What's The Air Forecast?

Activity 2 (Explain): What is Weather?

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Activity Summary

In this activity, students learn to interpret a weather forecast by learning about the different terms and units involved in weather such as temperature, humidity, wind, precipitation, sky condition, and air pressure. They use this information to determine if the hazy sky in the photograph could be naturally occurring fog.

Important Note about this Activity: This activity provides a brief background in weather terminology and concepts to allow students to engage with the activities that follow. Ideally, students will have already explored these ideas in a prior unit, and this lesson can serve more as a refresher than new learning. If students have already studied weather before, you may choose to skip the first part of this activity, but make sure to do the “Return to the Phenomenon” section (step 5).

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 1-2 class periods


  • Students will understand the primary characteristics used to describe weather

  • Students will use weather data to determine if the phenomenon is natural or man-made



  • Computer & projector

  • Resources for students to research weather terms (computers & internet, textbooks, library books, etc.)

  • Markers (if students are using chart paper)

  • I Have, Who Has cards (optional) – printed and cut



  • Visual vocabulary sheets (enough based on how many each student will do) OR chart paper for each entry

Standards Connection

DCI: ESS 2.D Weather & Climate

SEP: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

CCC: Systems & System Models



Show students a current weather forecast like the one below from weather.gov and ask what information it provides (temperature, humidity, wind, precipitation, sky condition, dew point, etc.) Based on this information, have them write a definition for weather that uses some of these terms.

Weather Forecast DC.jpg

Have students share their definitions with a partner or group, and come to a consensus for a definition of weather. Their definitions do not need to be precise – you will come back to this question later. A possible student definition might be “Weather is what it is like outside: for example, what the temperature is and whether it is precipitating or not.”


1. Frame the Activity

Point out the chart paper list of students’ ideas of what could be causing the haziness in Washington DC like in the left side of the image. Have them identify which causes are natural, and which would be man-made. For example, if it is caused by a fire/smoke, then it is likely man-made, and if it is fog or snow, it is natural. Once they have divided up the list, tell them that today they are going to investigate the “natural” list to see if any of these could be the cause. They will do this by learning about weather in order to determine how things like fog form.


2. Parts of  Weather Model

Remind students’ that for this investigation they are taking on the role of meteorologists. Meteorologists study how weather works by building weather models. A weather model is not like a model of the solar system. It is a computer program based on math and science that takes information about the current weather, and uses it to make a prediction about what the weather will be. In order for them to understand whether the haze could be natural, they need to understand the parts of a weather model. Ask students what kinds of information they think needs to go into a weather model. Write students’ responses to this question on the board to make a list of inputs to the weather model. Remind them of answers to their warm-up, and use additional follow-up questions as necessary.

  • Key inputs: temperature, wind speed/direction, time of year (season), humidity, precipitation, location, dew point

3. Visual Vocabulary

Tell students that in order to use these scientific terms to make predictions, it’s important to make sure everyone has a common understanding of what they mean. To help with this, they are going to make a visual glossary of terms. Show students the example of the glossary entry for temperature below, and review the parts: the term, the definition, a picture to illustrate the term, an example of how it is used, the measuring tool used to measure it, and the units or scale that go with it.

Visual Vocabulary example.jpg

Identify what terms you want students to include in their glossary.

  • Required: temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind, sky condition (cloudy, sunny, etc.), dew point

  • Optional: air pressure, season, temperature inversion


You can divide up the terms so that each student has a few, or have all students do all the terms. Once students understand the directions, provide them with the resources to do their research. Age-appropriate books on weather, and weather websites such as weatherwhizkids.com are good choices.


After students have created their glossary terms, make sure they have had a chance to share with others so that all students have interacted with all the terms.

Differentiation: You can have all students do all the terms, divide up the terms and have each student do one or divide students into groups and have each group do all the terms. Suggest more complex terms (ex. temperature inversion) for more advanced students

Modification: Instead of having students make the glossary on standard-sized paper, have groups each make an entry on chart paper to put up around the room. Have each group present their poster before they put it up.


4. I Have, Who Has (optional)

Tell students that you are going to play a game to help them remember the weather terms you learned about today. Pass out the “I have, who has?” cards (make sure each student has at least one card, and make sure all the cards have been passed out. Have students work in pairs if you have more students than cards). Go over the directions with students:

  • One student will begin by reading the “who has” portion of their card.

  • The student who has the “answer” to that card will say, “I have <the answer>. They will then read the “who has” portion of their card

  • Continue until all the cards have been read, and you’ve gotten back to the beginning of the circle.

Differentiation: For the first round of “I have, who has” pass the cards out in order so that students can go around the class as a review of the terms. Then recollect them and mix them up.

ModificationThe “I have, who has” template is easy to edit. Add or remove the “I have” and “Who has” entries for any terms, and adjust the table, making sure that the last "Who has?" you keep matches the next "I have". Then adjust the entries on the cards. Just make sure that the last card connects back to the first one.

While students are playing, listen for any errors, and support students in getting back on track if they make a mistake or get stuck. Students may have slightly different definitions based on their research, so it’s important to follow along. Students should also follow along to help each other.


For more information on how to play, watch this video.

Tech integration: Websites such as quizlet and kahoot are another great way to help students develop understanding of the weather vocabulary. You can search “quizlet” or “kahoot” + “weather” to find premade resources, or go to the websites and create your own.

5. Return to the Phenomenon

Go back to the list of “natural” possibilities for what is causing the haziness in the photos. Some things students might have suggested for natural are snow, fog, and volcanic ash. Ask students what weather information they would need to know to determine if any of these are possibilities (only use the ones they suggested).

  • Snow: temperature and precipitation

  • Fog: temperature and dew point (students will likely not know this, so you can help them or look it up together)

  • Volcanic ash: (in the event students bring this up, you can ask students if there are any volcanoes in the DC area)


Tell students that in order to find out what Washington DC was like on that July 9, 2018, they can look up historical weather information online. Go to: https://www.wunderground.com/history/daily/‌us/dc/KDCA/date/2018-7-9 and display the weather information for DC on July 9, 2018 (the “daily observations” section at the bottom has all the information they need).​

Teacher Tip: You may want to print out this weather information in advance so students can look at it on their own.

6. Defining Weather

Have students go back to their original definition of weather, and see if there is anything they want to add or clarify. Their definition should recognize that weather is a description of a variety of atmospheric conditions (temperature, precipitation, dew point, humidity, pressure, etc.) and that it refers to a short period of time because the weather can change quickly (as opposed to climate, which may only change over long spans of time). Either as a class or in their groups, reach a consensus definition. Then write the definition (or group definitions) in big letters on a piece of paper and post it prominently in the classroom.

7. Formative Assessment

Have students Interpret a current weather forecast based upon the content that they learned today.

  • Option 1: Show a video weather forecast, and have students identify what each of the terms are and how they are used. (ex. temperature, humidity, cloud cover, etc.)

  • Option 2: Show a weather forecast from a website or newspaper and have students identify what each of the terms are and how they are used.


Looking Ahead: Students will use these weather terms in later activities, so you may want to have them study the terms for homework or review them before the next activity.