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Learning Resource Type

Lesson Plan

Tornadoes: Cause and Effect

Subject Area

English Language Arts




The lesson will begin with a brief review of the previous lesson from the unit, "Increasing Public Safety During Tornadoes," on how climates and geographic locations can affect weather patterns and produce natural disasters. Students will watch a short video during the before strategy to engage learners in the lesson on a particular natural disaster--tornadoes. Students will read various texts and charts in order to understand the causes and effects of tornadoes, putting the information in a T-chart to help organize their thoughts. Students will then discuss their findings with an elbow partner and then write a two-paragraph cause-and-effect essay which will serve as the summative assessment.

This unit was created as part of the ALEX Interdisciplinary Resource Development Summit.

    Science (2015) Grade(s): 6


    Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information (e.g., weather maps; diagrams; other visualizations, including radar and computer simulations) to support the claim that motions and complex interactions of air masses result in changes in weather conditions.

    Unpacked Content



    • Integrate
    • Qualitative scientific information
    • Technical information
    • Weather map
    • Radar
    • Visualization
    • Weather
    • Air mass
    • Temperature
    • Pressure
    • Humidity
    • Precipitation
    • Wind
    • Uniform
    • Temperature
    • Moisture
    • Landform
    • Current
    • Probability
    • Atmosphere
    • Monitor
    • Instruments
    • Predict
    • Weather patterns
    • Severe weather
    • Temperature
    • Moisture
    • Pressure
    • Humidity
    • Precipitation
    • Wind
    • Atmosphere


    Students know:
    • Qualitative scientific and technical information may include weather maps, diagrams, and visualizations, including radar and computer simulations.
    • Qualitative scientific information may be obtained through laboratory experiments.
    • Weather is the condition of the atmosphere as defined by temperature, pressure, humidity, precipitation, and wind.
    • An air mass is a large body of air with uniform temperature, moisture, and pressure.
    • Air masses flow from regions of high pressure to low pressure, causing weather at a fixed location to change over time.
    • Sudden changes in weather can result when different air masses collide.
    • The distribution and movement of air masses can be affected by landforms, ocean temperatures, and currents.
    • Relationships exist between observed, large-scale weather patterns and the location or movement of air masses, including patterns that develop between air masses (e.g., cold fronts may be characterized by thunderstorms).
    • Due to the complexity and multiple causes of weather patterns, probability must be used to predict the weather.*Local atmospheric conditions (weather) may be monitored by collecting data on temperature, pressure, humidity, precipitation, and wind.
    • Instruments may be used to measure local weather conditions. These instruments may include, but are not limited to, thermometers, barometers, and anemometers.
    • Weather events, specifically severe weather, can be predicted based on weather patterns.
    • Severe weather may include, but is not limited to, fronts, thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms, and droughts.


    Students are able to:
    • Make a claim, to be supported by evidence, to support or refute an explanation or model for a given phenomenon, including the idea that motions and complex interactions of air masses result in changes in weather conditions.
    • Identify evidence to support the claim from the given materials including qualitative scientific and technical information.
    • Evaluate the evidence for its necessity and sufficiency for supporting the claim.
    • Determine whether the evidence is sufficient to determine causal relationships between the motions and complex interactions of air masses and changes in weather conditions.
    • Consider alternative interpretations of the evidence and describe why the evidence supports the claim they are making, as opposed to any alternative claims.
    • Use reasoning to connect the evidence and evaluation to the claim that motions and complex interactions of air masses result in changes in weather conditions.
    • Use instruments to collect local weather data.
    • Monitor local weather data.
    • Use patterns observed from collected data to provide causal accounts for weather events and make predictions.


    Students understand that:
    • The complex patterns of the changes and the movement of water in the atmosphere, determined by winds, landforms, and ocean temperatures and currents, are major determinants of local weather patterns. Because these patterns are so complex, weather can only be predicted based on probability.
    • Instruments may be used to monitor local weather.
    • Weather patterns can be used to predict weather events.

    Scientific and Engineering Practices

    Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information; Analyzing and Interpreting Data

    Crosscutting Concepts

    Cause and Effect

    Primary Learning Objectives

    • Students will analyze and interpret data to determine the cause and effects of tornadoes.
    • Students will write a cause-and-effect two-paragraph essay on tornadoes and describe the damage that they can cause. 


    Before Strategy/Engage: 15 minutes

    1. Pass out the "exit slip" from the previous lesson where students responded to the following questions:

    • Which months had the highest amount of tornadoes in the United States? Which months had the least?
    • How many more tornadoes have occurred on average in May than in January?
    • Based on what the tornado group discussed from their findings on climate and tornadoes, why would tornadoes be more prevalent in certain months and certain regions of the United States?

    2. The teacher should call on student(s) to share. Explain to students that we are going to focus on tornadoes as a weather phenomenon, especially what causes a tornado and the effects that it has on an area. (4-5 minutes)

    3. To review what causes a tornado, the teacher should show students the video: "How do Tornadoes Form?" video from James Spann, an Alabama meteorologist. (4 min 12 sec)

    4. On the board, the teacher should write a K-W-L chart similar to this one from ReadWriteThink. The teacher should ask students what they know are the causes and effects of tornadoes based on the short video and the previous lesson. Write the student responses on the board. Ask students what they want to know about the causes and effects of tornadoes. Write the student responses on the board. (5 min)

    During Strategy/Explore & Explain: 65 minutes

    1. The teacher should pass out the Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer for each student from ReadWriteThink. Tell students they are going to research the cause and effects of tornadoes. They will fill out the graphic organizer with their ideas and then convert their ideas into a two-paragraph essay.

    2. The teacher should model for students how to find an idea from their text and how to put it in their T-chart. (5 minutes)

    2. Students will read the causes and effects of tornadoes on their devices using the following sites: "The Causes & Effects of Tornadoes" from Sciencing and excerpts from "Tornadoes" from Weather Whiz Kids which include "What is a Tornado?", "How Do Tornadoes Form?", "What are Some Other Factors for Tornadoes to Form?", "What do Tornadoes Look Like?", "When are Tornadoes Most Likely to Occur?", "Where are Tornadoes Most Likely to Occur?", and  "Fujita Scale". They will take the information that they find that fits as a cause or effect and put it into the T-chart. (25 minutes)

    3. After twenty-five minutes of working, ask students to share with their elbow partner what causes a tornado from their Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer. Ask students to make a claim (Tornadoes are caused by ____.) Then, they need to support their claim with evidence from their T-chart. (5 minutes). Ask students to repeat this sharing with the effects of a tornado.  Ask students to make a claim (The effects of tornadoes are ____.) Then, they need to support their claim with evidence from their T-chart. (5 minutes). The teacher should then ask students to share this information with the whole group. View a Cause and Effect T-Chart Example here. The answers on the T-chart are not all-inclusive, and students may wish to add other findings from their research. 

    Note: As students are making claims and giving supporting evidence verbally, they are actually preparing themselves for their own writing. This activity will also help prepare students for constructed response questions on standardized testing.

    4. The teacher should ask students to take out a piece of notebook paper. Using their completed Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer, students should develop a cause and effect two-paragraph essay. The first paragraph will describe the causes of tornado formation. The second paragraph will describe the effects of a tornado. Remind students of the information that they shared with their elbow partner. At the end of twenty minutes, students should turn in their cause-and-effect essays (20 minutes). The teacher will use the cause-and-effect rubric from ReadWriteThink to score the two-paragraph essay.

    After Strategy/Explain & Elaborate: 5 minutes

    1. The teacher should return to the K-W-L that was created earlier on the board.

    2. Ask students what they learned today that they did not know at the beginning of class. Write students' responses on the board under the L (5 minutes). Student responses should include the causes and effects of tornadoes. 

    Assessment Strategies

    Formative Assessment: The teacher should informally assess students through the use of the before and after strategy (K-W-L). The teacher should circulate the room as students write their cause and effect essay using their T-chart. The teacher will listen to group discussions as students share their information and will informally assess them as well. A sample T-chart is attached.

    Summative Assessment: The teacher should formally assess students through the cause-and-effect essay and the cause-and-effect graphic organizer at the conclusion of the lesson using the cause-and-effect rubric to score each student's writing. 


    Students can expand their understanding of the causes and effects of tornadoes by reading "Weather: Tornadoes" from Ducksters. Students can also begin to think ahead to future lessons by reading "How to Design a Tornado Safe Room" from Reader's Digest as the culminating unit activity will be designing a product. 


    Students who require additional preparation before the lesson can use this cause-and-effect template to assist in essay development.

    Approximate Duration

    Total Duration

    61 to 90 Minutes

    Background and Preparation


    Student Background Information:

    After participating in lesson one of this unit, students will have an understanding of different weather phenomena and the climates that produce them. At the end of the lesson, students were encouraged to think only of tornadoes in preparation for the rest of the unit. 

    During this lesson, students will be required to navigate to a website using a technological device. Students will need to know how to complete a T-chart. Students will need to know how to write a paragraph with a topic sentence and supporting ideas.

    Teacher Background Information: 

    Tornadoes are a common natural disaster in Alabama. Tornadoes are created when air masses of different temperatures and humidities meet. In Alabama, warm, humid air over the Gulf of Mexico often meets cool air coming from Canada, causing unsettled stability in the atmosphere. Tornadoes are measured using a Fujita Scale (F-Scale) that identifies the intensity of a tornado which in turn causes damage to an area. The teacher may need to research a Fujita Scale from the Storm Prediction Center for more background information. 

    The teacher should make all required copies prior to teaching the lesson. 

    Materials and Resources

    Materials and Resources

    Student Materials (per student)

    Notebook paper

    Pencil or pen

    "The Causes & Effects of Tornadoes" from Sciencing

    Excerpts from "Tornadoes" from Weather Whiz Kids include "What is a Tornado?", "How Do Tornadoes Form?", "What are Some Other Factors for Tornadoes to Form?", "What do Tornadoes Look Like?", "When are Tornadoes Most Likely to Occur?", "Where are Tornadoes Most Likely to Occur?", and  "Fujita Scale" 

    Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer for each student from ReadWriteThink

    Cause and Effect Rubric for each student from ReadWriteThink

    Teacher Materials

    Cause and Effect Rubric for assessing student writing

    Cause and Effect T-Chart Example

    Website for before strategy:

    "How do Tornadoes Form?" video from James Spann, an Alabama meteorologist

    Websites for Acceleration Activities: 

    "Weather: Tornadoes" from Ducksters

    "How to Design a Tornado Safe Room" from Reader's Digest

    Intervention Activity

    Cause and Effect Template

    Technology Resources Needed

    Student Technology Resources

    Internet-capable technology devices (iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, etc.)

    Teacher Technology Resources

    Document camera (ELMO), projector, screen