On Saturday we had the first thunderstorm of the summer at our house. I made it back from a bike ride just as the thunder and lightning started to crack overhead. The storm prompted my five-year-old to ask, “what is lightning?” We tried to give my daughter a short explanation that lighting is electricity traveling between clouds or between clouds and the ground. That, of course, led to the questions of “how does electricity get in the clouds?” Both were good questions that prompted me to turn to a couple of my old, reliable YouTube channels for answers to questions like these.
The first place that I turn to for elementary school level explanations to questions related to earth science is SciShow Kids. There I found What Causes Thunder and Lightning? The video begins by explaining that the shock you feel when touching a doorknob after walking across a carpet is caused by static electricity. From there the lesson moves into explaining how static electricity works in a similar manner in clouds. I didn’t actually show this video to my daughter, but it did give me a great idea for better answering her questions about what lightning is and how electricity gets in the clouds.
The other place that I usually turn to for topics like this is National Geographic’s 101 series. That was where I found Thunderstorms 101. This video is a bit more advanced than the SciShow Kids video but still appropriate for upper elementary school or middle school. The video explains different types of thunderstorms and the conditions that create them.
Applications for Education
If you teach elementary school and or have kids around the same age as mine, both of these videos could help you explain lightning and thunder to them. And if you have slightly older students, you might consider using these videos in a self-paced lesson in which students have to answer questions before playing each section of the video. Here are a few tools for doing that.
(By the way, my four-year-old napped through the entire thunderstorm on Saturday).