Lesson Plan—Tornado as a Vortex
Short video clip of
a vortex. In a number of cartoons, you can find a vortex where a
“bad guy” is being sucked into a whirlpool. You can also use an educational
video that explains a vortex, but I feel that a cartoon might generate
Students will be able
to explain the following:
1. A tornado is a vortex.
2. A vortex is a spiral
motion of fluid that sucks everything near it toward its center.
3. In the case of a
tornado, the fluid is air.
4. A thunderstorm may
draw up air from the ground, creating unstable combinations of rising and
falling air and resulting in a violent rotating storm. If the storm
touches the ground, a tornado is born.
5. A tornado can cause
Students will need research
materials on tornadoes, including a computer with Internet access. Each
group will need the following materials:
Plastic bottle with cover
Small plastic objects,
such as tiny houses from a popular board game
1. Review with your students
what they have learned about tornadoes. Students should acquire the following
background information before beginning the activity:
- A thunderstorm
may draw up air from the ground, creating unstable combinations of rising
and falling air and resulting in a violent rotating storm. If the storm
touches the ground, it becomes a tornado.
- A tornado can
cause extensive and devastating damage.
2. Further explain to
students that a tornado is a vortex, or spiral motion of fluid. In the
case of a tornado, the fluid is air. (You may have to explain that, while
we usually think of air as a combination of gases, gases and fluids are
very similar with regard to the way they move, or flow.)
3. Tell students they
are going to make a “tornado” in a bottle. Divide the class into
groups, and provide each group with the materials listed previously.
4. Give students the following
- Fill the bottle
with water to 1 inch (3 centimeters) from the top.
- Add a teaspoon
- Cover the bottle,
and shake it until the salt is dissolved.
- Add a drop of
- Add a drop of
- Cover the bottle
tightly and move the bottle in a swirling motion.
5. To demonstrate the
destructive potential of tornadoes, have students place small plastic objects,
such as tiny houses from a popular board game, in the bottle, swirl, and
observe what happens to the objects.
6. To make sure students
understand the relationship between the model tornado they have made and
a real tornado, ask them what the water in the bottle represents.
They should know that the water in the bottle represents swirling currents
of air in a real storm.
7. Have each student use
what he or she has learned from research and from the project to write
a brief description of a real tornado, including an explanation of its
causes and effects.
Instead of making “bottle
tornadoes,” have students concentrate their energies on researching the
causes and effects of tornadoes. Each student might write about an
actual tornado in history, describing its effects on the local population.
1. Discuss the nature
of seasons. Why does the Earth experience seasonal change? Explain why
the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter while the Southern Hemisphere
2. Discuss the tools used
by meteorologists to make accurate predictions about the weather.
3. Discuss the effects
of air pressure on the human body. Why does air pressure have to be regulated
in airplanes and submarines?
4. Discuss how a hurricane
travels across Africa and moves west toward the United States. Where does
it get its strength to travel so far and with so much force?
5. Discuss disaster relief
efforts for hurricane victims. Are there volunteer opportunities in your
community to assist in the event of a disaster?
6. Discuss how a vacuum
cleaner simulates a tornado. How is it like a real tornado?
7. Discuss the destructive
forces on a house caused by a tornado.
8. Discuss what to do
in the event of a tornado. Make a tornado plan for your house and family.
What precautions should you take in the event of a tornado warning?
9. Describe hail and explain
why it doesn't fall during every thunderstorm.
10. In 1815 there was
a volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. The following year,
the United States experienced snow and killing frost in July! Discuss how
this could happen.
You can evaluate your
students on their descriptions and explanations using the following three-point
description; complete and correct account of causes and effects; writing
clear and error-free
description; incomplete and/or partially incorrect account of causes and
effects; writing mostly clear with some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
contains inaccuracies; incomplete and/or incorrect account of causes and
effects; writing lacking in clarity; numerous errors in grammar, usage,
You can ask your students
to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining the basic causes
of a tornado that students should list.
Weather Lore Day
Have a “weather lore”
day. Ask students to explore weather lore of different cultures in history.
Each student can present to the class a favorite example of weather lore
in the form of a story, poem, or pictures.
And the High for Today
Is . . .
Each day for a month,
cut out the daily weather map from a newspaper, and bring it to school.
Have your class graph the average daily temperatures, precipitation, and
sky conditions for the month. Every day let a different student interpret
the daily weather map and give a weather report to the class. After tracking
the weather for a month, have groups of students predict the weather for
the coming week.
Weather and People
Michael D. Morgan, Joseph
M. Moran, Prentice Hall, 1997
How climate influences
human behavior and decision-making is the topic covered in this illustrated
A World of Weather: Fundamentals
Jon M. Nese [et al.],
Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1996
A recommended textbook
for more senior students who wish to explore the possibility of meteorology
as a career option.
The Handy Weather Answer
Walter A. Lyons, Visible
Ink Press, 1997
Four hundred pages of
a wide range of weather-related questions and their answers are covered
in this illustrated text, which includes bibliographies.
William J. Burroughs
[et al.], Time-Life Books, 1996
This volume of the publisher's
“Nature Company Guides” series offers colored illustrations and maps to
instruct the reader in this broad overview of weather phenomena.
Weather Wisdom: Proverbs,
Superstitions, and Signs
Stewart A. Kingsbury,
Mildred E. Kingsbury, and Wolfgang Mieder, Peter Lang, 1996
Humans in every culture
in every age have interpreted aspects of the weather in non-scientific
ways. This volume explores the international folklore of weather.
EBS TORNADO! links page.
EBS HURRICANE! links
Current Weather and Products—NWS
Current weather, forecasts,
satellite data, radar, regional forecasts, etc. Basically everything about
current weather just about anywhere.
Severe Storms—FACTS, WARNINGS
Bureau of Meteorology,
Australia Severe Storms is an excellent page for general information about
severe storms, effects and procedures.
Students are writing/revising.
are working in groups.