Water Cycle - Atmosphere (K)

  • Analyzing the shapes of clouds.
  • Creating a cloud chart. 
  • cirrus
  • clouds
  • cumulus
  • stratus
  • construction paper
  • cotton balls
  • glue
  • worksheet
  • Clouds by M. Doherty

Students  make a cloud chart.


Clouds are groups of tiny droplets of water, or sometimes ice, that form around dust in the atmosphere.  Water remains suspended in the air, because the drops are so tiny, Clouds are usually described by technical names (i.e., cumulus), but they can also be described by what they look like (i.e., puffy).  Usually learning the technical names is not difficult for children, as long as they have an associated image.  Do not give the children these terms unless you have pictures associated with them.  

A system for naming clouds was developed by Luke Howard, an English pharmacist in 1803.   He identified ten distinct categories of cloud, all of which are variations on three basic cloud forms including puffy cumulus clouds, stratus clouds forming in layers, and feathery cirrus clouds.  This system proved so simple and effective that it is basically used by meteorologists today. 

Cirrus are high clouds which are wispy, icy clouds which are often called "mare's tails."  Cumulus or puffy clouds are mid-level clouds that are packed close together which are often called "cat's paw".   Low clouds that are puffy but gray means that there may be rain soon.  Very low clouds are called fog.  

  1. Read the poem "Clouds" to students.  Go over the 3 major types of forms, cumulus, stratus, and cirrus.  Make sure they understand that "nimbus" means a dark cloud, usually on the bottom portion of the cloud.
  2. The object of this lab is for students to make a cloud chart.  Give them the lab sheet and have them make a "cloud chart," after you discuss the different types of clouds.  Show them the example of the different drawings to help guide them.  You can  give them a blank piece of paper and have them divide the paper into quarters.  
  3. Take the students outside to observe the clouds.  Let them look at the clouds for a while and have them come back and make the type of clouds they see on the lab sheet. Note: you may have to wait for clouds in the sky to do this lab.    There is no right or wrong answer here.  Just let them figure out the next day or so if their guess was right, and let them know that weather people are often wrong, too! If there are no clouds out, use the Cloud Chart and have students look at the pictures. 
  4. Have them describe the picture orally what it looks like to the rest of the class.  Give them cotton balls and glue and tell them to construct the different clouds.  The next page is a  sketch to guide your students to arrange the cotton balls.

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