Climate clues

Lesson overview

The aim of this lesson is to ground students’ understanding of climate processes, climate change and its drivers, and to introduce students to the ways in which geoscientists look for evidence in the environment.

Learning outcomes
  • Understand the basic factors influencing Earth's climate
  • Introduce the concept of climate change and its natural drivers
  • Explore how scientists study past climates using proxy evidence
Lesson steps

1. Earth's climate basics (15 minutes)

Introduce students to the lesson and the learning objectives using slide 2. Then review students’ understanding of the different factors that affect climate. Students should know about the influence of latitude on the amount of solar radiation (heat) that the Earth’s surface receives. This is shown in slides 4 and 5. Ocean (and atmospheric – not shown) currents also transport heat around the planet. These are shown on slide 6. Highlight the Gulf Stream that brings warm waters from the Caribbean to northwestern Europe, meaning it has a milder climate than other regions at a similar latitude. This is shown on slide 7, comparing an image of Newfoundland and London. Slide 8 then shows how altitude can also affect climate, showing an image of South Africa and the central desert in Australia.

To consolidate this learning, students should complete the Student Sheet Climate factors. There are two versions, one with a word bank for less able students, and one without to provide more challenge.

2. The Greenhouse Effect (15 minutes)

This section examines the Greenhouse Effect and its effect on Earth’s climate. Without the presence of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapour) in the atmosphere, the surface temperature of the planet would be closer to -18 ºC. The text on slide 10 summarises this information.

Have a printout of the Student Sheet Greenhouse effect flash diagram face down on your desk. Divide the class into groups of four students. Provide each group with an A3 sheet of paper and a set of coloured markers or pens. Explain the activity to the class:

  • One student from each group will come to the front of the class at a time. They will have 10 seconds to study the diagram.
  • After their viewing time, they will return to their group and have 30 seconds to add to their group's diagram.

To conduct the activity, call up the first student from each group. Reveal the diagram for 10 seconds, then cover it again. Give groups 30 seconds for the student to add to their diagram. Repeat this process until all four members of each group have had a turn.

After all turns are complete, give groups 2 minutes to discuss and finalise their diagrams. Review the diagram using slide 11. Then show slide 12 and give students an additional 3 minutes to add the information to their diagrams. Review this by explaining the greenhouse effect using slides 13 to 17.

An individual activity alternative is available using Student Sheet The greenhouse effect.

3. Climate change factors (15 minutes)

This section focuses on how scientists know about past climate change. Slides 19 to 21 show how the climate has changed over the past 800,000 years. This data is derived from evidence in ice cores, where small bubbles of air from the atmosphere are trapped as the ice in Antarctica formed.

Students will be able to see that the climate has varied over time, with cooler and warmer periods on slide 20. Use slide 21 to remind students that these changes have happened over long periods of time. Slide 22 then brings climate change to the period closer to the present

showing how the climate has seen rapid warming over the past 250 years.

This warming is at a rate ten times faster than usually experienced by Earth coming out of an ice age. The rest of this section looks at the factors that have influenced climate. Watch the short video linked from slide 23, and read through the text on slide 25 to consolidate this knowledge.

Then use the quiz on slides 26 to 38 to review student understanding. This can be done as a whole class activity with students pointing in the direction of the arrows depending on what they think each statement is true or false.

4. Climate Detectives: Proxy Evidence (10 minutes)

Introduce this section on the evidence for climate change using slide 40. There were no dinosaur scientists, so how do we know about climate change in the past. Slides 41 to 45 introduce students to how scientists work to measure the climate in the past.

Hand out Student Sheet How do we know about climate change? This contains an overview of the different methods with space for students to make notes as they watch the video linked from slide 47.

Review the video and this section as a whole using the discussion questions on slide 48.

5. Wrap-up and review (5 minutes)

Recap the main points of the lesson, focusing on the greenhouse effect, natural climate change mechanisms, and how scientists study past climates using proxy evidence. Encourage students to think about the importance of understanding past climate changes in the context of the current global warming trend.