The Atmosphere

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SWBAT identify the function and purpose of the atmosphere on Earth.

Big Idea

By pondering what Earth would be like without an atmosphere, students gain a better perspective of its purpose and function.


5 minutes

Teacher Tip: This lesson is used to introduce the atmosphere to students.  It's a very basic introduction that leaves them with an understanding that the atmosphere is made of gas and it surrounds the planet providing the oxygen, warmth and moisture we need to stay alive. They are asked during the ELABORATE section to discuss the possible effects of not having an atmosphere.  This addresses the writing standards W6.1-2.  

To begin, students work independently to think about the following prompt in their student notes sheet

What do you think makes Earth the perfect planet for humans and animals?

After about 3-4 minutes of independent writing, I will ask students to share their responses with their table mates.  Typical responses include: there is water; we have air; there is food. 


5 minutes

Now that students have thought about what makes Earth a great place, I want them to identify what living things need to survive so they can identify the importance of the atmosphere. They answer the following prompt in their small groups, writing answers in their notes sheets: 

List the things that all living things need to survive.

After 3-4 minutes, I ask students to share their responses, recording them on the board.  I ask them to think about where this air comes from that all living things need. They say- the sky.  This sparks the conversation about how the sky is actually composed of air or gases. 

In this video clip, the importance between knowing "air" as something different than "atmosphere" is explained. 

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10 minutes

The students will now watch a video that I display on the SMARTBoard.  It's a quick clip that describes what the atmosphere is and why it's important for life on Earth.  I read the questions in the EXPLAIN section prior to showing them the clip so that they can get a feel for what they are looking for while watching.  

EXPLAIN: Watch the video about the atmosphere and answer the questions below.

  1. What is the atmosphere?

  1. What is one way the atmosphere protects us?

  1. How many layers are in the atmosphere?

  1. Gas becomes…. the higher up you go.

After the video, I go through the questions and have students share out their responses, one-by-one. 


15 minutes

Now that students know what the atmosphere does for us, I ask them to think about what would happen to Earth if we did NOT have an atmosphere. They work together in their small groups to discuss the effects of not having an atmosphere. By completing the chart in their notes sheet, they identify various results of such a situation. 

I have them complete a table in order for them to see the relationship between cause (no atmosphere) and effect (whatever they decide): 

ELABORATE: Consider the following with your small group.

If we did not have an atmosphere, what would happen?


5 minutes

For a wrap-up, final task, students will evaluate the following prompt:

EVALUATE: Answer the question below in complete sentences.

What is the atmosphere and what is its significance?

Possible answer: The atmosphere is a layer of gas that surrounds the Earth.  It provides us with oxygen to breathe traps heat and water for our planet.