The Big Picture


Students learn that climate change and its impacts are already being observed.

Engage students with an interactive overview of climate change.

  • Engage students in a discussion of what they know about the impacts of climate change and what they would like to know. List students' questions about the impacts of climate change on the board for later exploration. Have students visit NOAA’s 10 Signs of a Warming World website and make a list of the changes that are happening now due to climate change, then discuss as a class, considering what types of data would indicate a change over time. (Note: instruct students to mouse over the headings on the 10 Signs of a Warming World website to see the content about each topic.)

Explore data about how climate change has impacted Earth since 1900.

  • Climate Impacts Graph Matching: This activity allows students to explore the impact that climate change has had on Earth over the past century by having students interpret graphs from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report. After students have matched all the graphs in this activity with the correct statements, tell students that one graph in the set shows the cause of recent climate change, not an impact of climate change. Ask students to identify the graph. Students should indicate the graph that shows the rise in carbon dioxide over time. Tell students that the recent rise in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is due to burning of fossil fuels and other actions of humans.

Explain how climate change affects the water cycle.

  • After exploring a diagram of the water cycle (such as the USGS Water Cycle Diagram), have students watch the Drip Drop! music video, produced by KidTribe and UCAR. The video highlights parts of the water cycle that are affected as climate changes. Consider handing out the Drip Drop! lyrics and a copy of a water cycle diagram and have students identify which parts of the lyrics relate to parts of the water cycle. 

Evaluate student learning of observed impacts.

  • Have each student write two true statements and two false statements about how some aspect of climate has changed through time while looking at graphs in the Global Climate Dashboard. Have students trade questions and identify whether other statements are true or false while looking at graphs in the Global Climate Dashboard.
  • Return to the list of questions that students had during the Engage portion of this lesson, and have each student investigate those using data in the Global Climate Dashboard, the graphs in the Climate Impacts Graph Matching activity, or other sources. Instruct students to write a paragraph to answer one of the questions from the list. Answers should refer to data from one or both sources and describe the evidence showing that Earth has changed over the past decades or century. You may wish to narrow the list of questions on the list to those that can be answered with the data provided.