "The Ceres S'cool Project" Web site.
  • Integrate language arts with the "Cloudy Days Are for Reading and Writing" activity Web site.
  • Integrate mathematics with the "Graphing Temperature Data" project.

Student Worksheet #1: The Clouds Below

Click here for worksheet #1

Student Worksheet #2: Partly Cloudy Skies?

Click here for worksheet #2


Click here for Data Chart 1 and data Chart 2

Student Worksheet #3: Predicting Weather

Click here for worksheet #3

Click here for printable versions of all student worksheets and data observation charts

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