This Month’s Trade Books
The Cloud Book.
by Tomie dePaola.
32 pp. Holiday House. 1985 (reprint).
Although more than 25 years old since its original publication, The Cloud Book is a classic for helping students learn about the weather. This illustrated book provides students with information about different types of clouds, the weather associated with each cloud, and some of the sayings people use in the description of clouds. This book is easy to read and provides the reader with a sufficient amount of background information on clouds.
by Gail Gibbons.
28 pp. Simon and Schuster. 1999.
Weather Forecasting introduces the reader to meteorologists and the various instruments used to gather information to predict future weather. In narrative format, the book explains what a meteorologist does while also including many illustrations and graphics with facts about the equipment used in weather forecasting.
Weather is a simple term for the processes that govern the Earth’s atmosphere—meteorology. Weather occurs as a result of the sun heating the ground and the ground heating the atmosphere. As the warmer air near the ground is warmed, it rises. Rising air cools and if the air is moist enough, clouds may form. Variations in temperature, along with the rotation of the Earth, help to form the wind systems and patterns that develop throughout the world and bring each region its weather.
One of the most easily recognizable signs of weather are clouds. There are three main types of clouds—cirrus, stratus, and cumulus. Various prefixes and suffixes, such as strato, alto, and nimbus, as well as the act of combining cloud types, are used to bring the types of clouds up to a total of 10.
Clouds form when water vapor in the air cools to a point that it begins to condense around tiny particles called condensation nuclei. Air can cool through the process of conduction by passing over ground or water that is cooler, or it can rise and cool as it uses up energy. The amount of water vapor in the air, its altitude, and the strength of rising air currents determine the type of cloud(s) formed.
The types of clouds present and how much of the sky they cover are only some of the clues meteorologists use to forecast the weather. Other pieces of information that are collected include wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and precipitation. All of these components together help to form the complex system we call the weather.
Trade Book–Inspired Investigations
The weather is ever changing—it is never the same. The individual characteristics of a location coupled with atmospheric conditions produces the weather for each individual region. This month’s activities provide an opportunity for students to take on the role of meteorologists and become weather watchers. May is a perfect time to have students practice identifying cloud types and collecting data about the current weather. As students practice making observations and noting the characteristics of the weather, they will become more adept at forecasting the weather in their hometown. Be sure to let them know that forecasting is just another type of prediction—and that not every prediction will be correct or accurate!
For Grades K–3: Crazy About Clouds!
Young students have terrific observation skills—especially when it comes to nature. This activity allows students to use these skills while increasing their science knowledge about clouds and the weather. Begin by reading The Cloud Book to the class and asking specific questions, such as "Have you ever walked outside and looked up?" "What do you see in the sky?" and "Do all clouds look the same?," to draw on students’ prior knowledge and observations. Throughout the reading, such questions as "What are the three main types of clouds?" and "How would you describe each type of cloud?" will help focus the student’s learning of material presented in the text.
At the conclusion of the book, create a large chart with the help of the students. Identify names of cloud types, what they look like, and the type of weather the cloud indicates. This will reinforce the content material the students heard in the story and will serve as an instructional aid for the activity. Have the students construct a "cloud book" of their own in which they will record their observations. This cloud book could be a few sheets of paper tied together with yarn or string with a cover decorated by each student using cotton balls or paint.
Now that the stage has been set, provide an opportunity for students to visit a quiet place with an unobstructed view of the sky each day to observe the clouds. Ask students to draw the types of clouds they see and try to name them, using the classroom chart to refresh the student’s memory. Each day’s observations should be drawn on a single page of the cloud journal. As students are working, the teacher can easily assess if the student understands the type of clouds and, if necessary, probe deeper into the student’s knowledge by asking individual questions.
Extensions might include having students record the weather they observe and perhaps a prediction for tomorrow’s weather. This activity not only helps meet the National Science Education Standards of observing and describing objects in the sky and describing weather by "measurable quantities, such as temperature, wind direction and speed, and precipitation" (NRC 1996), it also provides the opportunity to integrate language arts activities through writing and giving oral reports on their observations. A follow-up story could be Cloud Dance by Thomas Locker (2003), which includes colorful paintings of different cloud types accompanied by poetic lyrics.
For Grades 4–6: Weather Forecasting
For older students, setting up a classroom weather station is a great way for students to practice collecting data on the weather and then make predictions based on their data. You will need to either obtain a classroom weather station with instruments provided or collect the materials to build simple weather instruments. Depending on your students, you may wish to have the students build the instruments themselves. The book Weather Forecasting is great place to start to learn more about the tools used in monitoring the weather.
Instruments for a weather station should minimally include a thermometer, barometer, wind vane, and rain gauge. A thermometer should be placed outdoors (not in direct sunlight) for the most accurate reading or be available for students to take outdoors to obtain a reading. Barometers measure atmospheric pressure—an important piece of information in forecasting future weather.
These links provide directions for building a classroom barometer and a wind vane. An inexpensive rain gauge can be made using any straight-sided cylinder and ruler. The rain gauge should be placed in an unsheltered location on level ground. Students should record the amount of precipitation at the same time each day and then empty the rain gauge.
Once the classroom weather station is established, students can collect data about the weather on a daily basis. A weather reporting form, shown in Figure 1, can assist in keeping track of the data. This activity can be conducted throughout the month by assigning pairs of students an individual day on which to collect the data and post it in a classroom area dedicated to weather. As part of their daily science lesson, students could predict tomorrow’s weather based on the data.
Weather forecasters use not only their science knowledge, but also a variety of subjects to prepare their daily reports. Predictions or forecasts could be written in the form of a newspaper report or videotaped as in a television report, allowing teachers to integrate the language arts. Some schools may even allow students to broadcast the weather during the morning announcements as a service to the school. Math could be integrated by having students graph daily precipitation amounts or the number of sunny, partly sunny, cloudy, and rainy days in a month. Tracking the changes in the weather lends itself to various activities within the curriculum.
May brings with it not only warmer weather, but also many opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and become weather watchers.
Christine Royce is an assistant professor of education at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at Caroyce@aol.com.
Locker, T. 2003. Cloud Dance. New York: Voyager.
National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Educational Resources
How the Weatherworks
NOAA also has great cloud pictures that teachers can download