Investigating Clouds: How do clouds form? What are the different types of clouds?

Kris Hagemeyer, Pike Lake Elementary, Proctor Public Schools
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Initial Publication Date: August 5, 2008


In this investigation the students will observe and learn about the different types of clouds through observation and investigation. They will also observe an experiment illustrating how clouds form.

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Learning Goals

This activity is designed for 3rd graders to observe the clouds they see over a week, learn to identify types of clouds, and explain in their own words how clouds form. The children will be observing, questioning, drawing, writing, and experimenting during this process. Key vocabulary words: clouds, weather, cirrus, cumulus, and stratus, evaporation, condensation

Context for Use

This activity is designed for cooperative small groups and a whole group experiment. It is designed for an entire class and could be done in a typical classroom. Time: The students will be observing clouds and journaling for four days before we actually conduct the experiment. The observation and discussion time would be approximately 20 minutes each day. The cloud formation experiment and lesson will take approximately 30 minutes. Materials: science journal for each student, 1 glass jar, hot water, 1 small metal tray, ice cubes, and a piece of black construction paper.

Description and Teaching Materials

5 Day Plan

Day 1: Ask students what they see when they look in the sky. Have them make a list in their science journal. Once someone has mentioned clouds, ask each student to write down in their journal what they think clouds are and how they form. Then ask a few students to share what they wrote. Explain how over the next week they will be observing, drawing, and writing about clouds.

Day 2: Take students outside for 10-15 minutes of cloud observation. They should draw and write down ideas and observations about the clouds they see that day. Encourage them to write down/draw what they see for clouds, weather, direction clouds are moving, are the clouds high or low etc. Then introduce the terms cirrus, cumulus, and stratus. Give them examples of the three types of clouds and characteristics of each. Now during their observations, they can use the new vocabulary words and also write down what kind of weather usually accompanies each type of cloud.

Day 3: Continue observations and drawings outside. Have the students share with their small groups. Spend a little time reviewing the different types of clouds.

Day 4: Continue observations and drawings outside. Have the students share with their small groups. Spend a little time reviewing the different types of clouds.

Day 5: After 4 days of observations, ask the students if they know what clouds are made of. Tell them you are going to do a simple experiment to teach them how clouds form. Explain to the students that you will perform this experiment for the class because it involves very hot water.

Experiment Procedure:

Fill the glass jar half-full with very hot water
Place the metal tray on top of the jar
Place ice cubes in the tray
Hold the sheet of black construction paper behind the experiment. This makes it easier for students to see the cloud as it forms in the top of the jar.

The students will witness a cloud form. Have them write and draw what they observed and concluded about how clouds form in their journal. Share their observations and conclusions. Have the following discussion: Ask them why they think it happened. What happens to water as it sits still? (water evaporates) What happened as the evaporating water (water vapor) came in contact with the ice cubes? (ice cooled the water vapor inside the jar; the water vapor changed, or condensed into water droplets or a cloud formed). How does this experiment help you to understand how clouds form in the sky? (water evaporates from land; as water vapor rises into the atmosphere, it cools; the water vapor condenses into water droplets on dust and clouds form).

Closure: Review what they have observed over the past 5 days. What are the different types of clouds and why do clouds form? How can you predict the weather by looking at the clouds? Cloud Quiz (Microsoft Word 27kB May26 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips

I believe this plan would work for 3rd-5th graders. There may be days where there are not clouds to observe. You can make adjustments as needed for this. It would be great if the students could be in groups for the experiment, but I teach third grade and I feel the hot water would be too dangerous for them to handle. A teacher could make this call for upper elementary students. The first time I tried this experiment we had a hard time seeing the cloud. I added an extinguished match and then we could easily see the cloud form. The match added the dust particles. Please try it ahead of time to see if you need the match.


Students will be assessed on notes, observations, and drawings recorded in their journals. Students will also be assessed by teacher observations during the 5 day plan. There will be a short quiz at the end of the week.



References and Resources