Storm Watch: Knowing What To Do

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, Science and Technology, Atmospheric Science

Standards Alignment - National Science Education Standards

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Risks and benefits
    • Students should understand the risks associated with natural hazards (fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.)
    • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks.
  • Science and Technology in Society
    • Technology influences society through its products and processes.
    • Technology influences the quality of life and the ways people act and interact
  • Earth and Space Science
    • Structure of the Earth system
      • Severe weather is weather that can cause property damage and even deaths.
      • Flooding is a natural stage in the development of a stream and will continue to occur as the river system matures.
      • A tornado is a violent, whirling column of air that is in contact with the ground, which can result in extensive damage

Time Required

Three 45-minute classes

Internet Resources

NOAA's National Weather Service General Severe Weather Safety Guide:
NOAA's National Weather Service Tornado guide:
Looking at Severe Weather - Lightning and Tornados:
Teacher Information:

Lesson Goal

Students will learn the types of severe weather, how storms form, the damage storms cause to humans and the environment, and how to stay safe in a storm.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will make their own “Tornado in a Bottle” to better understand how a vortex works.
  • Students will research types of severe weather and the effect it has on humans and the environment.
  • Students will learn how to stay safe in a violent storm.
  • Students will create severe storm public service announcement (PSA) brochures to demonstrate their understanding of storms.
  • Students will work in groups to present a skit about severe weather facts.

Prerequisite Knowledge

  • Computer/Internet experience
  • Vocabulary terms: vortex, storm surge, hypothermia


  • Lightning is not dangerous.
  • Thunderstorms do not cause other severe weather conditions.
  • Hail, lightning, and thunder do not happen during a tornado.
  • Standing under a tree will provide protection from a thunderstorm.
  • Driving away from a tornado will keep you safe.

Classroom Resources

  • One clean plastic bottle (12-20 oz) with screw-on cap - one per student
  • One teaspoon of dishwashing liquid per bottle
  • One or two drops of food coloring per bottle
  • Water to fill each bottle 3⁄4 full
  • Optional: Glitter
  • Paper towels
  • One computer with Internet access for eight groups of students, or copies of the General Severe Weather Safety Guide at:
  • Notebook paper
  • Group information gathered in Day 2 (see procedures below)
  • Computer paper
  • Markers/colored pencils

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

Day One - Engagement Activity:

Introduce severe storms with the Tornado in a Bottle activity. Do not tell students what the materials are to be used for yet!


  • One clean, plastic bottle (12-20 oz) with screw-on cap: one per student
  • One teaspoon dishwashing liquid per bottle
  • One or two drops of food coloring per bottle
  • Water to fill each bottle 3⁄4 full
  • Optional: Glitter
  • Paper towels
  1. Inform students that they will begin studying different types of storms. Discuss what types of storms they feel are violent or dangerous.
  2. Assemble the materials to make a "Tornado in a Bottle". Students should have brought in empty, clean plastic bottles with screw-on caps. If every student does not have a bottle, have him or her work with someone who does.
  3. Ask students to predict what the lab materials will be used for but do not mention tornadoes. Most students will have seen this tornado model before and should come up with the answer.
  4. Allow students to fill their bottles 3⁄4 full of water. You should add one or two drops of food coloring and the dishwashing liquid to each bottle of water.
  5. If you are using glitter, you should now sprinkle some into each bottle.
  6. Tell students to screw the cap on tightly and shake their bottle for 20 seconds, turn the bottle upside down (cap is on the bottom), and give the bottle a good twist with the wrist! Presto! A miniature tornado.
  7. Ask students to observe the movement of the tornado and the glitter. What can they determine about the movement of a tornado and things in its path?

Day 2 - Exploration Activity:

This lesson introduces the forms of severe weather and its safety hazards. As students research the questions about severe weather, they will become aware of the warning signs and actions to be taken if they should be faced with one of these conditions.


  • One computer with Internet access for eight groups of students, or copies of the "General Severe Weather Safety guide" Web site
  • Notebook paper
  1. Organize students into eight groups. Assign each group one of the severe weather topics: Tornadoes and Severe Winds; Hail from Thunderstorms; Lightning; Flooding; Hurricanes and Storm Surge; Extreme Cold; Extreme Heat.
  2. Direct students to the National Weather Service Web site: "General Severe Weather Safety guide."
  3. Give students 30 minutes to research the answers to these questions:
    • What is the greatest danger?
    • What should you do?
    • What shouldn’t you do?
    • Is the weather condition caused by a thunderstorm?
    • What are the weather conditions?
  4. Although students are doing the Internet research in groups, each student should be recording the answers to the questions in his or her own notebook for future reference.
  5. Using the answers to the severe weather questions, each group will share his or her information with the class.
  6. Students will keep this information (or you can collect it) for another lab activity.

Day Three - Elaboration Activity:

Using the information gathered in the Elaboration Activity-Day 2, students will demonstrate their understanding of the dangers of a storm and the proper safety steps to take if they encounter a severe storm.


  • Group information gathered on Day 2
  • Computer paper
  • Markers/colored pencils
  1. Review the severe weather information from the Elaboration Activity with students.
  2. Each student will design a “SEVERE WEATHER” colorful PSA (Public Service Announcement) brochure using the information gathered in the Elaboration Activity.
  3. Cut sheets of computer paper in half so that each student receives two 8 1⁄2 x 5 1⁄2 pieces. The brochure will consist of two pages, front and back and include:

Cover Page = 25 pts
Safety Tips = 25 pts
Dangers = 25 pts
Causes of the storm = 25 pts


  • Storm brochures will be graded using the rubric above.
  • Group students together by type of storm and have the group present a skit that acts out the information in its brochure.


  • Go to "Tornado guide" and download the “Disaster Supplies Kit” and have each student make a kit for his or her family
  • Incorporate Language Arts with creative writing stories about student experiences in a storm
  • Research tornado data and plot it on a graph - see website: "Looking at Severe Weather: Lightning and Tornados: Activity No. 3" and have students graph the data found in Table 3.1. National Deaths by Year for 1988 – 1990.
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