Mini Lesson/Activity

Analyzing Cloud Effects on Earth’s Energy Budget: Student Activity

Mini Lesson


This lesson is designed to help students analyze the interaction between clouds and Earth's incoming and outgoing energy. 

Clouds affect Earth's climate in two major ways. First, they are an essential part of the water cycle. Clouds provide an important link between rain and snow, oceans and lakes, and plants and animals. Secondly, clouds also have an important (yet complicated) effect on Earth’s temperature because of their complex role in the Earth's radiation budget. Clouds can both cool down and warm up the temperatures on Earth. Let's explore this further...

Student Directions:

Analyze the diagrams showing the effects of clouds on Earth’s Radiation and answer the questions below.

Cloud Effects on Earth’s Radiation, Credit: NASA Visible Earth 
Cloud Effects on Earth’s Radiation, Credit: NASA Visible Earth 

  1. What effect do high clouds have on surface temperatures? 
  2. What effect do low clouds have on surface temperatures?
  3. Review the diagram here and answer the following question.  How is the effect different from day and night? Clouds effects on nighttime energy budget
  4. Make a claim about the effect of all clouds together and their impact on Earth’s temperatures and your evidence to support your claim.  
  5. As global air temperatures continue to rise, how do you think this will affect clouds?

Teacher Note

Teachers, these mini lessons/student activities are perfect "warm-up" tasks that can be used as a hook, bellringer, exit slip, etc.

Teachers who are interested in receiving the answer key, please contact MND from your school email address at  We verify that requestors are teachers prior to sending access to the answer keys as we’ve had many students try to pass as teachers to gain access. To receive the keys please provide the following:

  1. The link to the school/institution’s teacher directory where you are employed so we can verify that you are a teacher
  2. Ensure that the school email address is provided in your response as we are unable to send to personal email accounts

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