In this activity, students will learn about how tornadoes are formed and what they look like. By creating a water vortex in a soda bottle, they will get a first-hand look at tornadoes.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Science
- a. Analyze and interpret data identifying ways Earth's surface is constantly changing through a variety of processes and forces such as plate tectonics, erosion, deposition, solar influences, climate, and human activity (Grade 5)  ...show
- b. Develop and communicate an evidence based scientific explanation around one or more factors that change Earth's surface (Grade 5)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- D. Structures need to be maintained. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Understand the properties of tornadoes.
- Understand how tornadoes form a funnel shaped mass of air.
- Understand that engineers design and build structures to withstand tornado damage.
|Rope Tornado:||According to NOAA, tornadoes often assume a ropy, sinuous shape in their final minutes; but they can remain narrow like this during their entire life cycles.|
|Tornado:||A rotating column of air ranging in width from a few yards to more than a mile and whirling at destructively high speeds, usually accompanied by a funnel-shaped downward extension of a cumulonimbus cloud.|
|Tornado Alley:||A region located in the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains.|
|Vortex:||A whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it, towards its center.|
|Wedge Tornado:||A tornado that looks wider than the distance from the ground to cloud base.|
Before the Activity
- Go to the library and check out books on tornados.
- Gather all activity materials.
- Make copies of the Windstorm Journal Page, one for each student.
With the Students
- Discuss with students how tornadoes form and the difference between a wedge and a rope tornado. Show students pictures of tornadoes. Point out the vortex (center) of the tornado. Explain that the strength of the tornado does not depend on its size.
- Have the students fill out the "Vocabulary" section of their Windstorm Journal Page with the following vocabulary words: tornado, vortex, wedge tornado and rope tornado. Have the students define these terms on their own or define together as a class.
- Have the students get into groups of four.
- Instruct students to record observations in their journal. Explain that observations are anything that stands out as important during the activity.
- Fill one of the two-liter bottles with water and connect it to the neck of other bottle with duct tape or a tornado tube.
- Have the students turn the bottles upside down (with the one filled with water on top) and quickly twist them. A tornado vortex will form in the upper bottle.
- Have the students fill out the rest of their journal, and draw pictures of what they saw in the bottle.
- Engineers need to know how tornadoes form and travel in order to help protect people from them. Have the students create an informative flyer about tornadoes by drawing a picture of the spinning vortex of a tornado on a piece of paper. Next to or around the drawing, have students list some facts about tornadoes or things that they have learned about tornadoes. Display these flyers around the classroom or in the hallways to help other students learn about tornadoes.
Activity Embedded Assessment
- Instruct students to go NOAA's National Climatic Data Center: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/severeweather/tornadoes.html and complete the Forecast Future Tornadoes! worksheet.
- This worksheet takes students through looking at real data on tornado activity and predicting the likelihood of tornados in certain regions, at different times of the year and during different times of the day.
- Fill the jar three-quarters full with water and add: one teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent, one teaspoon of vinegar and/or food coloring of students' choice. Then, tighten the lid and shake the jar in a circular manner. A vortex will form and be clearly visible.
Jessica Todd, Melissa Straten, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: August 28, 2015