Key Influences on Climate

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SWBAT describe how latitude, elevation, closeness to bodies of water, and terrain influence the climate in surrounding areas.

Big Idea

Students will create a model to demonstrate one of the factors that influences climate.

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 developing an understanding of how the climate in various parts of the world is influenced by aspects of some of Earth's Systems.  For example, large bodies of water (the hydrosphere) impact climate.  The elevation of mountains (the geosphere) also plays an important role in climate.  Students begin to create models and relate them to two systems working together.    

Lesson Goal:

The goal of this lesson is for students to be able to describe the factors that affect climate. 

Success Criteria: 

Students will demonstrate success on this task by completing an accurate model for one of the key factors, and present their model to the class. 

Preparing For The Lesson:

Warm Up:

  • We will just be reviewing from the lesson the previous day so no materials are needed. 

Guided Practice:


  • A copy of the Climate Model Task Sheets, one sheet distributed to each group 
  • Materials for each group - A variety of materials are set out on the table for groups to use.  Materials include clay, trays, construction paper, cotton balls, markers, etc. 

Wrap Up:  

  • Groups will be presenting their models so no additional materials are needed

Warm Up

5 minutes

Review From Previous Lesson

I begin today's lesson with a review of what we learned about climate in the previous lesson.  I begin with this review as a way to make a connection between what they learned yesterday, and what will be added in today's lesson.  I begin by asking students to name something that has an impact on the climate in a given area.  They tell me how close an area is to the equator (latitude). 

I explain to the students that latitude is only one of many factors that affect climate.  Elevation and closeness to large bodies of water are also important factors.  We discuss what the term elevation means and what might be meant by "large bodies of water".  The students all know that elevation means getting higher, most think of oceans as the only large bodies of water.  There is a large lake in Florida called Lake Okeechobee that I mention in our conversation so that students remember this during our discussion later.    

Guided Practice

15 minutes

Examples of Factors that Affect Climate 

I show students a slideshow about the 5 Causes of Climate.  The slideshow begins with a list of the five causes: latitude, elevation, ocean and wind currents, closeness to large bodies of water, and terrain.  To help focus their attention on some of the key points of the slideshow, I provide each student with a copy of the causes of climate notes page.  These notes are typed based on the slideshow information but contain some missing information that students have to fill in as we go through it.  Giving them something to complete as we go through the slideshow helps me know that they got the information that I really wanted them to have.  It also provides them with a resource to refer back to as they create their model later.  

There are a couple of places where I added in some information that was not in the slideshow.  I added in the information about sea breeze and land breeze because they are relevant to the discussion and they are important concepts for students living here in Florida.  These breezes are something they experience when they go to the beach, they just may not understand why they feel those breezes.  Having this to relate to from real life will make it relevant to them.   




30 minutes

Creating a Model 

I have the four corners of my room labeled with Elevation, Latitude, Closeness to Large Bodies of Water, and Ocean and Wind Currents.  My room is already set up in groups of 4 so I tell the class that one person from each group must go to each corner.  I give them about a minute to discuss it with their group so that they know where they are going.  After 1 minute, I tell them to get up and move to their corner.  I make sure that the groups are evenly divided with ESE and regular education students.  If any group is all ESE, I would switch two students without telling them why.  

After groups have been decided, I pass out one page from the Climate Model Task Sheets to each group.  I have allowed groups to decide whether to do a 2 dimensional or 3 dimensional model so that there is a variety.  It is also easier to model certain things with a 3 dimensional model, while others are easier with a 2 dimensional model, so I wanted to give the creative ability to do what they think is best.  

After groups read through their task sheet, they gather their materials (I have a lot of items set out on a table with trays for them to take what they need), and begin creating a model.  I provide each group with a laptop as well in case they want to look up any information or pictures to help with the model.  While groups work, I circulate to answer questions and make sure everyone is helping on the project.  


Wrap Up

10 minutes

Presenting Models  


The first group created a model showing how latitude affects climate.  They had to research why areas near the equator are warm all year in order to do the model.  They discovered that the areas along the equator receive the most direct sunlight because the Earth is tilted on its axis.  Their model was identical to another illustration we have viewed in class.  I wish they would have come up with another way to illustrate this concept. The connection that this group made to another system was the atmosphere.  They believe that the sun shines more directly on this area of the Earth and that the atmosphere traps in this light making it hotter. 


The next group created a model to illustrate how elevation affects climate. Their model shows plant life decreases as the elevation increases.   It also shows how there are different layers in the atmosphere that the mountain stretches through.  The connection they make to another system when presenting is the biosphere.  They tell the class that there is less water and it is colder as the elevation increases which makes it difficult for plants and animals to survive.  


This group created a 2 dimensional model showing how closeness to large bodies of water affect climate.  Their model shows a mountain and arrows indicating that water vapor is pushed up one side of the mountain and condenses to rain.  Their illustration also shows that the other side of the mountain will be dry, known as a rain shadow effect.  Their model was almost identical to the illustration I had created on the notes page they completed earlier.  The connection they make to Earth's Systems is the impact that the geosphere has on the atmosphere and hydrosphere.  This group went into detail about how water from the ocean (hydrosphere) on one side of the mountain (geosphere) evaporates into the atmosphere and cools as it moves up causing it to condense and rain again.   I was quite impressed with their presentation of the model and how it incorporated 3 of Earth's systems. 




The last group had the task of creating a model that shows how warm and cold air and water create currents or movement and how that movement affects climate.  I think this was the most difficult task out of the four.  This group created a model that shows how a sea breeze occurs.  They use numbers and arrows in their diagram to walk the class through the steps of what is happening to create a sea breeze.  Their illustration was fantastic, but again it was one they copied from another cite.