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Lightning: An Online Activity for Students


Night Thunderstorm Image

Intense cloud-to-ground lightning Caught using time-lapse photography during a night-time thunderstorm.

NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)


The lightning game is a digital lab brought to you by the JASON Project. Designed for elementary and middle school science students, this interactive program will teach students about lightning and thunder. According to the website, the objective is " to identify the types of electrical discharges from clouds, see how a lightning strike helps to stabilize a cloud, and understand why this knowledge is important to scientists."

I have used this program and it is a wonderful addition to any science curriculum. It would be especially engaging in a classroom equipped with an interactive whiteboard.

National Science Standards:

This lesson was designed around the National Science Education Standards. In addition, the standards for all available states are located on the site.

Grade(s) 5 - 8
  • D.1.h. The atmosphere is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and trace gases that include water vapor
  • D.1.i. Clouds, formed by the condensation of water vapor, affect weather and climate

How to Use the Lightning Digital Lab:

Go to the JASON Project website and begin the game. A new window will open. The lab begins with an overview of the formation of lightning. It is important that the teacher and the students read the material and the stated objectives. I always advise putting the objectives into a science journal for later reference and closure of the lesson.

Once the simulation begins, you will see two thunderstorm clouds. The anvil clouds can be seen producing precipitation as the positive and negative charges in the cloud are highlighted on the image. A small amount of text explains how the charge differences in the top of the cloud versus the bottom produces lightning. The program will continue to cycle until the user clicks the 'Next' button. This first segment deals with cloud-to-ground lightning.

The next connection made for students is how cloud-to-cloud lightning forms. Students are then able to complete an interactive quiz in which they must drag and drop the correct text onto the image. Because there is no 'back' button, the teacher can monitor the students to be sure they are reading the material and not merely clicking through to the end of the program. Although not available, a paper and pencil version of the lab would be helpful. Students could write in what they have learned on a worksheet or lab notebook as well. (Be careful when allowing students to drag and drop the answers to the quiz onto the screen. With enough attempts, they can do it without reading the material.)


Overall, the program is informative and really makes the point that lightning is all about the differences between positive and negative charges. I do wish the program was longer, but for those in search of ways to engage students with an interactive whiteboard, this program is a smart choice. This would also make a great activity for students to explore as a review or quiz. For more lesson plans, go the the Weather Lesson Plans page.

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