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How Do Clouds Form?



  • Science
    --Physical Science
    ----Earth Science


  • K-2
  • 3-5

Brief Description

A hands-on experiment illustrates how clouds form. Students learn about different types of clouds.



  • explain in their own words how clouds form.
  • track the types of clouds they see in the sky over a week or two.
  • learn to identify types of clouds.


clouds, weather, cirrus, cumulus, stratus

Materials Needed

  • glass jar
  • hot water
  • small metal tray
  • ice cubes
  • sheet of black construction paper

Lesson Plan

Ask students to identify things they might see in the sky. They might list things such as the sun, stars, the moon, rain, birds and clouds.

Ask students if they know what clouds are made of? Explain that clouds are made up of millions of tiny water droplets. Tell students that you are going to do a simple experiment to teach them how clouds form. Later, you will introduce them to the main types of clouds they might see in the sky.

The Experiment
This experiment will illustrate how clouds form. Explain to students that you will perform this experiment for the class because it involves very hot water.

  • Fill the glass jar half-full with very hot water.
  • Place the tray on top of the jar.
  • Place ice cubes in the tray.
  • Hold the sheet of black construction paper behind the experiment. (That will make it easier for students to see the cloud as it forms in the top of the jar.)

After students have an opportunity to witness a cloud form, ask them why they think it happened? You might ask them What happens to water as it sits still? (Water evaporates) What happened as the evaporating water (water vapor) came in contact with the ice cubes? (ice cooled the water vapor inside the jar; the water vapor changed, or condensed, into water droplets/a cloud formed) How does this experiment help you to understand how clouds form in the sky? (water evaporates from land; as water vapor rises into the atmosphere, it cools; the water vapor condenses into water droplets/clouds form)

Different Types of Clouds
There are three main types of clouds.

  • cumulus clouds -- puffy clouds that look like puffs of cotton (often a sign of fair weather)
  • stratus clouds -- flat sheets of clouds (often a sign of overcast weather)
  • cirrus clouds -- high curly, feathery clouds (often a sign of fair weather)
You might show some pictures of the different types of clouds. The links below will serve as sources of good pictures of clouds.
Wonders of Weather: Cloud Types
Cloud Boutique
Cloud Guide
Understanding Clouds and Fog

Have students monitor the clouds in the sky each day for the next week or two. Have them keep a chart. You might take digital photos of the clouds so that you have a record of them.

Additional Resource
Clouds Galore: A Webquest


Play the Cloud Game. Have students write down their answers. Then click on the images to see the correct answers. How many clouds did students correctly identify?

Lesson Plan Source

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards 

NS.K-4.4 Earth and Space Science
GRADES 5 - 8
NS.5-8.4 Earth and Space Science

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Originally published 11/17/2005
Last updated 12/18/2009