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Hurricanes and Typhoons: Lesson Plans and Classroom Activities

Use these activities and Internet connections to engage students of all ages in a study of these powerful and frightening storms, which are called hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones depending on where they happen in the world.

Typhoon Haiyan, which struck six central Philippine islands on Nov. 8, 2013, was one of the strongest storms on record. It also appears to be the deadliest  natural disaster ever to hit the island nation. A list of ways to help can be found here.

Looking to explore the science behind these dangerous storms? Below are lesson and activity ideas related to hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones:

You and your students can follow this year's hurricane activity. On the Internet, you'll be deluged with hurricane-related sites; I've highlighted a few below in the Tracking Hurricanes on the Internet section. Immediately following is a handful of activities that you might include in a hurricane lesson plan or that you might use to supplement a current-events discussion of "hurricane season."

ABC Order. Each year, hurricane names are assigned in alphabetical order. The list of names is recycled every six years. Find more information about the names of hurricanes and other storms on this page. Try listing the names out of sequence and inviting students to put the list in alphabetical order. (For younger students, you might narrow the list to the first ten [A-J] named hurricanes of the season.)

Read aloud. Hurricanes: Earth's Mightiest Storms by Patricia Lauber (Scholastic). Not just another book about "big weather," this is an amazing work that uses narrative very effectively in weaving the story of these powerful storms. Clearly written and relevant text is combined with impressive photographs and informative maps and illustrations that further enhance this excellent work. (Recommendation source: Science and Children, March 1997.)

Hands-On Science. Static electricity is stored in rain clouds. When a cloud is so full of static electricity that there's no room for any more, a spark might leap from the cloud. That spark is called "lightning"! Your students can demonstrate the effects of static electricity. Invite them to try the following simple experiment. (Note: This experiment works best when the weather is dry.)

  • Tear up a sheet of paper into tiny little pieces.
  • Invite students to use a comb to comb their hair. Or rub the comb on a piece of wool or fur.
  • Then hold the comb over the tiny paper pieces.
  • What happens? Why does it happen?


    Research. Invite students to learn more about hurricanes. Pose the following questions and see who is the first to come up with the correct answers to all the questions. (You might use this activity as a cooperative group activity.)

    1. What's the difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon? (They are all the same kind of storm but hurricanes develop in the Atlantic Ocean, cyclones develop in the Indian Ocean, and typhoons develop in the China Sea.)
    2. What is the origin of the word "hurricane"? (The word "hurricane" came from the Mayan culture of Central America. The Mayans called their storm god "Hunraken.")

    Critical thinking:

    1. What do you notice about the names of hurricanes? (Use the list that students created in the ABC Order activity above.)
    2. What special sequence do you see in those names? (The names alternate between male and female names.)

    Science: The Water Cycle. Discuss and draw a simple illustration on a board or chart to demonstrate to students the steps of the water cycle: (1.) Energy from the sun changes water to water vapor. (2.) Water vapor rises. It cools and condenses to form clouds. (3.) Winds blow the clouds over land. (4.) Clouds meet cool air, and rain or snow falls to the ground. (5.) Most of the water returns to large lakes and oceans. Next, invite students to demonstrate the water cycle:

    1. Fill a large, glass bottle or jar half full of water.
    2. Cover the jar with plastic wrap and secure the plastic wrap in place with an elastic.
    3. Place the jar in a sunny window.
    4. Observe for a few hours. What happens? Why did it happen? (Water drops form on the underside of the plastic wrap. Energy from the sun turned the water into water vapor (evaporation) which caused water drops to form (condensation) on the plastic wrap.)

    Invite students to compare what happened in the jar to the way the water cycle works? Talk about ways they might speed up the process of evaporation and condensation? How would that compare to a hurricane?

    Graphing. Invite students to create bar graphs using weather data.

    For younger students: More hurricanes strike in September than in any other month. Using historical data, make a bar graph to show how many hurricanes have struck each month in recent years.

    For older students: The number of deaths caused by hurricanes has dropped dramatically since the turn of the century. Invite students to use historical data to draw a bar graph that will show this trend.

    Art. Invite students to create a cartoon to illustrate the following joke:

    Why don't weather forecasters tell each other jokes?
    (Answer: They don't want to laugh up a storm!)

    Geography. Follow the course the next hurricane of the season takes. Invite students to track the hurricane for themselves on their own copies of a U.S. map. They should label cities/towns that are along the hurricane's path and the date and time when the hurricane hit those locations.


    Article by Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © Education World

    Related Resources


    You might appoint a "hurricane tracking team" or you might assign individual students or small groups to track some of the following sites for hurricane information.

    Hurricane: Storm Science
    Major goal is to provide foundational science for understanding complex scientific content, inform visitors about current scientific and technological advances, and to help visitors make good decisions prior to and during a hurricane emergency.

    Natural Disasters Around the World
    The number of global reported natural disaster events in any given year. This includes those from drought, floods, extreme weather, extreme temperature, landslides, dry mass movements, wildfires, volcanic activity and earthquakes.

    CNN's Weather Story Page
    Check out CNN's weather page for the latest forecasts, weather maps, allergy reports, and news from the storm center.

    USA Today's Weather
    Click on the yellow WEATHER button in the masthead of USA Today's main page for today's temperature map, top weather news, and lots more.

    The Weather Channel's
    This site includes weather headlines and a search engine that allows you to check weather for a particular city or state. Maps, safety tips, and much more.

    National Hurricane Center Tropical Prediction Center
    A good place to go for current advisories, reviews of previous years' hurricanes, and historical storm data (e.g., deadliest, most expensive, most intense storms).



    Updated 8/27/2019