Layers of the Atmosphere Activities for Kids

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Want some help making your atmosphere unit a bit more engaging? This lesson outlines several activities that are designed to help young students explore Earth's atmosphere in fun, meaningful ways.

More Than Just One Layer

Many students share a misconception that Earth's atmosphere is a single, gaseous layer that is above us. This, of course, isn't true. Earth's atmosphere is naturally divided into several layers based on changes in temperature. Each layer has its own unique properties, and these properties must be accounted for whenever humans wish to interact with the layers (like in flying planes or launching rockets).

The activity ideas that follow are designed to help students see the complexity of Earth's atmosphere.

Layers of the Atmosphere Diagram

Layers of the atmosphere including the locations of common objects and phenomena.
Layers of the Atmosphere

Sometimes it's best to just start with the basics. To introduce students to Earth's atmospheric layers (and to ensure that they have a great piece of reference material for the remainder of the unit), have them draw a diagram of the layers of the atmosphere.

It will be best to walk them through the first stage of the diagram. Have them create a simple graph on a piece of printer paper with the y-axis representing altitude (the x-axis is unimportant for this diagram). Then, have them draw boundary lines between each layer (see the image).

Once students have drawn and labeled their diagram, tell them where common things are found within each layer. You can include airplanes, weather, satellites, the ozone layer, and anything else you think is important.

Fluid Separation Demonstration

The layers of Earth's atmosphere are separated based on the way temperature changes as altitude increases. To show students that fluids can separate based on relative temperature, perform a fun, visually-stimulating demonstration.

First, heat up a beaker of water and add some red food coloring. Have a beaker of blue colored water chilling in the refrigerator. Pour the cold water into a larger beaker and carefully add the warm water. Although some mixing is bound to occur, the colors will remain separated for some time.

To really show that this isn't just because the liquids are not moving, perform the demo again but add the cold water last. It will mix completely! If you do this demonstration early in your unit, you can refer to it throughout.

Paper Rocket Blast-Off!

When teaching about the layers of the atmosphere, you cannot help but notice that students are interested in traveling high into the sky. To capitalize on this fascination, have them create paper rockets that can be launched with rubber bands.

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