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17.2: Lesson 17.1: Climate and Its Causes

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Key Concepts

  • Definition of climate
  • Latitude and climate
  • Effects of oceans on climate
  • Mountains and climate

Lesson Objectives

  • Define climate.
  • State how climate is related to latitude.
  • Explain how oceans influence climate.
  • Describe how mountains affect climate.

Lesson Vocabulary

  • climate: average weather of a place over many years
  • rain shadow: area that receives very little precipitation because of a nearby mountain range

Teaching Strategies

Introducing the Lesson

Introduce climate by relating it to weather. Call on volunteers to define weather and identify factors that make up weather. (Weather refers to conditions of the atmosphere at a given time and place. Weather factors include temperature, air pressure, humidity, and precipitation.) Explain to students that climate is the average weather of a given place over a period of many years. State that temperature and precipitation are the most important weather factors when it comes to climate, because climates are classified on the basis of average temperature and precipitation. Tell students they will learn more about climate and how it is classified when they read this chapter.


Discuss the important role of latitude in determining the climate of a place, particularly a place’s temperature. Then have students investigate the effects of latitude on average temperature with the interactive illustration at the following URL. They can compare cities in the New World that are located at a range of different latitudes, from Moosonee, Canada (about 52 degrees north latitude), to Quito, Ecuador (0 degrees latitude).


Building Science Skills

Have students do the first activity (Part A) at the URL below. The activity is written for Wisconsin students but it can be used by students in any location. In the activity, students will gather and graph weather data for specific previous years and also average weather data for their locality. They will consider how graphs for specific years compare with the average graph. Then they will explain what the graphs say about the differences between weather and climate. The PDF document includes sample data, a student worksheet, discussion questions, and extension ideas.


Differentiated Instruction

Ask a pair of students to add the term climate to the word wall. They should write the term and its definition on an index card and post the card on the wall along with other terms for the course.

Differentiated Instruction

Divide the class into pairs that include students of different ability levels or learning modalities. Then have partners work together to make a concept map entitled “Factors that Affect Climate.” The concept map should relate the effects of latitude, oceans, and mountain ranges on climate.


Ask a few students to make a two- or three-dimensional model that illustrates the rain shadow effect and why it occurs. Have the students explain their model to the class, and then display it in the classroom. Call on other students to identify areas on Earth where they think rain a shadow effect is likely to occur.


If students are interested in learning more about global air circulation, which is a main determinant of climate, they can view one or more of the animations at the following URLs:

Science Inquiry

Divide the class into groups, and have students within each group collaborate in making a table or graph that compares altitudes and average temperatures of several different cities that are located at about the same latitude but at very different altitudes. (They can find a list of cities by of latitude at the first URL below.) They should choose inland cities to avoid introducing another factor that might influence temperature. Alternatively, you can have groups do the activity “Elevation and Temperature” at the second URL below. The activity guides students through a comparison of temperature data for several locations at different elevations in Ecuador to discover the effect that elevation has on temperature.



Science Inquiry

Have students do the inquiry activity at the URL below to gain a better understanding of the effects of land and ocean heating on climate. Using a few simple materials, students will collect and graph data that illustrate how dark land surfaces, light land surfaces, and water heat at different rates. After the activity, relate the results to differences in local climates that are caused by location relative to an ocean.


Common Misconceptions

A common misconception is that climate is simply long-term weather and therefore can’t be predicted. Make sure students understand that climate is the statistical analysis of weather. It is weather averaged over a long period of time and generally over a large area. As a result, it is more predictable than weather. The activity at the following URL is an excellent way to make sure students have a complete and correct understanding of weather and climate and how they are related.


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 17.1 Quiz in CK-12 Earth Science for Middle School Quizzes and Tests.

Points to Consider

In this lesson, you read how latitude, oceans, and mountains affect climate. Do you think you could predict the climate of a place, based on its location?

Do you think that similar locations around the globe might have the same climate?

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