Coriolis Effect Activity

Laura Reiser Wetzel, Eckerd College
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The Coriolis Effect is the deflection of moving objects when they are viewed in a rotating reference frame. In oceanography, we are most interested in how the Coriolis Effect moves winds and ocean currents on the rotating Earth. This activity is a simple demonstration for students to understand the Coriolis Effect by drawing arrows as they rotate a double-sided copy of the northern and southern hemispheres. My goal was to create something simple for students to use themselves to understand the Coriolis Effect.

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I use this activity in my introductory level Geological Oceanography course for freshmen entering our Marine Science major.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should complete the activity in class as the instructor is describing the Coriolis Effect.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is done in 10-15 minutes in the lecture part of the course to reinforce concepts related to the Coriolis Effect.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The Coriolis Effect can be a confusing concept. Students better understand the concept by drawing lines representing the movement of objects over the northern and southern hemispheres.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Students work in pairs, so it is also my hope that students discuss the concepts amongst themselves to further reinforce the material.

Description and Teaching Materials

All materials needed are provided: student handout, instructor's notes, and answer key.

The student handout is a single double-sided or two single-sided sheets. I aligned the north and south pole on each side, so one hole through the paper should work. If the poles aren't aligned, try the PDF version or print single sided. Hand out a copy of this sheet to everyone in class.

There are no instructions on the student handout, so the instructor may lead students through the activity using the detailed notes provided or their own methods for understanding the Coriolis Effect. An answer key is also provided to help the instructor evaluate student drawings. I recommend using an overhead to demonstrate rotating the student handout and to show the expected answers.
Student Handout for Coriolis Effect Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 447kB May31 17)
Student Handout for Coriolis Effect Activity, PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 341kB May31 17)
Instructor Notes for Coriolis Effect Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 141kB May31 17)
Instructor Notes for Coriolis Effect Activity, PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 110kB May31 17)
Answer Key for Coriolis Effect Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 90kB May31 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The Coriolis Effect can be a very confusing concept for students. The instructor file provides step-by-step instructions to lead students through the activity.


The instructor can review the concepts in class and ask questions of the students to ensure their understanding. To assess understanding, it would be fun to create a planet that has different continents, indicate the direction of rotation, and discuss how the Coriolis Effect would move winds and currents in this new scenario.

References and Resources