The Layers of the Atmosphere

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SWBAT identify the five main layers of Earth’s atmosphere and explain the differences between each layer.

Big Idea

By analyzing text and video, students will create a model of the layers of the atmosphere.


5 minutes

Teacher Tip: This lesson is designed to expose students to the 5 layers of Earth's atmosphere.  The Common Core 6th grade writing standards (6.2, 6.4-5, 6.10) are addressed as students are asked to read a series of non-fiction paragraphs about each of the atmospheric layers and make a claim as to their distance from the surface of Earth.  They will then support their writing with reasoning and justification from the text. The only prep you'll need for this lesson is to cut the paragraphs for each group and gather materials for the diagram (paper, markers, rulers). 

To begin this lesson, students will answer the following prompt on their student notes sheet individually: 

ENGAGE: Describe the layers of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich below.

Bottom layer-

Second layer-

Third layer-

Top layer-

This initial activity gives students a chance to think about something with regards to having layers. Assuming they've all seen a PBJ, they should be able to dissect it mentally into its different layers, thus helping them to later dissect the atmosphere. After 3-4 minutes or most students have completed the section, I will ask 1-2 students to share their responses with the whole class. 


10 minutes

Next, I distribute the paragraphs from the EXPLORE Readings to each of the small groups (3-4 students).  I explain they will read each one which discusses information about one of the layers of the atmosphere.  Based on the information, they will attempt to "stack" them in order from closest to Earth's surface to furthest away. They will record their information in their notes sheet: 

EXPLORE: Put the layers of the atmosphere in order according to their composition and the details found in the writing. Write the order below.






At this point, students will need to support their claims with evidence from the text. Verbally ask them why they've put that layer where they have and ask them to clarify that reason in their notes sheet.  They can write the reasoning after the name of the layer in the above section. 

Layers of the Atmosphere


5 minutes

To add to their informational arsenal, students now view a video clip about the layers of the atmosphere. They record information about each layer in their notes sheet: 

EXPLAIN: Watch the BrainPop Jr Earth's Atmosphere* video and take notes on what each layer is made of below.






I will explain what I want them to complete while watching the video prior to showing the clip, explaining that when they hear something that will help them put the layers in order, they should write it down. 

* BrainPop Jr is a subscription. There are other free videos available that cover the same content. The video covers:

  • What the major gases of the atmosphere are
  • How our atmosphere is divided into different layers
  • How many layers there are, and what makes each one unique
  • The name of the layer down at the surface of the planet
  • Where ozone is located, and how it helps protect life  
  • Why the sky is blue

You'll want to review these, but here are some ideas.

National Geographic Our Atmosphere

Layers of Atmosphere

Mr. Parr's Atmosphere Song

Bill Nye The Atmosphere

Frank Gregorio's Introduction to Our Atmosphere a beautiful, unnarrated look at the atmosphere

A Journey Through Our Atmosphere


15 minutes

Students will now create a diagram of the atmosphere using paper and markers and the information they've read from the articles and the video clip.  This is a very simple diagram showing Earth and 5 layers above it with 2-3 pieces of information about each one. I show the students my sample in order for them to get the idea of what the diagram should look like.  This diagram helps them to visualize the layers in order, much like a PBJ. 

ELABORATE: Based on the notes above, create a model using the template provided add 2-3 facts for each layer.


5 minutes

For a final task, students are asked to recall information from the lesson and independently write in their notes sheet: 

EVALUATE: What is the atmosphere and what are the layers?