Climate Zones

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SWBAT identify the various climate zones and characteristics of the weather patterns found in each.

Big Idea

Groups will be assigned one of the climate zones to teach the class about and present the information they find.

Rationale and Preparation

The Why Behind Teaching This 

Unit 5 covers standards relating to Earth's Systems.  It covers Standard 5-ESS2-1: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.  Students will be learning the difference between each of the systems, and ways that each of the systems interact to help make Earth what it is today.  The other standard covered is Standard 5-ESS2-2: Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth. 

Modeling will be an important component of this unit.  Students will be modeling layers of Earth, the water cycle, land forms, and more.  The unit begins with an overview of all the systems, then each system is taught in isolation.  As each new system is covered, how it depends on or interacts with the previous systems will be addressed.  In addition to the end of unit assessment, there will also be a culminating activity where groups build a model to demonstrate how 2 of the systems interact.  Connections to several previously covered standards will also be made throughout this unit.

This specific lesson covers standard 5-ESS2-1 by comparing the amount precipitation (atmosphere & hydroshere), the types of plants and animals (biosphere), and the types of landforms (geosphere) in each area.  Understanding that climate affects the plant and animal life in an area, and that the climate is impacted by the types of landforms there, will help students complete the end of the unit goal of modeling how all systems are connected.  

Lesson Goal:

The goal of this lesson is for students to be able to describe all climate zones of the Earth and what impacts their climate. 

Success Criteria: 

Students will demonstrate success of this goal by presenting the information they gathered on their climate zone, and by effectively summarizing key facts about the other climate zones as they are presented.   

Preparing For The Lesson:

Warm Up:

Guided Practice:

  • A copy of the picture of 3 climate zones to go over on the overhead together.  There are two per page because I have two classes so I just fold it in half and use one for each class. 


  • Laptop for each group 
  • A copy of the Research Graphic Organizer for each group 
  • 20 Index cards, 4 with a T on them, 4 with a M on them, 4 with a D on them, 4 with a P on them, and 4 with a C on them. These are used for grouping students. 

Wrap Up:  

Warm Up

10 minutes

Climate Versus Weather 

My class is divided into six groups.  I assign the three groups on the right to look up the definition for climate, and the three groups on the left to look up the definition for weather.  Each group has a whiteboard and marker to record the definition on when they find it.  As groups look up their definition, I circulate to listen to ideas on what to record.  

After all groups have recorded a definition, I partner up one of the climate groups with a group that had weather.  The two groups work together to compare their definitions and come up with a statement explaining the difference between weather and climate.  Once they have their statement prepared, they record it on the climate versus weather comparison sheet. After their sheet is complete, they tape it on the front board.  


When all three groups have a statement taped to the board, I read all statements and we compare them.  All groups had pretty similar comparisons, just worded differently. One group put that weather is a place and time while climate is over a longer time.  Another group put that weather is specific while climate is the weather in an area over a longer time.  The last group had that climate is over a long time and weather is at a specific time. 

I tell the class that I always remember the difference as: Weather is the here and now (specific location at a specific time), and climate is the average weather over a longer time.

Guided Practice

10 minutes

Climate Zones Based on Latitude 

I place the picture of 3 climate zones on the overhead and explain to students that the world can be divided into three climate zones based on latitude.  I ask students what the equator is and to come up and point it out to me.  I draw the equator with a black marker on the map.  I explain that the equator is 0 degrees latitude, or the line of latitude that divides the Earth in half.  This is also the point of the Earth that receives the most direct sunlight from the sun.  

I point out the three climate terms at the bottom of the picture: tropical, temperate, and frigid (I let them know that this is also known as the Polar Zone).  I ask students to point out where they believe each is located on the map.  They correctly identify all three areas.  I ask them to explain the difference between each zone.  Although this is not something that I have specifically taught, students are able to pull in some background knowledge to identify that the tropical zone is warm all year, the frigid zone is cold all year, and that the temperate zone must be cold half of the year and warm the other half.   



20 minutes

Researching Climate Zones 

I pull up the Climate Types for Kids Website and show the class that more specifically then the three climate zones we just went over, they can be further broken down into six categories based on similarities in their climate.   This website shows climate zones called Tropical, Dry, Moderate, Continental, Polar, and Highland (not a major one, just doesn't fit in any other category).    

I have 20 index cards prepared, four that have a T (for tropical) on them, four that have a D (for dry) on them, four that have an M (for moderate) on them, four that have a C (for continental) on them, and four that have a P (for polar) on them.  I do not assign the Highland zone to any group, I begin the presenting part of the lesson with the Highland zone to model for the class what I want them to do as they teach.  I pass the cards out randomly and ask everyone with a T to stand up and go to the area of the room that I assign them to work.  Then all of the students with a D on their card stand up and go to where I assign them to work.  I continue assigning areas to groups until all groups have moved to their work area.  This eliminates groups working too close to each other, arguing over where to work, and I am able to position my lower groups near the front of the room where I have easier access.  

I pass out a copy of the Research Graphic Organizer to each group, and explain that they will be using the laptops in their designated ares to research the climate zone they have been assigned.  They will then use the information to teach us all about their climate zone.  I stress to the students that the only website I want them to use is the one at the top of the page.  

As groups research, I circulate to ensure that everyone is participating and to answer questions.


                          climate zone 1                                                                              climate zone 2

Wrap Up

20 minutes

Presenting Climate Zone Information 

After about 20 minutes of researching/preparing, students return to their seats and I provide each student with a copy of the Climate Zone Summary Sheet.  I explain to students that they will need to use a different color marker for each climate zone on the map.  I tell them to highlight the name of the zone in the same color they are going to use to shade it in on the map.  I begin the presentation with the Highland Zone.  I show them my map first and tell them to choose a color to shade in the areas on their map.  I used red, but it doesn't have to be red.  I circulate to check for understanding.  

I decided to present this zone for a couple of reasons.  One reason is because it was a simple zone with no subcategories.  I knew that if I assigned this zone to a group they would be done researching in five minutes while all other groups took longer.  I also decided to present this zone to model for the class what is expected. 


I show the rest of my research sheet and go over it as follows:

The Highland zone does not have any subcategories, all of the areas in this zone are high mountain areas.  I point out the areas on the map that I colored in red.  Some of the mountains in these areas are just one large mountain, others are long mountain chains, and the area right above India is called the Plateau of Tibet which is  the largest area of the highlands on Earth and is about 20,000 feet above sea level. I point out to the students that this information is not on my sheet, but it is information I learned while researching so I want to discuss it too.  There are no seasons in this zone, the temperature and precipitation depend on the elevation.  The temperature drops about 3 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 feet of elevation.   It is usually dry at the base of the mountain, but a drop in temperature as you go up the mountain, causes the warm air being forced up to condense and rain or snow at the top.   The base of the highland area has the same plants and animals as the surrounding zone.  There is a treeline that shows where vegetation can no longer grow as you go up the mountain.  The animals found higher up in the mountains can be goats, sheep, mountain lions, and snow leopards.  

I place a copy of the summary sheet on the overhead and show the box titled Highland.  I explain that I want the information from the "seasons, temperature,and rainfall" section of the research sheet copied down in this box for each group's presentation.  I show my research page and point this section out.  I tell students that they should not be copying the information word for word.  I ask someone to summarize this section for me.  A student says "The base is the same as surrounding areas, temperatures drop as you get higher, and precipitation increases as you get higher."

The rest of the groups present while all other students record information about each zone on their summary sheet.  


                    climate research note page 1                                       climate research note page 2

Making Connections to Earth's Systems

During presentations and after, I ask questions to help point out connections to some of Earth's Systems.  For example, when the dry climate zone group presented I asked how this area interacts with the hydrosphere.  Students tell me it gets very little rainfall and does not usually have water collected in it for plants and animals to drink.  I also ask which climate zone would be most impacted by the geosphere.  Students believe it would be the highland zone because this zone is mainly mountains and plateaus.