MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > High and Low Pressure

High and Low Pressure

Channon Fulda, Cromwell Wright School, Cromwell, MN based on an original activity from Shirley Gaug, Anthony, KS
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In this classroom activity, students will discuss and also have a hands on reference for high and low pressure. Air movement can be confusing for students to conceptualize. This activity will help with understanding high and low pressure behavior.

Learning Goals

As a result of this activity, students will be able to:
1. Describe a high pressure area.
2. Describe a low pressure area.
3. Identify a front.
4. Explain why a high pressure area seeks a low pressure area.

Context for Use

This activity is for grades 3-6. It could be used for any standard classroom size. Both classroom discussion as well as a hands on activity are used in this lesson. The lesson can be completed in one science time slot. Depending on if you are adding anything else to the lesson, another demonstration or story, you would need 30-50 minutes. Balloons are needed along with scissors or pins, but in the classroom scissors are more readily available. This lesson should be included in a weather or atmosphere unit. It probably wouldn't be used alone unless you are reviewing the air pressure concept.

Subject: Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Meteorology
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Weather, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Atmospheric Science

Description and Teaching Materials

MATERIALS: Teacher made or student made signs indicating high or low pressure
Balloons, scissors or pins

1. Tell the class to imagine that all of the students in every class in the school were tightly packed into their classroom with standing room only. All doors and windows were closed. This room would then be a high pressure area.
2. Now imagine that there is no one in the hall outside the classroom. It is totally empty. The hall is then a low pressure area.
3. Someone opens the door. Where then would the students in the classroom want to go? Where does high pressure want to go? Yes, out the door or to a low pressure area.
4 Discuss the occurrence at the doorway. Could the flow be slow and easy? Fast and furious?
5. Now imagine that some students were moving from right to left or in a counterclockwise direction in the hallway. As the students moved out of the classroom, they were allowed to exit only by moving left to right or in a clockwise direction. Ask for ideas about what might happen... pile ups (clouds), bumping and rubbing or friction happening (lightning)...
6. Have students blow up balloons in pairs. They will leave a peak in the top of the balloon. Instruct them to tie the end and remain holding it securely. The second student will then either cut off the peak (anvil cloud) or prick it with a pin. The student holding the balloon will release it simultaneously. This activity represents a cumulonimbus cloud. The peak of the balloon represents the part of the cloud that becomes the anvil that occurs when jet stream passes over and may cause a tornado like the one they just experienced.
7. Students may actively participate by wearing signs indicating they are part of the high or low area. They would then move in the clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Other students could represent the front that occurs where they meet.

1. Use newspaper weather maps to give students practice in predicting the weather.
2. Allow students to examine an aneroid barometer.
3. Students will then build their own barometer with pop cans and straws.
4. Design a map with an imaginary area showing highs and lows. Each student must predict the weather for the spot marked "X" on the map and explain in several sentences using the correct vocabulary why he/she believes his/her prediction to be correct.
This lesson and information is based off of a lesson by Shirley Gaug, Anthony Elementary, Anthony, KS.

Teaching Notes and Tips

There are many other demonstrations that can be used to demonstrate air pressure (boiling water in a pop can to cold water, cloud in a bottle, and many more). These could also be used within the water to make things more fun and interesting but also to make sure that students have the full understanding of air pressure. There are also many books that could be helpful with this concept.
Here are a few:
What will the weather be? By Lynda DeWitt
Wind and air pressure by Alan Rodgers, Angella Streluk
Air (Science Alive! Series)by Darlene Lauw, Lim Cheng Puay
I haven't yet used this lesson but I personally wouldn't use the pin option unless the kids would be responsible with them. It is an option and could give different results, but safety is an issue.


I would have students journal about what they saw, what they learned and any information that they thought was relevant in this lesson. They would also be turning in their predicting weather portion of the activity.


5.III.A.5-Atmosphere interactions

References and Resources