Measuring Raindrops

How big is a raindrop?

Collect data and analyse mode, mean and median, range, interquartile range and standard deviation

Introduction: There are many words and many descriptions for different types of rain: fine rain, heavy rain, pelting down, mizzling. In fact the BBC news magazine has an article entitled “Fifty words for rain”. But how big is a rain drop? Does the size vary depending upon the time of year or the type of rain?

Aim: To collect data, manipulate data and analyse data to calculate and compare the size of raindrops.

Equipment Required

  • A platform of area of about 0.5m2 with edges.
  • Enough flour to cover the platform to a depth of about 3cm
  • An accurate measuring device, e.g. electronic sliding callipers.

Collecting the data

  • Cover the platform with the flour.
  • Place the platform in the rain for about 90 seconds, long enough for about 200 raindrops to hit the platform.
  • Use your measuring device to measure the diameter of the raindrops and record the data.

Manipulating, analysing, displaying and interpreting the data

There follows a number of suggestions of how the data can be used depending upon the ability of the students.

1. Calculate the mode, mean and median diameter of raindrop. Which is the most appropriate measure to use? Compare results from different groups.

2. Group the data into appropriate groups. Represent the data using histograms. Discuss whether it is appropriate to have all the groups the same size of vary the size of the groups. Compare the results from different groups. Compare data collected at different times of year if possible.

3. Calculate the spread of the data using range, interquartile range and standard deviation.

4. Discuss different methods of displaying the data. Is the data discrete or continuous? Should a bar chart or a histogram be used? This activity is ideal for discussing when a histogram should be used and the reasons for using a histogram.

5. Draw box plots to show the distribution of the data. Compare the spread of different data sets. What does this information tell us?

6. Write a report comparing the size of raindrops.


It may be appropriate for Advanced level students to explore the log-normal distribution as discussed in the accompanying article A Low Cost Experiment for determining Raindrop size Distribution.

Further Background Information

Making rainfall features fun: scientific activities for teaching children aged 5–12 years.

This lovely animation explores integration through Is it better to walk or run in the rain?

With thanks to Stephen Lyon at the National STEM centre

A Level

Independent Investigation

A guide to collecting weather data from the RGS student guide to the A Level independent investigation (Non-examined Assessment – NEA) and some further ideas.

Video Link:

Carbon and Water Cycles; Weather and Climate

Carbon, water, weather and climate a PowerPoint presentation focussing on recent changes to the carbon and water cycles, and how the two cycles interact.

Climate and Weather – an overview for A level, on the RGS website.

Climate change updates for A level geography – supporting the 2016 specifications.

Background information for teachers on the water cycle and the carbon cycle.

Video link:

Deforestation, the water cycle and the carbon cycle in the Amazon.

Extensive information from the Cool Geography site: Case study of a tropical rainforest setting to illustrate and analyse key themes in water and carbon cycles and their relationship to environmental change and human activity and more generally on the carbon and water cycles.

Depressions, Anticyclones and Synoptic Charts

Weather Charts

Weather Systems

Mid-latitude weather systems video (with downloadable resources)

Depression based exercise where students draw contours of temperature, pressure and precipitation to work out what the system looks like: Student worksheets and notes for teachers. Simpler versions of the same exercise can be found on the KS3/4 web pages.

Use WOW data to track a cold front across the UK and work out its speed.

track a cold front across the UK and work out its speed practical excercises.

weather forecasting exercise

Shipping Forecast weather system excercise teachers notes and worksheet.

There are some more teaching resources covering weather systems and weather maps on the GCSE resources page.

Tropical Weather

Monsoons – a resource looking at the link between rainfall and food production in India. Teachers notes and Excel data sheet.

Some useful links about Super typhoon Haiyan/ Yolanda

Extreme Weather

Extreme Weather

Extreme weather in the UK

Climate and Climate Change

Climate Change with sections on atmospheric structure, composition, solar radiation, climate feedback mechanisms and ozone depletion.

Other Weather



A case study of orographic rainfall and Foehn winds in Scotland with images for students Image 1Image 2Image 3Image 4Image 5.

An exercise using height/ temperature graphs to investigate atmospheric stability, lapse rates and cloud formation with a worksheet for students and an introductory Powerpoint.

Investigate How big is a raindrop collect data and analyse mode, mean and median, range, interquartile range and standard deviation etc.

This lovely animation explores integration through Is it better to walk or run in the rain?.

Have a look at the Barometer – a regular podcast featuring weather and climate issues from the University of Manchester.

A one hour tutorial on Climate variability, change and water resources from MetEd (requires free registration). The level is suitable for A level.

A very useful set of animations, videos and explanations from Wycombe High School’s Animated Geography.

Other recommended useful links

GCSE resources

Data Analysis

Activities Using Weather and Climate Data

1. Temperature differences (current weather)

To answer this question you will need to visit the Met Office website.

(a) Go to the UK data pages and complete the table below for London and the nearest weather station to your school.

(b) Now visit the world data pages and fill in the values for Adelaide (Mediterranean), Barrow (polar) and Singapore (tropical).

(c) Suggest reasons that explain these differences in temperature and general weather conditions.

Nearest UK location

2.Travel writer

You are a travel writer for a national newspaper. Your Editor has asked you to write the weather section for a special supplement the newspaper is publishing for readers planning a short-break holiday this weekend to various British towns and cities. The Editor wants you to cover Bournemouth, Aberdeen and Jersey.

(a) Consult the rolling archive of data for the weather stations in Bournemouth, Aberdeen and Jersey to gain an idea of weather conditions over the past 48 hours. The data for 0600, 1200, 1800 and 2400 will help you. Write a paragraph describing the conditions at each of the stations.

(b) Now use the forecast charts for the UK to see what the weather might be like for the next couple of days at each station. Write another paragraph describing the future weather conditions at each of the stations.

3. European forecast

(a) Complete the table below using the most recent data in the world data pages for the weather stations at Barcelona and Moscow.

(b) Use the latest European analysis synoptic pressure chart (T+0) to explain the current weather for each station.(c) Now consult the forecast charts(T+12 onwards) for Europe, and write a short weather forecast for each station, covering the likely changes to the weather conditions over the next 24 hours.5. Climate zones(a) Consult the world data pages and fill in the temperature information in a table for each of the weather stations in the polar, temperate and tropical climatic zones.(b) Use an atlas to find the latitude of each weather station and add these values to the table.

(c) Now use this data to draw a scattergraph, plotting latitude along the horizontal axis, allowing for locations in both the northern and southern hemispheres along the same axis. Then add temperature on the vertical axis, remembering to allow for negative values on your vertical axis.

(d) Describe the general pattern that your scattergraph shows.

(e) Suggest reasons to explain this pattern.

 TemperatureCloud coverWind speedWind directionCurrent weather

Web page reproduced with the kind permission of the Met Office

Key Stage 3

Resources for 11-14 Year Old Students

Unit 1: Measuring, Recording and Presenting UK Weather

Weather questions starter activity.

Drawing Climate Graphs: Student Worksheet and Teachers Notes.

Using leaves as thermometers: Student Worksheet, Leaf Cards and Leaf Graph.

Drawing contour maps of rainfall: Student Worksheet.

Using weather instruments: Student Worksheet and Teachers Notes.

Simple weather fieldwork using USB temperature dataloggers: Guidance document and report from Weather magazine.

Unit 2: The impacts of Weather

Homework activity – assess how the weather affects you through a week.

Using weather data to investigate whether sports events can go ahead (Developed by Martin Sutton and previously published in Teaching Geography)

Met Office resource looking at correlation between classroom behaviour and weather with student worksheet and answers for teachers. Note the appearance of WOW has changed a little since this resource was written, but the St Athan data can be found by typing St-Athan or 3034 into the search box.

A simple and effective lesson plan which uses WOW data to identify Urban Heat Islands. The supporting PowerPoint presentations can be found here and here.

Urban heat island isotherm drawing exercise: notes for teachers, idealised weather station data for isotherm drawingsatellite image of Birmingham and solution for teachers.

Urban Heat Islands: a three lesson fieldwork resource, using a class set of simple digital thermometers to make a temperature map of the school’s catchment area. The lessons cover Urban Heat Island background information, fieldwork planning and data collection, display and analysis. Teachers notes and PowerPoints 1, 2 and 3.

Unit 3: The Difference between Weather and Climate

The difference between weather and climate: Student Worksheet.

Unit 4: Global Climate and Biomes

Climate zones starter activity.

Climate Zone Activities: Teachers Notes.

On this map of the world , ask the students to write on the following country names in green: UK, New Zealand, North Carolina (USA) and Uruguay; the following countries in yellow Arizona (USA), Namibia, Mali, Saudi Arabia and Western Australia; and the following countries in red Indonesia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and Hawaii– what pattern can they see?
[according to the standard Köppen classification, the green countries have a temperate or cold climate without a dry season, the yellow countries a Dry (desert or semi-arid climate) and the red countries a Tropical climate]

Show our short video on YouTube the Global Atmospheric Circulation

Use this Global Atmospheric Circulation practice exercise

Look at the current circulation on nullschool. Where is the ITCZ now?

Comparing weather data from different climate zones.

Unit 5: Polar and Hot Desert Environments

We do not currently have any resources for this unit. What would you find useful?

Unit 6: The Climate of the last 11,000 Years

Interpreting a climate graph: Student Worksheet.

Our ‘Green Sahara’ resource can be found on this page.

Our ‘Climate Change and the Vikings’ resource can be found on this page with Teachers Notes.

Our ‘Year With no Summer’ investigation can be found on this page.

Our resources looking at the effect of the Sun on climate, and on the Greenhouse Effect, Global Warming and Dimming can be found on this page.

A ‘De Bono’ hat activity looking at the impact of climate change: Teachers Notes, Students Worksheet and Students Worksheet .

Climate debate: Students Worksheet , Introductory PowerPoint , Help Cards, Debate Card 1 and Debate Card 2.

Climate change Scheme of Work for year 8 geography, developed by Charlotte Woolliscroft at Lawrence Sheriff School:

Unit 7: UK Air Masses and Depressions

Weather Taboo – some sample Taboo cards looking at air mass and depression words. Please share any further ones you develop with us!

Air Masses revision – a Human Board Game.

Using weather data to investigate the effects of different air masses on UK weather teachers notes with worksheets for students.

Red sky at Night, Shepherd’s Delight worksheet and Teacher’s Notes – a resource looking at how our prevailing wind direction means this saying is largely true.

Identify the features of a depression on a simple weather map.

Cold and warm fronts – some activities for differentiation and revision.

Using WOW data to investigate a depression passing across the UK with worksheets for students including more isoline drawing practice.

Mid latitude weather systems basics: Teachers Notes, Introduction to the formation of a depression and Student Worksheet, more detailed PowerPoint about the formation of a depression, Student Worksheet – passage of a depression and practise drawing a cross section through a depression PowerPoint exercise

Pop up depression – fold a 3 dimensional depression (simple and more detailed versions).

Impacts of a depression – PowerPoint (wont link) and Student Worksheet.

Isotherm and Isobar drawing exercise based on a depression: student worksheet. A simpler version of the T/ isotherm map can be found here or the full version including solutions may be found on the A level page.

Unit 8: Global Weather Hazards

Tropical Cyclones scheme of work

Tropical Cyclones worksheet looking at locations, climatology etc.

Tracking Hurricane Irma an online research exercise.

A starter activity which looks at the duration, frequency and impacts of various global weather phenomena.

Starter activity – Weather Words Quiz

Extreme temperatures around the world GIS exercise developed by Joseph Kerski at ESRI.

Using GIS for hurricane tracks and tropical storm risk (Developed by Bob Lang, teacher and GA consultant)

Lots of recommended links

Ideas for weather clubs

Experiments and demonstrations

A wonderful introduction to Air Masses from the BBC’s The Battle Of The Weather Fronts – The Great British Weather using some very loud rugby players!

A depression based activity using Living Graphs.

Have a look at the Barometer – a regular podcast featuring weather and climate issues from the University of Manchester.

An excellent GA resource investigating weather conditions needed for the various Olympic sporting events using weather station or WOW data.

Resources looking at change of state, latent heat, data handling and the Electromagnetic Spectrum from the NCAS/ DIAMET project.

A science upd8 resource looking at rain and cloud seeding.

A link to Radical Geography’s activities and resources tried and tested in the classroom weather and climate and weather hazards.

Four lesson plans from the BBC weather centre.

Weather Bingo a fun plenary.

Texas Instruments’ ‘Using Real World data’ booklet contains two projects for KS3 maths – ‘Compare the Weather’ and ‘Hurricane Force’. Although the instructions assume access to their software, the projects could easily be adapted.

An online, interactive lesson going from weather data collection through to forecasting from NGfL Cymru.

An interactive introduction to weather systems and fronts from NGfL Cymru.

BBC bitesize explanations of weather systems, symbols, charts and processes.

Digital Geography weather forecasting and weather forecasting using Google Earth.

Teachers TV looks at the effects of weather on people

Teachers TV looks at KS3 Geography Teachers in the Freezer

Teachers TV looks at the weather in Sounds, Pictures, Blogs and Poetry

Teachers TV looks at making houses hurricane proof

Teachers TV looks at severe weather conditions

Teachers TV looks at Hurricane Katrina

Teachers TV looks at The Great Storm of 1987

Your climate, your life

Online, interactive lessons on climate change from NGfL Cymru here and here

A short video from on Degrees of Change.

Teachers TV looks at climate change timeline

An Inconvenient Truth the climate change film pack (look under essential reading and DCSF lesson resources)

Met Office climate introduction

Operation Climate Control game

Climate change and information from Ice Cores from WAIS divide.

A NASA introduction to the Earth’s Energy Budget – scroll down to “Balancing our Planet’s Energy Budget”.

Rainforest Deforestation the Carbon and Water Cycles

This news item from NASA relates to this animation, as does this Nature Communication from October 2020.

Suggested learning activities:

***NEW*** – data and GIS exercise for A Level students

Explore leaf area, evapotranspiration and temperature data using various statistical techniques to explore the relationship between deforestation and weather. Download the Worksheet for students, Answers for teachers and data spreadsheet.

Activity 1:
Ask students to write a voiceover for the film, demonstrating their understanding of the concepts involved.

Activity 2:
Complete this sentence based on the film:
When rainforests are deforested, places downwind are left with more/ less/ the same amount of rainfall and greater/ less/ the same amount of flood risk.

Activity 3:
Look at and identify a Tropical region which has experienced deforestation in the last decade.
Look at What is the prevailing wind direction in that region?
Using, write a paragraph explaining how you think the water cycle has been affected by deforestation for a place downwind from the rainforest region you identified.

Activity 4:
Having watched the animation, use , http://earth.nullschool.net and to write a paragraph explaining how you think the water cycle has been affected by deforestation for a specific place downwind and/ or downriver from a rainforest region.

Activity 5:
Having watched the animation, read these articles from Nature and NASA (noting that this predates the Nature article), NASA (2019)Geography Review (p22 – 25) and Carbon Brief.
Summarise the impact of tropical deforestation on the carbon and water cycles.

More information about the water cycle and climate change and the water cycle and an excellent summary from Cool Geography.

Using Tree Rings for Past Weather and Climate

Using tree rings to teach weather, climate, correlation, photosynthesis, regression, the carbon cycle, isotopes and more

close up of tree rings

On the BBC news: the research from Swansea University that supports these resources.

1) Show the Film

2) Play the Game

Trees can tell stories about past climates. Scientists can decode the pattern of a tree’s growth rings to learn which years were warm or cool, and which were wet or dry. Scientists combine the ring patterns in living trees with wood from trees that lived long ago, such as the wood found in old logs, wooden furniture, buildings like log cabins, and wooden ships, in order to build a longer historical record of climate than the lifespan of a single tree can provide.

You can decode tree ring data to learn about past climates using the simulation above. Line up tree ring patterns to reveal temperatures in the past. The simulation has two versions. The standard version is the best place to start. The custom version for schools in the United Kingdom was created to go along with a specific curriculum. It has a longer timeline and includes information about some historical events.

The process scientists use to build a climate history timeline has an extra step that, for the sake of simplicity, is not represented in this simulation. When scientists decode long climate records from tree ring patterns, they don’t physically line up the tree core samples next to each other. Instead, they make graphs called skeleton plots for each sample. They combine the skeleton plots from many samples to build a climate history timeline.

Data source for this simulation
The tree ring data in this simulation is from oak trees in southern England. The data, from the UK Oak Project, was collected from living trees, logs in bogs, beams and rafters in old buildings, old wooden furniture, and wall paintings in a farmhouse dating back to 1592. One sample came from the windlass – the wooden crank used to raise and lower a castle’s gate – of the Byward Tower in the Tower of London.

Collect tree ring samples, align the samples to create a 300 year record and see what weather and climate events emerge here.

Alternatively, use the simple paper-strip version from UCAR.

3) Choose the Relevant Teaching Resource

ResourceSubjectSuggested age range
The Difference between Weather and Climate Teachers’ notes and Worksheet.Geography11-14 (KS3)
The impact of volcanoes on climate Teachers’ notes and Worksheet.Geography11-14 (KS3)
Weather detective – the weather of 1826 Teachers’ notes and Worksheet.Geography11-14 (KS3)
Past Climate Change Teachers’ notes and Worksheet.Geography11-14 (KS3)
Correlating Tree Rings and Temperature Notes for Teachers and worksheets A , B, C, D and E and/ or spreadsheets A , B, C, D and EGeography11-16 (KS3/4)
Solar, Volcanic and Anthropogenic Climate Change Teachers’ notes and WorksheetGeography14-16 (KS4)
The Factors Affecting Photosynthesis Teachers’ notes and WorksheetBiology11-14 (KS3)

KS3 Maths – Moving Around

Open Road lesson 1 – Moving Around

Students are to traverse a network in the most efficient manner possible. Consider different information to influence their decisions on the best route to take.

By the end of the lesson:

All student will analyse a network and select the most efficient route
Most students will analyse a network and select the most sensible route using additional information
Some students will consider three factors to select the most sensible route at the most appropriate timing

Lesson plan

Main Body
Pupils should be given the road network worksheet and information sheet.

Activity 1
The objective for the pupils is to plan a route for the driver of a gritting lorry. Pupils use the information and the map to find the quickest route that allows all roads to be covered at least once. The path should begin and end at the depot (it is not possible to complete the route without overlapping). Pupils should add up the time taken to complete their chosen route and best solutions discussed. Note: some roads are A roads some B.

Activity 2
Pupils are now given the road temperature forecast graphs. The best time to spread grit salt is just before the road temperature freezes (discuss with pupils why this might be). Pupils should use the information given about the freezing time for each road to plot the best route for the gritter to take now.

Extension Activity
When a group have found their optimum route they should then use the timing cards from activity 1 to establish how long their route will take and decide what time the driver should start work/take breaks etc.

Discuss how additional information can change the decisions you make.

Lesson resources
Open Road distances standard
Open Road distances advanced
Open Road network map
Open Road temperatures

Web page reproduced with the kind permission of the Met Office.

KS3 Maths – Keeping the Roads Open

Open Road Lesson 2

The main activity is essentially a simulation of County Council decision making when roads are forecast to freeze. Pupils use temperature forecasts from the Met Office to decide how much salt to spread on the roads and calculate the cost.

By the end of the lesson:

All student will use the information from a graph and translate into a response using a key. Most students will evaluate the decisions made in light of additional information.

Lesson Plans

Discuss the effects of icy roads, videos of cars skidding from YouTube can be used to illustrate the point.

What are the impacts? Tease out responses of the costs in terms of financial, for example: social costs (costs to NHS/Police), economic costs (lost productivity of workers having time off) and personal costs (damage of car). Make the point that with costs like these it is worth gritting to reduce the impacts.

Main body

Pupils (working in pairs) to be given the road gritting planning sheet.

Pupils should use the gritting flowchart (based on a real life plan used by the councils) to decide how much grit should be spread by the council each night following the forecasts given. Pupils should be reminded that weather forecasts are forecasts of what is expected to happen and that conditions might change meaning reality is a little different.

Give the pupils the forecast information sheet.

Go through the first example showing forecast temperature, allowing students to decide what quantity of grit to use and then actual temperature, review this decision.

Using the forecasts for the next few days allow students to assess each day and work out the cost of grit for the week.

Once pupils have successfully assessed the cost of their choice for each day the actual temperature graph for that day can be revealed.

Discuss the difference in choices, and the impact that pupils felt they made by their choices.

Lesson resources
Open Road network map
Open Road Temperatures
Open Road gritting flow chart
Open Road gritting planning sheet

Web page reproduced with the kind permission of the Met Office.

KS3 Maths – Is Temperature Rising?

Is temperature rising?

Key Stage 3, Maths

Prior learning
A basic knowledge of averages would be useful. The ability to use Excel if computers are used, or the ability to draw line graphs from data.

By the end of the lesson:

Students will demonstrate that the temperatures in England are rising
Students will produce a report to justify their findings using graphs and charts where necessary

Lesson plan

Look at the graphs. Discuss what the graphs might be showing. If each one is showing the same thing, what could they be? (Use negative axis to help – they show temperatures over a 10 year period)

What time of the year or where in the world might they be showing? Students to discuss:

  • B – summer (July)
  • C – winter (January)
  • A and D are yearly averages

The Met Office has records of temperature in England. When do you think they started recording temperatures? (1659 is when they recorded a temperature for the country called the Central England Temperature (CET))

Discuss differences between earlier recordings and 1671 then 1699 (reading become more accurate so decimals were used). From the graphs that you have looked at over four different 10 year periods can you tell if temperatures are rising? (No)

Look at the worksheet. Here is a sample of temperatures from one 10 year period. Assign each pair/group to draw the graph for an individual month’s temperatures over the 10 years (x-axis is year, y-axis is temperature).

Once graphs are drawn encourage pupils to think about the questions at the bottom of the page.

Discuss results of graphs and questions.

Lesson resources
Central England Temperatures

These monthly mean temperatures are representative of a roughly triangular area of the United Kingdom enclosed by Lancashire, London and Bristol. The monthly series, which begins in 1659, is the longest available instrumental record of temperatures in the world. Live data of Central England Temperatures are available here.

Is temperature rising graphs.

Is temperature rising worksheet.

Web page reproduced with the kind permission of the Met Office.