The Atmosphere: It's a Gas! (AIG IRP)

The Atmosphere: It's a Gas! (AIG IRP)

Lesson Overview

Brief Description of Lesson/Task/Activity: Within the earth science strand of 7th grade science, students focus on understanding the cycling of matter in and out of Earth’s atmosphere.  In this task, students discover the stages that lead to Earth’s current atmosphere, investigate the cycles that maintain the Earth’s current atmosphere, and write a fictional account of one of the cycles from that gas molecule/compound’s point of view.  The analytical reading and diagram interpretation, as well as the creative writing nature of this lesson allow students to build content understanding while promoting 21st Century Skills.

Time Frame: 2 class periods (~120 minutes)

Type of Differentiation for AIGs:

  • Extension

Adaptations for AIGs:

  • Content
  • Process
  • Product

Explanation of How Resource is Appropriate for AIGs: AIG students in the middle grades need opportunities to analytically organize written information, construct diagrams from written passages, and interpret scientific diagrams to create written descriptions as these skills will be essential in advanced courses (AP sciences, etc.).  The creative writing aspect of this assignment will also allow AIG students to interact with the non-fiction information and demonstrate student understanding in a more personal and interesting manner.

Needed Resources/Materials:

  • “Earth’s Three Atmospheres” cut-apart sheet for student pairs (see attached)
  • Diagram of the Nitrogen Cycle
  • Diagram of the Carbon Cycle - pair with diagram of Oxygen Cycle to demonstrate connection
  • Diagram of the Water Cycle
  • Rubric for “A Gas’s Point of View” writing assignment


Teacher Notes: Prior to use, cut apart the worksheet “Earth’s Three Atmospheres” and place its individual cards in an envelope or sealable bag. The cards are printed on the worksheet in one possible logical order under the correct headings as printed.

Students may have some background in this topic from 6th grade discussions regarding the differences among the atmospheres of our solar system’s planets; however, the information on the cards is designed to stand on its own without review.  If the teacher finds that this is not the case, suggest further independent research or activities for students/the class as necessary.

Stage 1: Engage

Explain to students that before they can study Earth’s modern atmosphere and air quality issues, they must use clues that scientists have found in Earth’s rock formations, volcanic eruptions, meteorites, and other planets in our solar system to determine how our atmosphere came to exist in its present form.  Give each pair of students an envelope of the cut-apart “Earth’s Three Atmospheres” worksheet cards.  Direct students to locate the three classification header cards—one for each phase of Earth’s atmosphere development.  Explain to students that they will read the remaining fifteen cards and place them under each of the header cards using analytical reasoning skills.  Students should also attempt to place the cards under each heading in a logical, chronological order.

As students classify their cards into the different atmosphere categories, the teacher should check their results and ask any leading questions as necessary. Examples of leading questions may include:  “What would need to happen before _______?”  “What could be the result of _______?” “Would that have happened before or after ________?” “Are there other cards that discuss the same _________?”

As students complete the classification activity, direct them to use their grouped statements to create a visual diagram that depicts each of Earth’s atmosphere stages.

Diagrams should be assessed on a 1-4 scale rubric:
4: diagram accurately reflects the information presented in the classification activity and is easily interpreted
3: diagram accurately reflects the information presented in the activity and requires minimal explanation for interpretation
2: diagram is missing some key information or requires significant explanation for interpretation
1: diagram is missing significant information or is unable to be interpreted

Stage 2: Elaborate

Using the student-created diagrams from Day One, review the current composition of Earth’s atmosphere.  State that students will be delving into more detail using prepared diagrams of the cycles that maintain the atmosphere’s current state.  Explain that today’s process is almost the opposite of yesterday’s work: Yesterday they organized information to create diagrams, whereas today they will interpret existing diagrams to create short statements that explain the processes presented.

Hand out the prepared diagrams.  The teacher may choose to explain to students that since the earlier activity has already established that bacteria were necessary to start the conversion of both CO2 and N2 into useful forms, and then plants as a life form evolved to also perform photosynthesis, it is not necessary to establish these points as the starting point of the nitrogen and carbon cycles when they are described.  The gases in question and the living organisms that contribute to these cycles are already in existence, so students may start anywhere on these cycles.  Likewise, the water cycle also does not have a defined starting point.  

As students work in pairs to interpret and record the flow of atmospheric gases through these cycles, the teacher should be prepared to ask similar questions to Day One’s activity, as well as some additional questions:  “What would need to happen before _______?”  “What could be the result of _______?” “Would that have happened before or after ________?” “Where does the arrow indicate the gas travels next?”  “If there is a choice where the gas goes next, how can you make subsequent choices so that the gas goes through the entire cycle?”  Does the gas have to repeat any steps before it can finally get to ________?”  

Stage 3: Evaluate

Students will individually write a fictionalized point of view account of a particular gas molecule/compound’s journey through its respective atmospheric cycle. Teachers may want to randomly assign the molecule/compound through the student selection of a card or specifically assign the molecule/compound by student seating to ensure that all molecules/compounds are discussed and/or students in proximity to each other do not have the same molecule/compound to ensure that work remains individually completed.
Students should be assessed according to a rubric with similar elements as those shown below:

  1. Personifies the gas in an appropriate manner to add interest
  2. Maintains the gas’s consistent point of view
  3. Includes at least four significant “events” from the cycle
  4. Accurately follows the chronology of the cycle for the chosen “events”
  5. Uses scientific terminology correctly*  
  6. Defines/describes scientific terminology in “friendly” language to add meaning and detail
  7. Spelling and grammar are appropriate for this grade level

*Some teachers choose to ban terminology use for two reasons: to force students to use more description and to use the essays later as review tools.

Teacher Notes: Consider coordinating with the ELA teacher(s) prior to the assignment for help in preparing students for the point of view/personification essay.  Also, be aware that student science essays (fiction and non-fiction) may be used as evidence in students’ writing portfolios that should be following them throughout their school years.