You will need
- Clean, empty plastic bottles (two litres)
- Cotton wool balls
- Access to water
Before you begin
- It’s up to you when you make your cloud – we think it’s best to learn about the names first. Feel free to save chatting about pilots until after everyone’s had a chance to get stuck in, if that works best for you.
- You may want to show everyone some pictures of different types of clouds to help you explain. The Met Office has some really useful information about clouds here.
Learn about clouds
- The person leading the activity should explain that clouds form when water vapour in the air cools down and condenses (turns back into liquid water). The water in the sky forms clouds.
- The person leading the activity should explain that the water droplets form more easily if they have something to stick to, like dust or smoke.
Name that cloud
- The person leading the activity should ask everyone if they know the three main types of cloud. The three main types are cirrus (wispy), cumulus (piled), and stratus (sheet like).
- The person leading the activity should explain that people also describe clouds’ height. ‘Alto’ is used to describe mid-level clouds and ‘cirro’ means high clouds.
- The person leading the activity should introduce the final new word: cumulonimbus, which describes a big pile of clouds that brings rain.
- Everyone should head outside (and find a window) and try to name any clouds they can see. Perhaps cumulus clouds are dotted about, or the sky may be covered with a blanket of stratus clouds.
- Everyone should keep practising the new cloud words until they’re confident about what they mean. They could describe a cloud and someone else could find the right scientific name, or they could choose a scientific name for someone else to describe.
Clouds and pilots
- The person leading the activity should ask everyone whether they think clouds affect planes and pilots.
- Next, they should explain that planes cope well with clouds.
- Finally, they should explain that, most of the time, pilots use autopilot or digital maps when visibility’s reduced. Sometimes, they may navigate differently around big clouds (especially cumulonimbus clouds) because they can cause storms and turbulence – navigating around them makes the flight smoother for passengers.
Make your sky-scape
- Everyone should split into small groups. Each group should get some cotton wool.
- Each group should decide where to make their sky-scape. They could choose a table, the floor, or even an outside space.
- Each group should use the cotton wool to make different clouds in their sky-scape. They should try to make as many different types of clouds as they can – this is a great chance to practise using the scientific words.
Make your cloud
- Everyone should stay in their small groups. Each group should get a bottle, some matches, and some warm water.
- Each group should take remove any labels on their bottle and add a few centimetres of warm water. They should put the light back on tightly, then shake the bottle so the inside’s coated with water.
- One person in each group should carefully light a match. They should let it burn most of the way, then blow it out and quickly drop it into the bottle.
- Someone should squeeze the bottle as hard as they can. They could try putting the bottle on the floor and standing on it to squeeze it harder, but no one should jump on it – it might make the bottle burst.
- Everyone should let go of the bottle and watch a cloud form.
- Someone should open the bottle and gently squeeze the cloud out onto the sky-scape.
- Everyone should watch the cloud float away.
This activity helped everyone to develop skills. When might it be useful to know more about clouds? How do pilots use knowledge about clouds in their job? Can anyone think of any other roles where people might use knowledge about clouds?
This activity was also about valuing the outdoors. Clouds can be pretty irritating when they get in the way of plans, but they bring the rain that plants and animals need. Clouds also control temperatures – they reflect some of the sun’s heat on hot days, but can also act like a jacket, keeping the heat in and insulating the earth on colder days. Does anyone know how climate change affects clouds? As the planet warms up, hotter air rises and breaks clouds up which makes the cycle of global warming worse. How does learning more about the outside world help people connect to the natural environment? Do people think clouds are important?
- Fires and stoves
Make sure anyone using fires and stoves is doing so safely. Check that the equipment and area are suitable and have plenty of ventilation. Follow the gas safety guidance. Have a safe way to extinguish the fire in an emergency.
- Rubbish and recycling
All items should be clean and suitable for this activity.