Global Atmospheric Circulation and Precipitation

  1. Visit and play the animation showing most currently available global precipitation data.
  2. Look at the map below. Circle any patterns of rainfall that you see.
Global precipitation map

3. What is the type of land is below these rainfall patterns? (Green is forest, brown is desert).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

4. In what latitude bands are these rainfall patterns?                                                                                                                                                            

Use these terms to fill in the blanks below for Questions 5-8: Hadley, cloud, humid, Sun, cloud, rainfall, low, ground, Ferrel, fronts, Equator, Hadley, poles, rainfall.

5. Rainfall occurs when ______ air cools down. Air cools when it rises, or when it moves away from the _______.

6. The Atmospheric Circulation is driven by the _____. In the Tropics, the Sun warms the _____ which in turn warms the air above. hot air rises, leading to _____ and _______. This drives the ________ cells.

7. Colder air sinks at the poleward edge of the _______ cells and over the __________. Sinking air has no _______ or __________.

8. In the _______ Cells, rainfall is mainly associated with ____ pressure systems (depressions). Rainfall is mainly on the ________.

9. Complete the following table (Look at the map for help):



Sub Tropics



Clear/ Cloudy

Clear/ Cloudy

Clear/ Cloudy

Rain (or snow)-fall

Dry/ Wet

Dry/ Wet

Dry/ Wet


High/ Low

High/ Low

High/ Low

10. Sketch what you think the Hadley Cell looks like in December and June by the images of the Earth below. Hint: the Equator and Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn are shown on the map.


Visit to see today’s rainfall patterns. Click on ‘Earth’ and then choose in the Overlay settings ‘3HPA’ to see the rainfall patterns together with surface wind speeds. Change in the settings the ‘Control’ to change the date and see rainfall patterns over time. Compare January and July rainfall patterns.

11. In the Tropics, how does the latitude of highest rainfall change between January and July?                                                                                                                                                                                                          ___________________________________                         

12. How does this relate to the sketches you drew above? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Extension question: Why do you think you are asked to look at rainfall in January and July, rather than December and June? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Climate Zones

Climate Zones

Background Information:

Our planet has several climatic zones; their classification is based on the temperature and precipitation over the seasons. The climatic zones can be simplified into:

Polar and Mountains – very cold and dry all year

Cool Temperate – cold winters and mild summers

Warm Temperate – mild winters, dry hot summers

Arid or Desert – dry, hot all year

Tropical – hot and wet all year

The climate of an area is affected by several factors: latitude (distance to the Equator), terrain, altitude (height)  and how far from the sea or ocean it is.


Coloured pencils

Plasticine (white, blue, green and black)

A small ball

A lamp

Suggested activities:

Discuss the idea of different regions of the world experiencing different climates. Make a mind map using ideas from pupils about climate zones and the factors that may affect the climate of a region.

Climate Zones

Colour in the climate map below and colour it in according to the key.

N.B. Pupils may find the subsequent tasks easier if a logical colouring code is used like the one shown. Where hotter regions are highlighted in warm colours and cooler regions in cool colours, for simplicity the polar & mountain climate zones can stay white.

With the map coloured, pupils should look for patterns in the locations of the climate zones. Start by looking at the proximity to the equator and altitude with younger pupils. Explain that climate is in part affected by the absorption of heat from the sun. Different objects absorb heat at different rates (water is slower to heat and cool, land is much faster).


Climate Zones: Internet Geography

Climates of the World: (Climate Zones) – detailed climate information for individual countries and areas within countries.

Practical Activities:

1. Modelling the Earth

You will need:

– Blue plasticine

– A small ball

– A heat lamp

Method: Make a model of the earth by covering a small ball with plasticine. Put the heat lamp a fair distance away from the ball – maybe 1m. Shine the heat lamp on the plasticine for a few minutes. Feel the difference in temperature between the ‘equator’ and the ‘poles’.

Results: The areas of the ball facing the lamp should feel much warmer than the areas pointing away – either the ‘poles’ or the ‘night’ side of the ball. When the surface of the Earth isn’t at right angles to the Sun, the Sun’s energy is spread over a wider area and it doesn’t heat up as much. This is the cause of much of the Earth’s weather. As the Earth orbits around the Sun, the Sun moves from being at right angles to the Tropic of Cancer to be overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn. This gives us seasons.

2. Modelling the Earth

You will need:

– White, blue and dark green plasticine
[Hint: Mixing some black with the green plasticine makes
a dark green that gives really good results]

– A small ball

– A sunny day

Method: Make a flat model of the earth by covering a piece of cardboard with white (Polar regions), blue (sea) and dark green (land) plasticine. Leave the map out in the Sun for 10 minutes. Feel the difference in temperature between the white and dark green areas.

Results: The darker areas should feel much warmer than the white poles. The colour of the area of land affects the ability to absorb light. Whiter regions (like the poles and mountains) reflect light and darker regions (like vast areas of tropical rainforest) absorb light and get warmer.

Climate Zones map

Global Atmospheric Circulation

11. Hot Deserts

Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide

Pathway: Climate

 Climate ZonesPast Climate ChangePolar Climate – Hot Deserts

Lesson overviewIn this lesson we look at the characteristics and locations of hot deserts and the adaptations of animals and vegetation found there.

Hot deserts have less than 250mm precipitation per year and daytime temperatures that may approach 50oC.   Hot deserts cover 14.2% of the Earth’s surface, their distribution largely determined by the global atmospheric circulation.   Physical factors such as altitude or latitude determine deserts with the most extreme values of precipitation/temperature. Their characteristics and distribution will change over long periods of time due to the Milankovitch cycles and Continental Drift.  Climate change is projected to have complex effects and the size of arid regions is expected to grow. The plants and animals that live in the deserts around the world have adapted to cope with the extreme climate.

Learning objectives:

  • To be able to describe the characteristics and location of at least one hot desert.

  • To understand why hot deserts are hot and dry.

  • To be able to draw and interpret a climate graph of a hot desert.

  • To understand animal and plant adaptations to the hot desert climate.

Key Teaching Resources

Hot Deserts PowerPoint
Hot Deserts PowerPoint (easier)
Hot Deserts Worksheet
Hot Deserts Making Plants and Animals
Hot Deserts Making Plants and Animals – Info sheet
Hot Deserts homework

Teacher CPD/ Extended Reading

Hot Deserts_More for Teachers

Alternative or Extension Resources

Using GIS to investigate temperature extremes

Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide

10. Polar Climate

Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide

Pathway: Climate

Atmospheric and Oceanic CirculationClimate ZonesPast Climate Change Polar Climate

Lesson overviewIn this lesson we investigate why polar climates are so extreme and how it can be too cold to snow in Antarctica.

The extremes of Polar weather – the lowest temperatures on Earth and little precipitation – vary significantly throughout the year.  Antarctica has the harshest conditions, recording an annual mean low of nearly -60oC due to its elevation and distance from the sea.  Low levels of precipitation define Polar regions as deserts and it can be too dry to snow. The effects of climate change are amplified in these regions through feedback mechanisms which in turn affect global climate. 

Learning objectives:

  • To understand why it is cold in Polar regions.

  • To understand why our Polar regions are classified as deserts.

  • To be able to calculate mean temperature and total precipitation and interpret a climate graph

Key Teaching Resources

Polar Climate PowerPoint
Polar Climate PowerPoint (easier)
Polar Climate Worksheet
Polar Climate Worksheet (easier)
Beast from the East homework

Teacher CPD/ Extended Reading

Polar Climate – More for Teachers

Alternative or Extension Resources

Using GIS to investigate temperature extremes

Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide

5. Climate Zones

Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide

Pathway: Basic weather/ Climate 

Weather MeasurementsWeather and Climate – Atmospheric and Oceanic Circulation – Climate Zones

Lesson overview: In this lesson we explore the main climate zones, their link to the global atmospheric circulation and the influence of the oceans.

Climate zones describe parts of the Earth that have similar climate – the characteristics of the seasonal variations in weather.  These relate to physical factors such as latitude and altitude, in association with their position relative to the global atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Although there are only five top-level categories – Tropical, Dry, Continental, Temperate and Polar – it is possible to define a total of 30 categories using the Köppen-Geiger classification system. This sytem considers a range of data that includes typical weather data such as temperature and precipitation and supplements this with evaluation of other variables such as soil temperature and the frequency of specific weather phenomena.  These data allow climatologists to differentiate between similar climates and describe the characteristics of specific climates very precisely.  Projections of climate change suggest climate zones show significant, though complex, change. 

Learning objectives:

  • To be able to describe the major world climate types.

  • To know where the world’s major climate types are found.

  • To understand what happens to precipitation and temperature with increasing distance from the sea.

Key Teaching Resources

Climate Zones PowerPoint
Climate Zones PowerPoint (easier)
Climate Zones Worksheet
Climate Zones Worksheet (easier)
Climate Zones Homework

Teacher CPD/ Extended Reading

Climate Zones _More for Teachers

Alternative or Extension Resource

Climate and Ecosystems homework

Climate graph practice

Climate Zones – introductory activities including practical demonstrations

Activities using Weather and Climate data

Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide

Key Stage 3 Resources for Geography

Resources for 11-14 Year Old Students

Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide is our new scheme of work with associated CPD materials for teachers of 11-14 geography. 

Below you will find other selected resources suitable for this age group.

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.

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”.