Use these free STEM lessons and activities to explore weather science and climate with K-12 students.
Weather science appears at various points in the K-12 science curriculum. Many elements of weather are easily observable by students of all ages, which makes teaching introductory weather concepts accessible to even the youngest of students. Evidence of “weather” can be felt in the air (do you need a jacket today?), observed in how a kite flies or how the trees move (is it windy?), or seen in the form of rain drops, snowflakes, or fog. As they continue to learn about weather science, students move from qualitative to quantitative observations. With simple tools, they can take measurements, gather and record data, and then analyze their data to make connections and draw conclusions. [See the bottom of this resource for additional summary information about teaching K-12 students about weather science.]
The free STEM lessons and activities below cover the relationship between the Sun and temperatures on Earth; how the water cycle creates patterns of precipitation; how tools like thermometers, barometers, and anemometers work to measure weather variables; how meteorologists make predictions about (or forecast) the weather; how weather patterns are related to seasons and the tilt of the Earth in relation to the Sun; how understanding weather patterns is important for the development of alternative energy solutions; and more.
To make it easy to locate materials for teaching a specific weather topic, the lessons below have been grouped as follows:
Note: Science Buddies Lesson Plans contain materials to support educators leading hands-on STEM learning with students. Lesson Plans offer NGSS alignment, contain background materials to boost teacher confidence, even in areas that may be new to them, and include supplemental resources like worksheets, videos, discussion questions, and assessment materials.
Lesson Plans and Activities to Teach About Weather
Classroom Weather Station
In the Weather Stations and Weather Forecasts: Can You Do It Yourself? lesson, students make various weather monitoring tools that function as part of a DIY weather station. With these tools, students can observe and collect weather-related data, learn about weather patterns and weather forecasting. The weather station lesson incorporates lessons for building simple weather monitoring instruments like an anemometer, a hygrometer, a thermometer, and a rain gauge. The lesson includes a weather forecasting activity to do with students using the weather data they collect. Questions: Why do weather patterns vary from place to place? How far in advance can meteorologists predict the weather?
Even though the Sun is about 93 million miles away, some of the light it radiates reaches Earth. In the How Sunlight Warms the Earth lesson, students experiment to see how the Sun’s light warms up the surface of materials on Earth. Using cups filled with different materials, such as soil, water, and rocks, students explore what happens to each material when the cups are placed in sun or shade. (Note: Thermometers are discussed in this lesson, but observations of temperature in the activity are qualitative and do not use a thermometer.) Question: Why do some materials warm up more or less than others after sitting in the sun?
In the Make a Thermometer to Study the Temperature lesson, students make simple liquid thermometers they can use to observe differences in temperature at different times of the day. These thermometers won’t provide absolute quantitative measurements, but students will be able to see relative temperature changes. (Tip: A shorter activity version is also available for informal use.) These thermometers can be used as part of a larger classroom weather station (see above) for a comprehensive weather unit. Questions: How can we use a liquid inside a thermometer to tell how hot or cold it is? What happens to the liquid inside the thermometer when it cools down or heats up?
In the Make a Rain Gauge to Study Precipitation lesson, students learn about precipitation and the importance of measuring precipitation. Using a rain gauge is one way to monitor rainfall. Students explore the function and design of a rain gauge and then make their own. Using a hose or homemade “rain maker” watering cans, students can experiment with how a rain gauge works and why rain gauges of varying sizes should record the same amount of rainfall. Question: Why and how do meteorologists collect data about rainfall?
In the Make a Hygrometer to Measure Humidity lesson, students learn about water vapor and humidity and use a strand of human hair as part of a homemade hygrometer, a device that helps monitor changes in humidity. Questions: Why is there water vapor in the air? Why does the amount of water vapor change? What types of weather are associated with humidity? Can you ever see examples of water vapor in the air?
The Earth’s water cycle is a perpetual, natural recycling system that results in fresh water on Earth. In the Make a Miniature Water Cycle Model activity, students learn about the water cycle and make a miniature model in a plastic bag that helps them visualize how water moves in and out of the atmosphere in a cycle of precipitation, evaporation, and condensation. The model also enables discussion about how the water cycle includes water that soaks into land, runs off mountains, and gets absorbed by plants. Explanatory information covers infiltration, transpiration, sublimation, and surface runoff. Questions: Why does the water cycle require the Sun? Why is the water cycle important for life on Earth?
70% of Earth’s surface is covered in water. Thanks to the naturally occuring hydrologic cycle (water cycle), water on Earth is constantly shifting state and moving between land, the oceans, and the atmosphere. While the distribution of water may differ, the total amount of water on Earth stays (approximately) the same as the water is continuously recycled. The water on Earth today is estimated to be more than a billion years old! In the Make a Water Cycle Model lesson, students learn about the water cycle and how this naturally recycling system is powered by energy from the sun and the force of gravity. Building a physical model of the water cycle in a transparent box and with a lamp as a heat source, students will observe evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, and surface runoff. Questions: How is the water cycle connected to weather patterns? What drives the water cycle?
In the Make an Anemometer to Measure Wind Speed lesson, students build a model anemometer from paper cups and then experiment to see how the speed at which it spins relates to the strength of the “wind” from a fan. Question: Other than by meteorologists, how are anemometers used in the world?
In the Wild Wind! Making Weather Vanes to Find Prevailing Winds lesson, students learn about global, prevailing, and local winds. While the direction of local winds may vary throughout the day, most wind in an area comes from the same (prevailing) direction. For engineers, understanding typical prevailing wind patterns would be important in effectively designing and positioning electricity-generating windmills, for example, or developing other solutions to harness wind for energy. To explore wind direction, students make wind vanes out of paper, straws, and soda bottles. They then monitor local winds and use their data to complete a Wind Rose diagram that helps show prevailing wind direction at a glance. Questions: What causes winds? What are the differences between global winds, prevailing winds, and local winds?
10. Cool Sea Breeze
In the Create a Sea Breeze activity, students investigate why there is often a cool breeze blowing from the ocean to the shore. Using a simple model with containers of sand and ice water, students experiment to see what happens to the smoke from a stick of incense held between the two containers. Testing with the materials at different temperatures helps demonstrate how differences in local air pressure result in the movement of air (or air flow). Questions: Why might the air pressure above the beach differ from the air pressure above the ocean water? How do air pressure differences cause air movements?
Air Pressure & Atmospheric Science
In the Measure the Pressure activity, students learn about atmospheric (air) pressure and the function of a barometer. Making a model barometer using a balloon and a glass jar and manipulating the atmospheric pressure inside the jar, students will observe how the barometer works to show changes in air pressure. Question: How are changes in air pressure sometimes related to short-term changes in weather?
Depending on the time of day and the weather, you might describe the sky as blue, or pink, or purple, or grey, or a combination of colors! Light from the sun is white light. It contains all the colors, which we can see in rainbow form when light is refracted by a prism. In the Sky Science lesson, students explore how the colors we see in the sky are related to how light from the sun passes through our atmosphere. Questions: Why is the sky viewed from the Moon always dark, but the sky viewed from Earth seems to have many colors at different times of the day? How does milk act like the Earth’s atmosphere in this experiment? How does weather relate to the colors we see in the sky? (Note: For an informal exploration of sky colors, see the Sunset Colors in a Glass activity. In this activity, students use white light to create a simulated sunset in a jar!)
Rainbows are sometimes visible in the sky after it rains, but why? In the How Many Colors in a Rainbow? activity, students experiment with creating rainbows using a pan of water, the sun, and sheets of colored paper. Refraction of light creates the colors we see in a rainbow (or when using a prism). After it rains, rain drops in the atmosphere act like prisms through which light from the Sun refracts. We see a rainbow! Questions: Why are there different colors in a rainbow? How does the order of colors in a rainbow correspond to the wavelengths of visible light? How does the science of refraction and the wavelengths of colored light help explain the shape of a rainbow?
Note: For more lessons on the physics of light, see Teach About Visible Light Science.
Weather and Seasons
In the Seasonal Science: The Reasons for the Seasons activity, students do a hands-on experiment with a flashlight, a box, and paper to simulate how the tilt of the Earth affects the angle at which light from the Sun reaches the Earth. Doing this activity, students will be able to correlate the tilt of the Earth in relation to the Sun to how cold or warm it is on Earth and, as a result, which season it is. Question: Why are the seasons different in the Northern versus Southern hemisphere?
In the Birthday Season Weather Report lesson, students identify patterns and changes that go along with the four seasons. As they create “weather report cards” for the seasons, they will analyze how weather conditions change between seasons. Question: How do living things adapt to the different seasons?
Note: For more STEM lessons and science activities related to specific seasons, see Fall Science – Free STEM Activities for Autumn Fun and Winter Science Lessons and Activities.
Teaching About Weather in K-12
As students learn about weather and what causes weather patterns and changes, they also make connections to seasons and the water cycle. Beginning in upper elementary grades and continuing through high school, students can build upon weather science concepts to explore climate on both local and global levels. With global climate change and global warming being important challenges faced by Earth today and in the future, learning about weather science and understanding the connections between other aspects of human society and weather is important for all students.
The following word bank contains words that may be covered when teaching about weather using the lessons and activities in this resource.
- Air pressure
- Autumn (Fall)
- Celsius scale
- Climate change
- Dew point
- Fahrenheit scale
- Global warming
- Hydrologic cycle
- Rain gauge
- Surface runoff
- Water cycle
- Water vapor
- Weather forecast
- Weather map
- Weather pattern
- Weather station
- Wind speed
- Wind vane
Collections like this help educators find themed activities in a specific subject area or discover activities and lessons that meet a curriculum need. We hope these collections make it convenient for teachers to browse related lessons and activities. For other collections, see the Teaching Science Units and Thematic Collections lists. We encourage you to browse the complete STEM Activities for Kids and Lesson Plans areas, too. Filters are available to help you narrow your search.
Development of this resource to support educators teaching K-12 STEM curriculum topics was made possible by generous support from the Donaldson Foundation.