Wind and Clouds Aloft – Activities

FOCUS: Winds, or flowing air currents, are caused by warm air rising and cool air flowing in to take its place. Winds pick up moisture from bodies of water, and clouds form when the moisture in them condenses into tiny water droplets. Depending on the conditions of wind, moisture, and temperature aloft, different kinds of clouds take form. Together clouds and wind interact to bring us all kinds of weather. Wind power can be harnessed for our use, with old and new technologies.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about wind and clouds.

Take children outside to observe the wind and clouds. Ask them to close their eyes, and ask them how the wind feels and sounds. Ask them to open their eyes to look at the clouds. Ask them to describe the clouds. Do all of the clouds look the same?

Objective: To look for patterns of similarities and differences in photographs of clouds, grouping them into some basic cloud categories.

Ahead of time, place three puppets (cumulus, stratus, cirrus) at different locations in the room. Hand out a card to each child.

At “go” children should move to the appropriate sign. Some clouds may be hard to assign to one group. Children can decide to stand between two groups if a cloud has characteristics of both, or, if the photo contains two different clouds, they may pick just one of them to identify. Have each group look at and compare their photos to see if they agree, or if there are questions. Optional: have each group come up with a cheer for their cloud type, that tells something about its characteristics (e.g. “I’m puffy, I’m tall, I look like a bus; that’s because I’m a cumulus!”) Are some hard to fit into any category?

Materials: cumulus, stratus and cirrus puppets; photos of different clouds, one per student or pair of students.

PUPPET SHOW “Head in the Clouds”
Objective:  To learn about wind direction and the different cloud forms, and to consider their connection to weather.

Perform the puppet show, or have a group of children perform it for the class. Afterward, ask questions to review the key details and vocabulary in the story. How are winds named, and what can wind direction tell us about the weather? Review the four main kinds of clouds introduced in the puppet show and how they differ. With what kind of weather is each connected?

Materials: puppets, script, stage.

Objective: To make a graphic display of cloud types and height in the sky.

Explain that stratus and cumulus are low clouds while cirrus are high clouds. Give each child or pair of children a sheet of blue craft paper and three cotton balls. Begin by having the children use crayons to draw in a landscape, which could have mountains, lakes, cities, or whatever they choose. Ask them to put three kinds of clouds in their pictures – cumulus, stratus and cirrus. Show them how to form the cotton balls into the three types of clouds. Unroll one cotton ball to make a stratus cloud and use some fine strands of cotton for the cirrus clouds. Make a puffy heap with the others for the cumulus cloud(s). Glue the stratus and cumulus clouds near the ground and the cirrus clouds at the top of the page. They may want to write the cloud names on their cloud charts.

Materials: for each child or pair of children: blue craft paper, crayons, three cotton balls, white school glue.

Objective: To use a graphical display to understand the naming system for the ten main cloud types.

Provide each pair of students with a set of five Cloud Name cards. Explain that clouds are named using five Latin words: cumulus = heap; stratus = layer; cirrus = high, curl; alto = mid-level; nimbus = rain. Display the Naming Clouds poster to help with remembering these meanings.

Use a white board to represent the sky, marking off ground-level and three cloud regions above the ground: low (below 6,500 feet), middle (between 6,500 feet and 20,000 feet), and high (above 20,000 feet). Begin by putting the three basic cloud types on the board: cirrus (high), cumulus, and stratus (both low), and review their characteristics.

Explain that all other clouds have combination names. Describe each of the other clouds from the chart below, without using its Latin name. Ask the students to suggest the cloud’s name from their cards. For example, if you ask what you’d call a high cloud that is made of little puffy heaps, they’d suggest “cirrus” and “cumulus”. To make a compound name, change the ending of the first word to ‘o,’ as in cirrocumulus. After they have named a cloud correctly, attach the cloud cut-out to the white board at the appropriate altitude.


Materials: White board or large poster board, dry marker, Cloud Cutouts, tape, Naming Clouds poster; for each pair of students: set of Cloud Name cards.

Objective: To view examples of different cloud types, review how they form, and consider their connection to different weather patterns.

Show slides of cumulus, stratus, cirrus, cumulonimbus, etc. to review clouds types, how they are formed or changed by winds aloft, and the connections to different kinds of weather.

Materials: slides of different cloud types, projector, screen.

Objective: To use a model to investigate how wind vanes show wind direction.

Ahead of time, prepare a wind vane base for each child or pair of children. Push a small straight pin through the middle of a plastic straw and then push it vertically into the eraser on an unsharpened pencil. Push the pin in as far as possible, but make sure the straw can still spin freely. Make a half-inch slit, vertically, in each end of the straw. Provide each team with an index card to cut into squares or triangles to fit into the slots.

Have the children attach one cut-out to one end of their wind vane, and hold it in front of a window fan. Which end points into the wind? (the smaller end) What happens when you put two equal-sized cut-outs at either end of the straw? (spins around like a pinwheel) What makes it stay in one place? (using just one cut-out, or one big and one small) How do we want a wind vane to behave? (stay still, pointing into the wind, so it will tell us the wind direction)

Most wind vanes have the compass points, north, south, east and west, fixed in place below the arrow. Winds are named for the direction from which they come (i.e. a north wind blows from the north). Show children the Reading Wind Vanes sheet. Have them look at each picture and try to figure out wind direction in each.

Materials:  For each child or pair of children: a wind vane base made from an unsharpened pencil, plastic drinking straw and straight pin; Reading Wind Vanes sheet; scissors, tape, index card or other stiff paper, electric fan.

Reading Wind Vanes answers: rooster – SW; train – W; horse – W; fish – N; moose – WNW; stagecoach – NW

Objective: To use a pinwheel as a model to investigate how a simple turbine can harness wind energy to lift a weight.

Use the Make a Pinwheel Turbine instructions to make a simple wind turbine, mounted on a milk or juice carton, or construct it with the children’s help. Blow on the pinwheel or use the hair dryer to make it spin. Ask for ideas about how the pinwheel could be used to lift a small weight.

Tie a one- to two-inch piece of dental floss to the bamboo skewer, where it comes out of the milk carton on the other side (away from the pinwheel). Now hang a large paperclip or other small weight on the end of the floss. Use a hair dryer or fan to make the pinwheel spin, and watch what happens to the weight. Compare high and low speeds. What might influence how much weight a turbine could lift? (Size of blades and shaft, strength of wind.) How is this like a real wind turbine and how are they different? (Wind turbines convert wind energy into electricity.)

Materials: stiff paper or store-bought pinwheel, Make a Pinwheel Turbine instructions, bamboo skewer, half-gallon milk or juice carton, awl or nail for poking holes, sand or rocks for ballast, waxed dental floss or thread, small weights such as paperclips or washers; hair dryer or fan.

Objective: To make observations outside about wind speed, wind direction, and cloud type, looking for evidence connected to the weather.

Have children work in three small groups with an adult. Give each group a What’s Aloft Investigation data sheet and have them visit three stations: Wind Direction, Cloud Type, Wind Speed. Have children bring their wind vanes with them for this outdoor exploration. Set up stations in an open location where you can easily see the clouds and the school flag if possible, and where the wind isn’t being blocked by a tall building or other obstacle. Place a thermometer out of direct sunlight, near where the children will be working. Afterward, have groups gather to compare findings.


Wind Direction

Place the Compass Rose on the ground, using the compass to orient it so the N is pointing north. Stand facing north and hold your wind vane as high as you can.

Winds are named for the direction they blow from. What is the wind direction today? ________

Using soap bubbles to test wind direction:

Point the way you think the bubbles will drift.

Now blow some bubbles. Was your prediction correct? ______

Are their buildings, hills, mountains or other obstacles you can see that might affect wind direction? __________________

Now find a place where the bubbles won’t blow away – a place protected from the wind.

Materials: What’s Aloft Investigation sheet, wind vanes from All in Vane, Compass Rose, compass, soap bubbles.

Cloud Types

Lie on your back on a tarpaulin and look up at the clouds. Describe them:

Are they puffy, layered, wispy? What color are they? Are they all the same kind?

Are they moving? Which way are they going?

Are the clouds moving in the same direction as the soap bubbles? ______

Grades 3-6: Use the Cloud Key to figure out cloud types:

Read each question aloud and answer it together, measuring with fist or thumb and looking for shadows and other clues, as instructed on the key.

From the key, what kind(s) of clouds are in the sky today? ____________

Materials: What’s Aloft Investigation sheet, tarpaulin, Cloud Key.

Wind Speed and Air Temperature

What is the air temperature today? (Be sure thermometer is not in direct sunlight) ____________

Use the Wind Force Scale to estimate wind speed in your location. ____________ (Start with the highest and read the description for each level until you reach the one that matches today’s conditions.)

Materials: What’s Aloft Investigation sheet, thermometer, Wind Force Scale.

Weather Report

Gather the group together to compare results. Look up an official weather report for today. How do your results compare?

Air temp: ____Wind direction: ______Wind speed: ______ Clouds: ______

Why might they be different? _____________

Did you find evidence that supports the official forecast for tomorrow?________

Materials: a local weather report from a newspaper or website.

Objective: To think about different weather we’ve experienced.

Have children draw a picture or write a story about the most exciting weather they’ve ever experienced. Afterward, in small groups, share their pictures and stories with others.

Materials: science journals or paper and clipboards, pencils, optional: colored pencils.

Objective: to review the different types of clouds.

Have children complete this sentence: If I could be a cloud in the sky I’d like to be a _____________(type of cloud) because ___________________.


For older children, bring in a large poster showing a weather map, or visit a weather site on the internet. Have children research the meaning of different symbols used by meteorologists on maps, and watch active radar displays to learn to read them.

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