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        Investigating Monthly Temperatures and Precipitation

        Students analyze and interpret weather data to support claims about patterns of temperature and precipitation across select months in different seasons and locations. This lesson plan, produced by WGBH, includes maps of average monthly temperature and total monthly precipitation based on data snapshot maps produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The lesson incorporates the 5E instructional model to help students build their own understanding of temperature and precipitation as factors that help define typical weather.

        English Learner (EL) supports are included in the Support Materials below. These are designed to support vocabulary development and engagement in learning tasks and can be used along with this lesson plan. This resource was developed through WGBH’s Bringing the Universe to America’s Classrooms project, in collaboration with NASA. Click here for the full collection of resources.

        Lesson Summary


        This lesson will help students make the transition in thinking about weather as a phenomenon that occurs at the moment to typical weather experienced seasonally. In the early elementary grades, students explore daily weather conditions. As students’ knowledge and experiences expand, they make connections to the broader concept of typical weather that defines seasons. In this lesson, students explore weather data, specifically average monthly temperature and total monthly precipitation, across seasons for local and other areas. They organize temperature and precipitation data into tables and bar graphs and look for patterns in typical temperatures and precipitation across different seasons and locations over time.

        Grade Level: 3–5

        Standard: ESS2.D: Weather and Climate

        • Scientists record patterns of the weather across different times and areas so that they can make predictions about what kind of weather might happen next. (3-ESS2-1)

        Time Allotment

        Two 45-minute class periods

        Learning Objectives

        • Students will be able to analyze and interpret data on maps of average monthly temperature and total monthly precipitation.
        • Students will be able to recognize and support claims about patterns of temperature and precipitation across particular months in different seasons and locations.

        Prep for Teachers

        Before the Lesson

        • Preview the media assets and work through the interactive lesson so you can gain familiarity with the content and anticipate students’ questions. Note: Students will be working with average temperature maps in this lesson. They may be unfamiliar with the concept of averages because it likely is not introduced until sixth grade math instruction; however, page 3 of the interactive lesson provides a basic explanation. Provide additional support as needed prior to using the interactive lesson by informing students that they will work with maps that have average temperatures; the lesson does not expect calculation of averages. Ask students if they think they know what average means. Then explain that the average temperature for one month is a temperature that represents all the temperatures for the month. The average temperature falls between the highest and the lowest temperatures recorded for the month. Using the average temperature is helpful for talking about what the daily temperature was close to for that month and for predicting what the temperature might be like that same month next year.
        • Load and open the interactive lesson on all devices before class begins.
        • Prepare for page 6 of the interactive lesson:
          • Decide which students should work together as partners when they begin analyzing the maps accessed on page 6 of the interactive lesson.
        • Make the following copies, one for each pair of students.
          • For Part 1 of the lesson:
          • For Part 2 of the lesson:
        • Be prepared to arrange three pairs of students from the pair activity in Part 1 into small groups for the group activity in Part 2 of the lesson.



        • Computer or tablet access
        • Science notebook
        • Markers or colored pencils


        Media Resources

        Learning Activities

        Part 1: Exploring Typical Weather Conditions

        (45-minute class session)

        Students will explore weather as a short-term and long-term phenomenon by describing daily weather conditions and typical weather conditions, followed by interpreting and recording seasonal temperature and precipitation data for two locations.

        Note: Temperature and precipitation maps for one month per season for three years provide students with manageable data sets.


        Begin the lesson with a brief discussion about daily and seasonal weather. Ask these questions to assess students’ prior knowledge:

        • Why is knowing about weather important?
        • How do we predict the weather based on past weather data?

        Tie in real locations to support the discussion. Display the classroom map and have students pick a location that they have visited or think is very different from where they live as well as their own location. Have students predict the typical temperature and precipitation for the current season in each location in their science notebooks. (Rather than asking students to give numerical representations of temperature, have them use descriptions such as hot, warm, cool, or cold. If necessary, review types of precipitation with the class before they predict.) Then have students turn and talk to share their predictions. Remind students that when they have discussions, they can be asking each other questions to get the speaker to support a point or to get clarification. Explain that students will refer to their predictions when working with the temperature and precipitation maps later on to investigate the focus question of the lesson: How does weather, specifically temperature and precipitation, change with the seasons?

        As students participate in the discussion and conceive questions related to the weather, write these questions on the board. Have students write the questions in their science notebooks. Tell students to keep those questions in mind as they work on the upcoming activities to see if they can answer them in this lesson or if they need to do further research.

        Seasonal Temperature and Precipitation Variations

        Introduce the Seasonal Temperature and Precipitation Variations interactive lesson to students. They will work independently on pages 1–5 and with a partner using the maps accessed on page 6. Pages 1–3 of the interactive lesson are part of the Engage stage of this lesson plan. Pages 4–6 of the interactive lesson are part of the Explore stage of this lesson plan.

        Note: This lesson plan uses only up to page 6 of the interactive lesson. The table on page 6 and all of page 7 of the interactive lesson can be skipped because students will instead use handouts provided in this lesson.

        Page 1: Picturing Seasonal Weather

        Students read about seasonal weather and observe images of weather in each season. Words in purple on this page and subsequent pages include definitions. Students can click on the words to access the definitions.  

        Page 2: Describing Seasonal Weather

        Students read about factors that make up weather. They also complete a table to describe typical temperature, precipitation, and outdoor activities for each season where they live. Descriptive words for describing temperature and precipitation are included for students to use for completing the table. They may use other descriptions as suitable.

        Page 3: Studying Weather

        Students read about meteorologists and then click on the Visualize It button to interpret and describe weather conditions for two cities on a national weather map. 


        Before students begin working on pages 4–6, have them pull up the predictions they made in their science notebook during the Engage stage. Explain that they should check their predictions as they work with the data on the maps in the upcoming experiences.

        Page 4: Understanding an Average Monthly Temperature Map

        Students are introduced to the first example of average weather data: an average monthly temperature map. They click on the Visualize It button to begin interpreting the map in order to respond to the prompt “Circle the areas that had an average temperature of about 75°F.” The Visualize It activity serves as an informal assessment of students’ ability to interpret the data, as students demonstrate knowledge of interpreting a colorbar and the data represented on the map.

        If all students are unfamiliar with the type of map on this page, display it and review the following as a class. If students are familiar with the map, then circulate and provide the following assistance only to students who are struggling with the task of interpreting the map.

        • To help students understand the colorbar, point to the title of the map and ask them to explain how the title helps with understanding the map.
        • Ask students to explain how they think the units relate to the different colors. Clarify any misunderstandings.
        • Ensure that students understand that the colorbar is the “key” to being able to interpret the data, or information, on the map.

        Page 5: Understanding a Total Monthly Precipitation Map

        Students are introduced to the second example of average weather data: total monthly precipitation. They click on the Visualize It button to begin interpreting a total monthly precipitation map in order to respond to the prompt “Circle the areas that had 6 or more inches of rain.”

        Check for Understanding

        After students have completed pages 1–5 of the interactive lesson, reconvene as a class to have students share their work and to ensure that students understand the relationship between daily weather and typical weather, specifically average temperature and precipitation, that helps define each season. Ask:

        • How is temperature used as one factor to describe seasonal weather? (Sample answer: Temperature can be used to describe weather in a season because it describes how cool or warm a temperature to expect during spring, summer, fall, and winter months.)
        • How is precipitation used as one factor to describe seasonal weather? (Sample answer: Precipitation can be used to describe weather in a season because it tells how wet it is in a given month.)
        • Why do you think keeping track of temperature and precipitation data for several years is important? (Sample answer: Tracking the data over time allows you to see patterns.)

        In addition, have students share if any predictions they made were confirmed. They can also revise their predictions based on their explorations with the media thus far.

        Page 6: Working with Real Data on Maps

        Have students gather in pairs that you designated before the lesson, and distribute a copy of the Explore Activity with Partner: Pick Your Location handout to each pair. As a class, locate your area on the map handout and have students put a dot on that spot. Then have pairs choose one of their locations from the prediction activity above and put another dot on their map for that location. (If you live in Hawaii or Alaska, have pairs use each of their locations from the prediction activity.) Inform students that they will use this map handout as a reminder about which two areas they should focus on when working with the Average Temperature and Monthly Precipitation maps that they will soon access. Next, distribute the Temperature and Precipitation Tables and Graphs handout to each student. Explain that only one month for every season is represented for 2013–2015 on the tables.

        Note: Although typical seasonal weather is based on weather data measured for all months over many years, students will be working with this smaller, manageable sampling of data.

        Have students in each pair decide who will record temperature data on the temperature table and who will record precipitation data on the precipitation table. Although students will share the task of recording data, they should work together to interpret the maps. Remind students that working together means they should be asking questions of each other to make sure they understand what they are investigating and to make sure they can support conclusions they make based on their investigations.

        Direct pairs to page 6 of the interactive lesson on their device. Have them launch the Average Monthly Temperature maps first and then the Total Monthly Precipitation maps. Using their designated locations, pairs begin gathering data from the temperature maps and organizing that data in the temperature table on their handout. Then they gather data from the precipitation maps. Tell students to ignore the table and Notes section on the screen.


        • Have students record temperatures by increments of 5° (e.g., 60°F, 65°F, 70°F) because it will make the subsequent graphing activity easier to complete. It is difficult to discriminate color differences at anything less than 5°.
        • It might be helpful to interpret temperature and precipitation for your local area for the first two months or full year listed on the tables as a whole class to ensure that students understand the task.

        As students work with the maps to organize data into tables, circulate through the room to ensure that students understand the task and to provide feedback on how students interpret and organize the data. Success in this paired activity is necessary for the upcoming group activity in which pairs will share and use their collective tables and the bar graphs they will plot next to compare temperature and precipitation findings across multiple locations in the United States. Facilitation may occur as follows:

        • Point to a row of data on both the temperature and precipitation tables and ask the pair to explain how they got the measurements. Correct any misinterpretations of the maps, and spot check additional measurements, if necessary.

        Part 2: Graphing and Analyzing Temperature and Precipitation Data

        (45-minute class session)

        Students plot graphs and compare temperature and precipitation data across different locations and times of the year in order to look for patterns and support claims.

        Explore (continued)

        In this part of the lesson, student pairs use the Average Monthly Temperature and Total Monthly Precipitation tables that they completed for two locations and organize that data into double bar graphs on their handout. Display the Sample Temperature and Precipitation Bar Graphs handout as a reminder to students of what a double bar graph looks like. Have students use colored pencils or markers to make the bars on their graphs, using a different color to represent each location. Each student should make a graph for either the temperature or precipitation data that they recorded in the respective table.

        After students complete the bar graphs, have them work with their partner to answer the questions on page 4 of the handout. Remind them to use their notebooks to record additional questions and/or write answers to any questions.


        Reconvene as a class. Have pairs share observations and conclusions based on their work with the maps, tables, and bar graphs. Have them refer to the questions they answered on the Temperature and Precipitation Tables and Graphs handout as needed to initiate discussion. Remind students that during a discussion, they should be listening carefully to each other’s explanations and asking questions that help with understanding and/or challenge a point made, requiring the person who makes the point to back it up.

        Refer to the focus question “How does weather, specifically temperature and precipitation, change with the seasons?” Ask students to explain how their exploration of temperature and precipitation thus far supports the focus of the lesson. Ask:

        • How does your exploration help you answer the focus question?
        • What else can you explore in order to answer the focus question in more detail?

        Also refer to questions students recorded during the Engage stage. Ask:

        • Were any of your questions answered based on your investigations so far? Explain.

        This discussion serves as a transition to the following group activity. Students will build on discoveries made about temperature and precipitation in two locations as they explore these weather factors across multiple areas in the group activity.

        Group Activity

        Have students gather into groups of three pairs and begin sharing their data. Students should use each pair’s tables and bar graphs to analyze the data and look for patterns in average temperatures and total precipitation across seasons (as represented by one month per year) and across the four locations (the local area and each pair’s other area). Have students use the questions on page 5 of the handout to record their observations.


        As a whole class, discuss findings from the group activity, referring to the focus question and questions on page 5 of the Temperature and Precipitation Tables and Graphs handout. If possible, display one group’s completed temperature and precipitation tables and graphs, and refer to them as the class discusses patterns across seasons and multiple locations.

        Then have students work independently on the Temperature and Precipitation Claim handout. After all students have had time to craft their claim, invite them to share their claim with the class. If students disagree with a classmate’s claim, encourage debate based on evidence. Then have students revisit their claim and revise, as needed, based on new thinking from the class discussion. Space for revised claims is provided on the handout. Also invite students to share any questions for further investigation that they noted in their science notebook. (As an optional extension activity beyond this lesson, invite students to answer each other’s questions if they can, and ask students to explain steps they think they need to take to find answers to those questions.)

        Note: If students need a reminder about writing claims, provide the following support.

        • Explain that a claim is a statement about something believed to be true. When you make a claim you need to support it with evidence to convince other people that your claim is true. In science, the evidence is the data that you gathered. Ask students to state the data they have gathered in this lesson (such as data about precipitation and temperature for two locations in different months/seasons). Here’s an example:
          • Claim: Most third graders prefer to wear jeans to school.
          • Evidence: You counted how many third graders wore jeans to school every day last week. Your data is: 60 out of 70 third grades wore jeans every day.

        As an additional assessment of student learning, have students work on the Identify the Season handout. In this activity, students analyze two pairs of average temperature and total precipitation maps in order to identify the correct month/season that each pair of maps represents. Students also pick a location for each pair of maps and predict the weather for a typical day in that month next year, supporting their prediction with evidence.

        Note: This handout should be printed in color. Have students share handouts to reduce color copies printed, or display the handout on a digital whiteboard for the whole class to view and have students write their answers in their science notebooks. Another option is to have students complete the activity on page 7 of the interactive lesson, if devices are readily accessible. Answers:

        1. These maps contain data for January 2016, so students should circle “Winter (January).”
        2. These maps contain data for July 2016, so students should circle “Summer (July).”

        Weather Lesson Extension Activity

        This activity is offered as an optional extension activity after completing this lesson plan. Use it to supplement your unit on weather and climate. The activity can serve as assessment of student learning.

        Travel Guides

        Provide students with a new context in which to demonstrate and apply their learning about seasonal weather. Have students create two travel guides to assess their understanding of typical weather patterns at different times of the year and in different areas. One weather guide is for your local area and the other is for another area of the United States that experiences different weather. For example, if your local area has four distinct seasons, then have students create the second guide about an area, such as Florida, which has less pronounced seasons that include mild winters that are usually free of snow or ice.


        1. Assign the “other” travel guide area to each student. Have library books available or provide computer access to sites about the locations so students can learn about the typical seasonal weather. Students should take notes about their “other” location.
        2. Students create an outline for each travel guide based on the following sections that will make up each guide.
          • The cover should include a brief description of the location, such as the name, its relative location in the United States, and a cool fact or what the area is known for. The guide should have four other sections, one for each season. For each season, include:
            • Typical weather conditions
            • Typical outdoor activities that a visitor to the area might enjoy
            • Tips on what to pack when visiting the area
          • The guide should also include drawings that convey typical weather conditions and/or typical activities for at least two seasons.
        3. Students make each travel guide based on their outlines and include drawings. Each guide can be made out of thick, 8 x 11 paper that can be folded into thirds and used front and back. Allow students to be creative in how and where they arrange each of the “seasons” sections. Distribute the Travel Guide Checklist to all students as a reminder of what needs to be included in each guide.
        4. Evaluate students’ finished work using the Travel Guide Rubric below.

        Travel Guide Rubric

        3 points 

        Both travel guides include:

        • Accurate brief description of the location, including the name, relative location within the United States, and at least one cool fact or explanation of what the area is known for
        • Accurate and thorough descriptions of typical weather for the location within each season
        • Accurate and thorough descriptions of appropriate activities, given the location and each season
        • Accurate and thorough descriptions of typical items to pack, given the location and each season
        • Drawings that are clearly detailed and accurately convey typical weather conditions and/or typical activities for two or all seasons

        2 points

        • One travel guide may be completely accurate and thorough, addressing all bullet points in the 3-point score, but the other travel guide may have inaccuracies. OR, both travel guides might include a minimal amount of inaccurate information and a minimal amount of missing information.
        • Drawings that are included are fairly detailed and accurate representations of typical weather conditions and/or typical activities for at least one season.

        1 point

        • Both travel guides lack complete information or include some inaccurate information in all or most sections.
        • Drawings may or may not be included. Drawings that are included might be minimally detailed and somewhat accurate representations of typical weather conditions and/or typical activities for one or two seasons.

        0 points

        • No attempt has been made or both guides include irrelevant information.


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