What clues do you use to identify clouds? Tips and activity sheet

The GLOBE Clouds team loves coming up with ways to help students and teachers identify clouds. I've been blessed to visit a number of 4th grade full inclusion classrooms and want to share my quick cloud ID and data collection activity outline!

Anchor question: Do all clouds look the same, even from space?

Goal: Students identify, collect and submit cloud observations by using their own notes and clues for each possible cloud type.

Objectives: Students will,

  • (A) Recognize that clouds are part of the water cycle.
  • (B) Investigate cloud types by their appearances and classify them by the visual clues they found.
  • (C) Collect data of cloud types in their region and classifying clouds using student cloud clues.
Time (minutes) Guiding Questions  Materials Other Resources

Why does NASA study clouds? (A) 

  • With a water cycle chart, ask students what pieces make up the water cycle.
  • Show view of clouds from satellite. Define that dark areas are water (point out Lake Michigan if using resources attached). White areas are usually clouds.
  • Ask - is there something that could make things look white, especially during winter time? snow and ice. 
  • Show students image where clouds are identified in white and snow/ice are in red. Highlight how it is easier for YOU to see snow and ice around you than satellites from space!

Tip: You can have students work in pairs for quick discussion.

- Water Cycle Chart

- cloud satellite images before and after identification (see attachments)

- NASA Earth Observatory  for Kids: Fresh Water Magazine

- NASA/Sally Ride EarthKAM (pictures of Earth from Space)


How many types of clouds are there? (B)

  • Use a graphic organizer to have students name all the different cloud types. You can put hints on the board to help students (e.g. cu-, stra-, cir-)
  • Handout or show cloud chart. Ask students to take a minute and look through at all the types of clouds. Select a few to mention which cloud type is new or surprising to them. Ask the students to describe the cloud based on height and appearance.
  • Handout "My Cloud Clues" graphic organizer (see attachments). Have students use the GLOBE Elementary Clouds book or Dr. Tina Cartwright's foldable dichotomous key to select clues to identify each cloud type. You can do this part as a group or divide the class into working groups. Adjust time as needed.

Tip: If your students are learning about three types of clouds (cumulus, stratus, cirrus) discuss their descriptors. You can play a game of name that descriptor and give students cards with A, B, or C or cumulus, stratus, cirrus. Students raise the correct answer. This also is great for students with special needs.

- NASA Cloud charts in different languages.

- My Cloud Clues graphic organizer (see attachments)

- GLOBE Elementary book: Clouds

- Dr. Tina Cartwright's foldable cloud dichotomous key

NOTE: Tina has two different keys. I like using the one based on physical characteristics (first link).

- Easy tips to determine cloud height of different cumulus clouds using your hand.

Making observations using our cloud clues. (C)

  • Take students outside to observe the sky and collect cloud observations. Be sure the location is not obstructed by buildings or trees. Remember: zero clouds is still a valuable observation!
  • Students use their clues to identify cloud types and use either the cloud protocol data sheet or app to submit data. 

Tip: Use a reference like a line or an fence to file line your students to make observations. You can have students make observations with their backs to the sun to avoid any injury and you as the teacher make any adjustments to the measurements. 

Apps: Remember that their is a GLOBE data entry app to collect your observations. The GLOBE Observer (GO) app can also save your data if you sign in using your GLOBE information.

No internet, no problem! The GO app will save your data and send it once you gain internet access.

- Clipboard

- pencil

- cloud chart

- My Cloud Clues Graphic Organizer

- GLOBE Clouds observation sheet or electronic device to collect data

 - Great image to understand cloud percentage

- GLOBE data entry app

- GLOBE Observer app


How will our observations compare to satellite data?

  • Emphasize that NASA needs your observations of the ground and of high wispy clouds, like contrails, that are hard to observe with a satellite. You can have students talk about something they observed that might be easy or hard for the satellite to observe.
  • Submit data and remind students that NASA will match the observations with a satellite. Discuss observations once comparison is received.

Satellite Matches: Matches are best if observations are done within 15 minute window (before or after) satellite pass. Be sure to see satellite overpass schedule for your area!

- Satellite Overpass Schedule

- Learn more about satellite comparison, part of the NASA GLOBE Cloud Protocol

- SciGirls Cloud Clues Episode with NASA Scientist Dr. Yolanda Shea and links to activities



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This is super useful, thank you for sharing!
Oh the final link to SciGirls Cloud Clues doesn't appear to work? May wish to check the URL.

Is is the same as this video? SciGirls Collect Data?
Hi Rik - so sorry the link is not working. Here is the link I am trying to point people to: