Skip Navigation

15.4: Lesson 15.3: Layers of the Atmosphere

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
Turn In

Key Concepts

  • Temperature of the atmosphere
  • Troposphere
  • Stratosphere
  • Mesosphere
  • Thermosphere
  • Exosphere

Lesson Objectives

  • Describe how the temperature of the atmosphere changes with altitude.
  • Outline the properties of the troposphere.
  • Explain the role of the ozone layer in the stratosphere.
  • Describe conditions in the mesosphere.
  • Explain how the sun affects the thermosphere.
  • Identify the exosphere.

Lesson Vocabulary

  • exosphere: outermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere above the thermosphere
  • mesosphere: layer of Earth’s atmosphere between the stratosphere and thermosphere
  • ozone: gas with molecules consisting of three oxygen atoms (O3) that absorbs UV light in the stratosphere but pollutes the air when it forms in the troposphere
  • stratosphere: layer of Earth’s atmosphere between the troposphere and mesosphere
  • temperature inversion: reversal of normal temperatures in the troposphere, with cooler air closer to the ground and warmer air above it
  • thermosphere: layer of Earth’s atmosphere between the mesosphere and exosphere
  • troposphere: lowest, densest layer of Earth’s atmosphere where weather occurs

Teaching Strategies

Introducing the Lesson

Introduce the layers of the atmosphere with the cartoon video at the following URL. The video briefly describes each of the layers and some of their important characteristics.



Students can learn about the layers of the atmosphere by doing the foldable activity at the URL below.



Use the modeling activity “Stratospheric Ozone: A Balancing Act” (see URL below) as a demonstration to illustrate the concept of equilibrium as it applies to stratospheric ozone. In the activity, you will build a model that represents the natural balance of stratospheric ozone production and destruction. Then you will alter the model to represent changes human actions have caused in the ozone balance.


Differentiated Instruction

The kinesthetic activity at the following URL will help less proficient readers and English language learners understand the stratospheric ozone balance. Students will play the roles of atoms and molecules and simulate the formation and destruction of ozone molecules in the stratosphere. From the activity, students should be able to understand how ozone is formed and destroyed in the stratosphere and why stratospheric ozone is important.


Differentiated Instruction

Visual learners might benefit from watching a video version of lesson content. They can learn about the layers of the atmosphere in the video “Reveal the Atmosphere” at the following URL.



Have a few students collaborate to make a to-scale model of atmospheric layers that shows their relative thicknesses, temperature gradients, and a few distinguishing features of each layer. Display their model in the classroom and urge other students to examine it.

Science Inquiry

The two-part inquiry activity at the URL below demonstrates the relative thickness of the thin layer that includes the troposphere and stratosphere. By doing the activity, students will be able to explain how relatively thin the atmosphere is, relative to the size of the planet, and will understand the relative extent of the four major atmospheric layers.


Physical Science Connection

Explain the role of the ionosphere in the transmission of AM and FM radio waves. At night, AM radio waves reflect off this layer of the atmosphere and can thereby travel to places on Earth’s surface that lie beyond the horizon from the radio transmission tower. FM radio waves, in contrast, pass straight through the ionosphere and out into space, at night as well as during the day. Because FM waves are not reflected back to Earth’s surface, they cannot travel to places on the surface that lie beyond the horizon from the transmission tower. As a result, at night you can hear an AM radio station from farther away than an FM radio station. You can learn more about this phenomenon at the following URLs:

Reinforce and Review

Lesson Worksheets

Copy and distribute the lesson worksheets in the CK-12 Earth Science for Middle School Workbook. Ask students to complete the worksheets alone or in pairs to reinforce lesson content.

Lesson Review Questions

Have students answer the Review Questions listed at the end of the lesson in the FlexBook® student edition.

Lesson Quiz

Check students’ mastery of the lesson with Lesson 15.3 Quiz in CK-12 Earth Science for Middle School Quizzes and Tests.

Points to Consider

Energy from the sun is responsible for winds that blow in the troposphere. What is wind?

How does energy cause winds to blow?

Notes/Highlights Having trouble? Report an issue.

Color Highlighted Text Notes
Show More

Image Attributions

Show Hide Details
Save or share your relevant files like activites, homework and worksheet.
To add resources, you must be the owner of the section. Click Customize to make your own copy.
Please wait...
Please wait...
Image Detail
Sizes: Medium | Original