Layers of the Atmosphere Activities

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.

Looking for ideas for activities to incorporate into your atmosphere unit? This lesson contains several activities that engage students in learning about the layers of the atmosphere in fun ways.

Earth's Atmosphere: Thicker Than You Think

A widely held misconception among students (and many others) is that Earth's atmosphere is an incredibly thin, wispy layer of gas. Although the atmosphere is quite thin when compared to the planet's size as a whole, the layers of gas that surround us are actually quite thick. The activities that follow have been designed to make students confront some of the commonly held misconceptions that exist about Earth's atmosphere. These activities engage students in meaningful ways while making learning about the atmosphere fun!

Graphing Temperature Changes in the Atmosphere

Earth's atmosphere is divided into layers based on the temperature changes with increasing altitude. To help students see this phenomenon, start with a basic graphing activity. Give students graph paper and temperature data with increasing altitude (available from several sources online). Then, have them graph temperature changes. The point at which temperature swings from increasing to decreasing (and vice versa) is the point at which a new atmospheric layer begins. Have students research what each of these layers and their boundaries are called and label their graph appropriately. This will then be a great graphic to refer to throughout the atmosphere unit.

Atmospheric Layers Mini-Posters

For this activity, students will need to be in groups of five. Within each group, give one of the five primary atmospheric layers (troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere) to each student. Then, have each group perform some basic research on their layer and create a mini-poster using a standard piece of printer paper. Encourage conversation among group members as they create their posters. This will help foster collaborative learning about each layer. When each group member is finished, have students hang their posters on a wall in the appropriate order.

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