How do we know about climate change?

Lesson overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the factors influencing climate change including the greenhouse effect. This leads onto studying how scientists know about past climate and ends with a sediment core analysis activity, where students will compare the evidence from a sediment core with the data derived from an ice core.

Learning outcomes
  • Explain why global warming happens
  • Describe how the climate has changed over the past
  • Identify the evidence scientists have for climate change
  • Demonstrate techniques in using proxy data to measure climate change
Lesson steps

1. Climate starter recap (10 mins)

Share the learning objectives for the lesson using slide 2, and then a short answer quiz to see what students already know about climate change and carbon emissions. These questions are on slide 3, with answers on slide 4 and are designed to link climate change to carbon chemistry and combustion.

2. Why global warming happens (10 mins)

Review the information on slides 6 to 9 with students. This information is also included on Student Sheet Climate change and the greenhouse effect. Students should complete the questions individually using the information on the Student Sheet. These are shown on slide 10, with answers on slide 11 for peer or self-assessment.

An extension activity on Student Sheet Greenhouse effect diagram can be completed at this stage, or kept until the end of a teacher exposition on the greenhouse effect using slides 12 to 17.

3. How has climate changed in the past? (15 mins)

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 24, 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. The evidence for climate change (10 mins)

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 introduces 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. Sediment core analysis (15 mins)

This final section is a practical activity that uses a sediment core diagram (or plasticine recreation – see Activity Overview Sediment core analysis).

Introduce how scientists use one clue in sediment cores, the colour of the sediment, using slides 50 to 53. Then hand out the Student Sheet Sediment core analysis. Students can work individually or in pairs if they are doing the paper-based version, or in groups of four to six if you are using a plasticine recreation.

Use slides 54 to 56 to guide students’ work at this stage, and then slide 57 to end the lesson with a whole class discussion.