Severe Weather - Hurricanes - Tropical Storms Run Amok!

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Students will be able to explain the structure of a hurricane by building a model.

Big Idea

Why are hurricanes so dangerous?


5 minutes

I ring my chime to get the class’s attention.  I announce that we were about to begin the fourth Science lesson in our unit about severe weather.  I ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’.  Since the instruction for a hurricane will be very similar to that of a tornado, I need to introduce it differently so it will be easier to differentiate the two.

Before the class entered the room, I turn up the heat just a bit, to 74°.  I do this to help the students experience the difference a few degrees can make to the general feeling in the weather.  I ask them to stand up in front of me and close your eyes.  “I want you to spread out your arms, like you’re a big cloud.  Now pretend you’re in a warm, humid environment, like over a tropical ocean.  Now..begin to spin around, just one or two times.”

I plan to only do this for a few seconds, partly to keep it short and move on, but also to keep it safe because I know that spinning with closed eyes may not end well!  After a spin or two, I have the students open their eyes and sit down.  I kept the Helper standing by me to assist with the next part.

Large Group Instruction

20 minutes

 In the last lesson, we learned about…”  “Tornados”  “What does a tornado do?”  “It spins”  “What’s the Science word for spin?”  “Rotate?”  “Yes, it rotates.  We learned how a tornado results from wind pushing hard inside of a thunderstorm.  If you took the electricity out, by that I mean the lightning and left the thunder in, you’d be left with a big thunderstorm and lots of strong air blowing.  I begin to turn the Helper in a clockwise direction.  “The meteorological name for a tornado is actually tropical cyclone.  It’s a system- that means a group of motions that works together-of thunderstorms that…”  “Rotate?”  “Yes, rotate.”  I tell the dizzy Daily Helper to sit down now as we give them a clap for their help.  “The other big difference between a hurricane and a tornado is it’s origin- where it starts.”  I take a minute to display and pass around a satellite picture of a hurricane that I downloaded from the internet.  While descriptions are good, Google Images adds an amazing resource for pictures that will help illustrate and give more weight to the information to our Kindergarteners.

I collect the picture to help illustrate the rest of the instruction, “As you can see, the hurricane is constructed in a kind of swirly pattern.”  I show them this with my hands and have them do it along with me.  Any kind of movement will help students better absorb and retain information.  My nature is to ‘talk with my hands’ anyway.  With material like this, it adds a nice visual element.  “The structure of storms inside this swirl is called a ‘spiral band’.  Let's practice that term..“Spiral band' ”.  I usually have students verbally practice new vocabulary to aid in retention, along with adding new vocabulary, particularly important for English Learners.  “As the spiral band gets closer to the middle, the structure changes.  It becomes a wall- an eyewall- where the strongest winds are located.  Then things change.  The wall surrounds an area called the eye.  When you hear the term ‘eye of the storm’, that’s what people are talking about.”.  It's a area where there is almost no movement or sound.", I lower my voice to a whisper as I deliver this part of the instruction, partly to retain interest, but also to help communicate the concept.  When possible, I like to define common phrases to raise both their vocabulary and weather comprehension.  It never hurts! 

Before I transition to the assessment piece, I want to cover one more important idea.  “When we learned about both lightning storms and tornados, there was one important thing they had in they stayed safe.  Who remembers what was the same?  “Shelter!”  “Yes, safe shelter is important in a hurricane as well.  Like a tornado, it’s very important to have a stable and strong structure around you.  The winds are stronger than almost anything, so to be safe, you need something even stronger around you.  What kind of places would be like that?”  “Firehouses!”  “That’s a great example.  A building with thick walls and a strong foundation on the bottom are good places to go in a hurricane.  Places like basements, fire stations, high school gyms, arenas are some examples of places where real people have gone in emergencies.”

Individual Instruction

10 minutes


• Small jar (baby food jars work great!), one per student

• Water

• Heavy grained material, e.g. glitter or sand

After the whole class instruction was finished, I tell them “It’s time for us to be scientists and make a model of a hurricane.  The more we understand about weather, the better we can work with it to stay safe.”  I give them minute to think about it before I announce the next step.  “Before we start the model, we need to review the elements of a hurricane.  What do we know about?  What’s in a hurricane?”  “Strong air”  “Yes, strong air movement is important.  Otherwise, it would just be a bad storm.  What else?”  “Rain”  “Lots and lots of rain is important too.  Otherwise, it would just be really windy.  Anything else?”  “Thunder clouds?”  “Thunderclouds give a hurricane the perfect place to grow, to develop because several thunder storms work together to create the hurricane.”

With this description, I begin the implementation and assessment pieceEssentially, it’s the exact same model as we used with the tornado, so it was very familiar to the students.  “To demonstrate a hurricane, we need is a small container, so we’ll use this jar".

• First, add some water to the jar to represent- pretend- the rain. 

• Next, put in some glitter (or sand) to show the debris.   

• Last, make sure to write your name on the lid of the jar so you know that it’s yours. 

I walk through the class with a pitcher of water to add the ‘rain’ element to their hurricane models.  “When we are all finished making the jars, we’ll practice the next part together.”   My goal is to- as often as possible- provide the students with a product they can use to help demonstrate and explain the material they have learned.  A hands-on opportunity is a meaningful step that helps communicate and access valuable material.  

My goal is to- as often as possible- provide the students with a formative assessment they can use to help demonstrate and explain the material they have learned.  A hands-on opportunity is a meaningful step that helps communicate and access valuable material.  I ask the students to clean up the tables and bring the models back to their carpet squares.  “I want everyone to hold the jars in their hands like this.  The formation of a hurricane is different.  This time, I want you to move your arm in and wrist around like this, like you’re using it to draw a big circle.”  I demonstrate this idea, increasing the speed.  “Rotate it around faster.  Then..stop.  Look at the water.  You should see a hurricane inside the jar.  If you look close at it, you can sometimes see the eye, the place where it’s still.  Who found one in their jar?”  “I did!”  “Not me”  “That’s OK if you don’t see one yet.  We learned that weather factors could quickly change, so hurricanes may not always happen right away.”  I give them a few minutes to practice this concept before I ring the chime to wrap up the lesson.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

We sat back on our carpet squares.  I helped them review their hurricane elements.  “If we were going to explain a hurricane to someone, what would we say?”  “It starts with some thunderstorms.”  “Wind blows stuff in a circle.”  "It comes from the ocean."  “Stay inside!”  I always aim to have students leave the lesson with the ability to explain the concept to another person.  This teaching piece will encourage their long-term retention.  Ultimately, when they can do that, it’s a success.