The science of weather is both interesting and fascinating to students. And one of the best ways to start learning about weather is to observe clouds.
Clouds come in many shapes and forms. Sometimes they’re white and puffy. Other times they’re dark and cover the entire sky. Some clouds may even resemble a dinosaur or a baby. And these clouds not only look different, but they also produce different kinds of weather. In fact, meteorologists study the formation and make up of clouds to understand the weather better.
In this activity, students will learn about the 10 main types of clouds, how they’re formed and how to classify them.
The 10 Main Types of Clouds
First, it’s important to help students understand how clouds are formed. Clouds are made up of tiny droplets or frozen crystals of water that float in the air. And when these water droplets collect in groups, they form clouds.
Clouds are given different names based on their shape and the level where they form. There are high, middle and low level clouds. Some clouds span more than one cloud level, and they’re called vertical clouds.
Educational website Ducksters provides a great overview of the 10 main types of clouds based on their level in the sky:
- High level clouds: These clouds form above 20,000 feet, and are mostly made of ice crystals because they’re higher up in the sky. The main cloud types include cirrus, cirrocumulus and cirrostratus.
- Middle level clouds: Middle level clouds form between 6,500 and 20,000 feet high. Depending on where they form, they may be made up of water droplets or ice crystals. The main cloud types include altostratus, altocumulus and nimbostratus.
- Low level clouds: These clouds form below 6,500 feet, and are typically made of mostly water droplets. The main cloud types include stratus and stratocumulus.
- Vertical clouds: These clouds are very tall and may span many of the cloud levels. The main cloud types include cumulus and cumulonimbus.
This engaging video from the Dr. Bincos Show walks through each type of clouds, discusses the weather it produces and provides examples.
Building a Cloud Classification Tool to Explore Weather Science
Once students have a better understanding of each cloud type, now it’s time to begin classifying clouds!
This activity from Banish Boredom: Activities to Do with Kids That You’ll Actually Enjoy allows students to use a cloud viewer to compare what they see in the sky with photos of the ten main cloud types.
- Cloud classification tool
- Comfortable blankets
- Some good clouds
- First, students have to make their cloud viewing/classification tool. Print the template on heavy cardstock, and cut out the middle to create the viewing window.
- Tape a craft stick to the back of the template to use as a handle.
- Optional: cover the entire template with a layer of packing tape to make it sturdier and waterproof.
- Wait for a warm day with considerable clouds in the sky. And have students grab their blankets and cloud viewing tool and head outside.
- Ask them to use their tool to identify each cloud. This is also a great opportunity to review what they learned about clouds - their level, how they’re formed and the weather they produce.
- Encourage students to keep their cloud viewing tool on hand to continue exploring the different types of clouds.
This activity was adapted from Banish Boredom: Activities to Do with Kids That You’ll Actually Enjoy