Clouds and Precipitation Lesson
This is part 3 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Make clouds in a bottle, create rain, build rain gauges, form and eat clouds, and more! My lessons are geared toward 2nd-3rd grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet weekly for 2 1/2 hours and have 14 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school program, camp, or co-op!
Introduction to the Hydrologic Cycle
*Please bring an empty water bottle, markers, and glue (not glue sticks) for each of your children.*
1. Stretch. Pray. Read & discuss Job 37:10-13
2. Review what learned about seasons, air pressure, and wind.
3. Read most of a book about hydrologic cycle: Down Comes the Rain by Franklyn M. Branley.
YOU WILL NEED: Down Comes the Rain by Franklyn M. Branley
4. Quickly review the water cycle. Have the children wiggle their fingers going upward as the say, "evaporation", clasp their hands together above their heads as they say, "condensation," and wiggle their fingers in a downward motion as they say, "precipitation." Repeat that a few times.
5. If you have a larger group, you can divide the children into 3 groups and have each group rotate between the below first 3 stations. If you have a smaller group (15 children or less), they can do these activities together.
Book to read for Activity 4
This is the book we read during class. It does a great job of explaining the water cycle and has nice illustrations that held the attention of the children.
Station 1: Make Rain
6a. Station 1: Make Rain.
- While children are listening to the book being read, begin boiling water in a large skillet or pot.
- Quickly review the process of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.
- Hold a saucepan or pot filled with ice water over the skillet.
- As you wait for water droplets to form on the bottom of the saucepan, discuss the three states of matter in water form (ice=solid, liquid water=liquid, & vapor/steam=gas).
- As the liquid water boils, the water molecules move a lot more and start flying out of the skillet in the form of water vapor/gas. As they hit the cold saucepan, they stop moving around as much, bunch together, and form liquid water again. They drop back down into the skillet as "rain."
- Review how water molecules move like air molecules: when cold, they are tightly packed and barely move (ice). Have the children scrunch up together and barely move. As the sun heats them up, they separate a little more and can move a little more (liquid water). Have children move apart a little more and move a bit more. As they get very hot they can move around a bunch (vapor/steam). Have kids move around a lot around the entire kitchen. Then they start to cool off and what happens? They start to slow down a bit and move a bit closer together. Have the children slow down and get closer as they form water droplets and liquid water. If they get too cold, what happens? They stop moving at all and freeze together. Have the children stand together and stand still.
YOU WILL NEED: a large skillet, pot, or tea kettle and a saucepan
Station 2A: Make a Cloud Rain
6b. Station 2A: Make a Cloud Rain: a. Make a cloud rain: Place a newspaper or other item on the table to protect it. Ahead of time fill a clear container (such as a medium-size mason jar or a large clear disposable drinking cup) about 2/3 full of water. When the children arrive, add a puffy layer of shaving cream on top. Explain that the water represents air and the shaving cream represents a cloud, which is made up of lots of tiny droplets of water or ice. Let the children take turns adding a few drops of food coloring at a time to the top of the shaving cream. Eventually they will see the food dye "rain" down through the shaving cream into the water/air. Ask the children to think about why clouds are able to float. (The simple answer: water and ice droplets are very light.) Ask "Why do clouds sometimes make rain?" (The bigger the cloud gets, the more the water droplets bang together and grow. Eventually they get so heavy, they fall to the ground. Scientists think it has to do with the water droplets freezing onto tiny particles of dust or bacteria inside the cloud, called cloud seeds, causing them to become heavy and fall to the ground. Sometimes people try to make it rain by sending planes to shoot dust into clouds, a process known as cloud seeding.) While the kids make the rain gauge (below), clean out your glass & re-fill it with fresh water in preparation for the next group. The information came from ehow.com (and you can also go here to see photos).
YOU WILL NEED: a newspaper or other item to protect the table, a clear container (such as a medium-size mason jar or a large clear disposable drinking cup) about two-thirds full of water, a can of shaving cream, & a new box of food coloring (the kind that has 4 colors)
Station 2B: Make a Rain Gauge
6b. Station 2B: Make a Rain Gauge:
- While children are listening to the book getting read about the water cycle, work with another mom to cutting 1/4 way down each of the water bottles that the children should have brought if they were not already cut. Be careful to cut the edge as smoothly as possible, salvaging both pieces of the bottle.
- When children come to your station, have them remove the bottle cap from the water bottle and turn the top part of the bottle upside down, placing it into the bottom part of the water bottle. If possible, connect the two halves with paper clips.
- Using a permanent marker and a ruler, children should mark off every 1/4 inch on the bottle. Children should also write their names on the bottles and can decorate them with the marker if they have extra time.
- Tell the children to put their water gauge outside their home either in a pile of sand, or they can dig a hole for it so that it won't tip over from the wind. Adding pebbles to the bottom would also help, though the measurements would need to be adjusted.
YOU WILL NEED: 2 pairs of sharp scissors, 2 large paper clips per child, 4 permanent markers, 4 rulers
Station 3: Dew Point and Frost
6c. Station 3: Dew Point and Frost
- Dew point: Ask the children if they can see water in the air. Those who already went to Station 1 got to see steam rise. Tell them that even though we usually can't see it, all air has some moisture in it.
- Pour 1 cup of water into a soup can. Place a thermometer into the can and have one of the children read the temperature of the water. Write the temperature down on a sheet of paper. Add a handful of ice cubes to the water and stir it around.
- Tell the children to let you know when they see water droplets form on the outside of the can. As soon as they do, have a child read the temperature of the water and write that temperature down on the sheet of paper.
- Ask the children, "Where did the water come from that formed on the outside of the can?" (From the water in the air.) The temperature that we recorded when those drops started forming on the outside of the can is called dew point.
- Ask the children when and where they normally see dew. Ask them why they would see dew at those times and places.
- Frost: Now let the children mix lots of crushed ice with 1/2 cup of salt inside a second soup can.
- Tell the children to let you know when frost forms on the outside of the can. When it does, have one of the children read the temperature of the ice inside the can using a thermometer. Write that temperature on the sheet of paper.
- Ask the children where the frost came from. (The water in the air) Ask, "Why did it freeze into frost rather than form water droplets like what just happened with the dew point? What is the difference between the frost temperature and the dew point temperature reading?" (The temperature inside the can was below freezing so the air around it cooled quickly. This caused the water vapor to condense directly into tiny ice crystals. We call this process sublimation.
- Ask the children if they have ever woken up in the morning and seen frost covering the plants outside. Have them describe what the temperature was like outside and what the plants looked like.
- Quickly mention how precipitation comes in various forms. It can rain, hail, sleet, or snow. It all comes from water in the air just like what happened on our cans. If the temperature is warmer, we'll get rain like the droplets we got on our dew point can. If the temperature is really cold (below freezing), we'll get sleet or snow like we got on our frost can.
YOU WILL NEED: 2 empty cans with labels removed (like what soup or canned vegetables would come in), thermometer, 1 1/2 cups of salt, 1/2 cup measuring cup, a piece of paper & pencil
7. Bring all the children back together and ask what they learned about the water cycle.
Types of Precipitation
8. (Optional - for older children) Draw and illustrate a "Rain, Hail, Sleet, or Snow" chart (which comes from "Weather" by Brenda Wyma.)
- Have children fold their paper into 4 squares and then draw lines over the creases to make 4 boxes. Then have them draw a dotted line across the middle of each of the boxes.
- Hail: Have children write the word, "HAIL" in the top left box. Ask, "At what temperature does water freeze?" (32F or 0C). Have the children write "Colder than 32F" above the dotted line and "Warmer than 32F" below the dotted line in that box. Have the children draw a large cloud in that box. As the top of the cloud, have them write "Ice particles." On the bottom left hand side, have them draw and arrow and write the word, "Air." Have them draw circles dropping from the cloud. Explain: Tiny ice particles collect water while air pushes them up and down and up and down and up and down through a section of a cloud colder than 32F. When they get too heavy, they fall to the ground. If you cut open a hailstone, it would look like an onion since each layer freezes on top of the next layer.
- Rain: In the top box on the left hand side, have the children write the word, "RAIN." Have them write "Warmer than 32F" below the dotted line in that box. Have them draw a large cloud with water drops falling from the bottom. Across the cloud have them write, "water vapor = condensation." Explain: Both the temperature of the clouds and the air must be above 32F. Who has ever heard the expressing, "It's raining cats and dogs"? There are no records of it raining cats and dogs (an expression used to describe very heavy rain). However, there are records of it raining frogs, fish, and snakes. Scientists think some strong winds probably picked up the animals and they came down in the rain.
- Snow: In the bottom left box have the children write, "SNOW." Have them write "Colder than 32F" above and below the dotted line in that box. On the left bottom side, have them draw an arrow pointing upward and have them write, "Moist air" over the arrow. Have them draw a cloud above the dotted line. Inside the cloud have them write, "Condensation." Have them draw an arrow going down from the cloud, past the dotted line and then draw snowflakes below the arrow. Explain: A moist wind that is colder than 32F makes contact with a cloud. All snowflakes have 6 sides. God makes every single snowflake that falls completely unique. Not a single snowflake is exactly like another snowflake. God made each of us unique too. There is not a single person out there who is exactly like you.
- Sleet: In the bottom right box have the children write "SLEET." In the left bottom corner have them draw an arrow going up. Above the arrow have them write, "Freezing air." Have them draw a cloud above the dotted line. Inside the cloud have them write "water vapor=condensation." Have them draw 3 arrows going down from the cloud past the dotted line. Below the arrows have them draw slanted lines to represent the sleet. Explain: Rain from a warm cloud falls through freezing air to create slushy ice that falls from the sky.
YOU WILL NEED: (per child) a sheet of paper and rulers
9. Ask, "What 4 types of precipitation come from clouds?"
Clouds in a Bottle
10. Make a cloud in a bottle. Divide children into 3 groups and have a mom lead each group in making a cloud in the bottle.
- Add a small amount of hot water to the 2L bottle. Screw on the cap and have a child shake it up so that water droplets are sticking to the inside of the bottle. Then pour out the remaining water.
- Light a match and drop it into the bottle. Shake the bottle a bit so that the match burns out. The smoke adds one of ingredient for cloud formation = dust.
- Quickly screw the cap back on the bottle and let each child shake it once. Now you have another ingredient for clouds = water
- Using both hands, squeeze the center of the bottle as hard as you can. Then, release both hands quickly and evenly. You are now replicating another ingredient for clouds = temperature and pressure changes. Let the children each take a turn squeezing the bottle, and then you (the teacher) should squeeze it as hard as you can a few times. You should see a bit of fog. If you don't see clouds form, go to a dark room (like the bathroom) and shine a flashlight on the bottle.
YOU WILL NEED: three 2-liter soda bottles, 6 matches (at least), warm water, & flashlights
11. Bring children together again. Ask children to name the 4 ingredients that form clouds.
12. Read a book about clouds: Clouds by Anne Rockwell.
YOU WILL NEED: Clouds by Anne Rockwell.
Book to read for Activity 12
This is the book we read during co-op. It provides descriptions and drawings of the 10 major types of clouds and gives a brief explaination about each one. The illustrations kept the attention of the children.
Cloud Mural Option A (for older children)
Great for ages 7+
13a. Make a cloud mural of the main types of clouds.
- As the children draw and paste, show actual pictures of each of the clouds. Discuss what their Latin names mean along with what weather they bring.
- Use fuzzy white yarn strips for cirrus clouds, strips of white gauze for stratus clouds, and cotton balls for cumulus clouds. Pass out a marker or pen and a blue sheet of paper to each child. On the far left side of the paper have the children write, "40,000'" at the very top, "20,000'" slightly below that, "10,000'" feet below that, and "6,500'" just above the bottom. Explain that these represent how many feet above the ground the clouds form.
- At the top of the blue sheet of paper next to the "40,000'" paste short strips of fuzzy white yarn and label them "Cirrus." Cirrus clouds mean fair weather and they can be found high up in the sky.
- Below that paste a few TINY dots of gauze and label them "Cirrostratus" which means rain or snow is coming in 1-2 days.
- Next to where you wrote "20,000'" paste 3 TINY dots of cotton balls and label them "Cirriccumulus."
- Next to that paste 3 slightly stretched out cotton balls stacked one above the other that extend from 20,000 feet to 6,500 feet. Label this "Cumulonimbus" and use a black marker to color the bottom of the cotton ball black. Draw lightening strikes coming from the bottom along with thick streaks of rain.
- Next to this paste a strip of gauze and label it "altostratus." Draw some drops of water coming from this cloud.
- Below this paste 3 small pieces of cotton ball and label them "altocumulus."
- Next to the lowest height of "6,500'" take 1 cotton ball and stretch it out and label it "stratocumulus." Put some raindrops under this cloud.
- Paste one cotton ball below that and label it "cumulus" which means fair weather.
- Below that paste a strip of gauze and label it "stratus." Place rain droplets under this.
- Next to the stratus cloud paste another strip of gauze and label this cloud "nimbostratus." Color it black or grey with a marker and draw thick streaks of rain coming from it.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: a sheet of blue paper, a handful of cotton balls, a few strips of white yarn, and a few strips of gauze
Cloud Collage Option B (for younger children)
Great for preschoolers & kindergarten
13b. Very young children can simply create this textured cloud collage by dividing a piece of sky blue paper into 3 columns. Make cirrus clouds in the first column by scribbling with white chalk. Make stratus clouds in the middle column by paining a thick layer of white paint. Make cumulus clouds in the third column by mixing together equal parts of glue and shaving cream and dabbing it on the page. Above the cumulus cloud, make a cumulonimbus cloud by mixing in a small amount of black paint into the glue/shaving cream mixture.
YOU WILL NEED: a sheet of blue paper per child, white chalk, white paint, paintbrushes, shaving cream, Elmer's type glue (not a glue stick), and black paint
Eating Clouds (Snack), Homework, & Review
14. Give each child a scoop of Cool Whip onto a small paper plate and a spoon. Name a cloud shape and have the children form the Cool Whip into a cumulus clouds (individual puff balls), cirrus clouds (dab it across the plate), & stratus clouds (smear it across the entire plate). Talk briefly about each one. Give them a cookie (any variety) to crumble under the Cool Whip to represent the rain falling from the stratus cloud. Have them scoop up all the cookie pieces & cool whip into one large heap. This is a cumulonimbus cloud. Ask, What weather does it bring?" Give them another cookie and allow them to eat the Cool Whip and cookie(s). Also give each child a cup of "rain" (water) to drink.
YOU WILL NEED: 2 containers of Cool Whip, 2 cookies (any variety) per child, 1 small paper plate per child, 1 spoon per child, & 1 small cup for water per child
15. Homework: Pass out a weather chart for the week and and instruct the children to record the temperature, weather, cloud type, and rain amount (if any) each day for the next week. We also passed out the "Cloud Identification Sheet" from "Considering God's Creation" for the children to use in order to identify the clouds.
16. 5 Minute Review of what we learned.
17. (Optional - If you're not limited by time) Read It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Shaw, which is a fun, short book on imagining what clouds look like.
YOU WILL NEED: It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Shaw
18. Go outside. Have the children lay on blankets and watch the clouds. Have them describe the shapes they see in the clouds. See if you can identify different types.
YOU WILL NEED: a blanket for each child to lay on or a nice, grassy area
Material List for the Lesson
(The Material List is written to include cloud mural activity B rather than A.)
*Everyone needs to bring per child:
-an empty water bottle that has been cut about 1/4 of the way down from the top (Cut them all the way through so that it is in 2 parts.)
-Elmer’s glue (not glue sticks)
-paintbrush (the kind that comes with a watercolor paint set)
-blanket or towel to lay on outside
*Items to be assigned to individuals:
(Some items are repeated because you will need multiple ones of those items.)
-Book: "Down Comes the Rain" by Franklyn M. Branley
-Book: "Clouds" by Anne Rockwell
-Book: “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” by Shaw
-a skillet, pot, or tea kettle (will be used for boiling water)
-ice (can get it from the church ice machine in the other building)
-a newspaper or other item to protect the table
-a clear container (such as a medium-size mason jar or a large clear disposable drinking cup) about two-thirds full of water
-a can of shaving cream
-a new box of food coloring (the kind that has 4 colors)
-2 large paper clips per child
-2 empty cans with labels removed (like what soup or canned vegetables would come in)
-thermometer (needs to read temperatures between 32F and 100F)
- 1 1/2 cups of salt
-1/2 cup measuring cup
-a piece of paper & a writing utensil
-a 2-liter soda bottle
-a 2-liter soda bottle
-6 matches (at least)
-a sheet of blue paper per child
-a piece of white chalk per child (They only need a small piece, so you can break a piece of chalk into multiple pieces)
-white paint (such as poster board/tempera paint)
- black paint (such as poster board/tempera paint)
-2 small containers (like small disposable bowls) to hold the paint for every pair of children
-1 can of shaving cream for every 10 children
-something to cover the table (newspaper, tablecloth, etc.)
-2 containers of Cool Whip
-2 cookies (any variety) for each child
-a small paper plate per child
-a spoon per child
-a small cups for water per child
--words to the Cloud song printed from http://www.superteacherworksheets.com/pz-cloud-song.html
Our Favorite Picture Books on Rain & Clouds
Great Books About Rain, the Water Cycle, & Snow
We read so many books for this lesson. These were our favorites:
- Splish, splash! : a book about rain by Josepha Sherman (good for younger kids)
- Rising waters : a book about floods by Rick Thomas.
- A Drop in the Ocean: The Story of Water (Science Works) by Jacqui Bailey (This does a good job of emphasizing how the water we use has been around for thousands of years. [We did shorten the years stated in the book.] It is more advanced than some of the other picture books about the water cycle.)
- A Drop Around the World by Barbara McKinney (This follows the water drop as it travels the world.)
- The Snowflake : A Water Cycle Story by Neil Waldman (This follows water through the months of the year.)
- The Magic School Bus Wet All Over: A Book About The Water Cycle by Pat Relf
- A drop in the ocean : the story of water by Jacqui Bailey
- This is the rain by Lola Schaefer.
- Flakes and flurries : a book about snow by Josepha Sherman
- Whiteout! : a book about blizzards by Rick Thomas
- The story of snow : the science of winter's wonder by Mark Cassino
- Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
- My brother loved snowflakes : the story of Wilson A. Bentley by Mary Bahr Fritts
- The Man Who Named the Clouds by Julie Hanna (We loved this picture book biography about the man who named the clouds, Luke Howard!)
- Fluffy, Flat, and Wet: A Book About Clouds by Dana Meachen Rau (This features fewer clouds than the book we read in the class. It has great illustrations and is written in a more engaging fashion.)
- Shapes in the Sky: A Book About Clouds by Josepha Sherman (This provides a simple overview.)
- The Cloud Book by Tomie dePaola
- It looked like spilt milk by Charles Green Shaw (This is just for fun. It is a cute, short book about clouds looking like other objects.)
This is a fun "field guide" type book that has photographs of LOTS of different types of clouds and includes interesting tidbits about each one. It's a great way to get your kids to look around the sky and try to spot unique clouds so they can check them off in the book. It assigns points for each one you spot.
Our Favorite YouTube Videos
Bill Nye explains the water cycle
Magic School Bus explains the water cycle
Untamed Science teaches about the 3 main types of clouds
Ready for the next lesson?
Make tornadoes and clouds in a bottle, create and use rain gauges, dramatize a storm front, design and eat clouds, race against prevailing winds, and more during this exciting 4 part unit study on weather and meteorology!
- Sun, Seasons, and Weather Lesson - This is part 1 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Conduct experiments and demonstrations on how the sun, soil, and water affect the seasons and weather, dramatize the Earth's revolutions around the sun, and more!
- Wind and Air Pressure Lesson - This is part 2 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Make weather vanes and barometers, act out high and low pressure, blow up a balloon and collapse a can using hot water, make and eat prevailing winds, and more!
- Clouds and Precipitation Lesson - This is part 3 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Make clouds in a bottle, create rain, build rain gauges, form and eat clouds, and more!
- Tornadoes, Hurricanes, and Lightning Lesson - This is part 4 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Create tornadoes in a bottle, form a hurricane in a mixing bowl, produce lightning and thunder using pie plates and balloons, and more!
- Weather Unit Presentations and Field Trips - This is the culminating activity for our 4 part hands-on unit on Meteorology and Weather. The children presented art projects, lapbooks, and weather experiments they created or performed during the unit. Afterward we had a weather-themed lunch. Recipes are included. Also included is where we went for field trips during this unit.
- Fun, FREE Hands-On Unit Studies Hub - Over the years I have posted over 30 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 170 lessons. The unit studies include the Human Body, Simple Machines, Earth Science, Medieval Period, American Revolution, Pioneer Life, Countries of the World, and many more! For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources.
Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!
© 2011 Shannon