Tornados STEM


Tornados STEM introduces students to these disastrous storms. Students will learn all about how tornados form from mesocyclones in supercell thunderstorms. They will also discover what kind of damage these twisters can cause.

The “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page outlines some additional activities and variations that you can use when presenting this lesson to your students. One idea is to have students write their own scenarios for the practice and exchange them with a partner. Then each student can determine the F Scale rating for their partner’s scenarios.

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What our Tornados STEM lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Tornados STEM explores how tornados form and describe the kind of destruction they can cause. Students will discover interesting facts about these natural disasters and get to simulate one for the activity. This lesson is for students in 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. The activity for this lesson requires two clear and cleaned 2-liter bottles, duct tape and a metal washer (or a Twister Tube), and water. Before you begin the activity, you will need to remove the plastic ring from the necks of the bottles.

Options for Lesson

In the “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page, you will see some suggestions for additional activities or ideas to add to the lesson if you want to. There are specific Twister Tubes that will secure two 2-liter bottles together to prevent any liquid from leaking out. Consider purchasing some for your classroom if you plan to repeat this lesson with several students or over a few years. It can save a lot of time and cleanup along the way! Have students write their own scenarios and exchange them a partner. Each pair of students will figure out the F Scale of the scenarios. Discuss the revised version of the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale) and compare it with the original Fujita Scale.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page provides an extra paragraph of information to help guide the lesson and remind you what to focus on. It suggests you get creative with the activity and add additional “debris” in the bottles.┬áThe blank lines on this page are available for you to write out thoughts and ideas you have as you prepare the lesson.



The Tornados STEM lesson plan contains two pages of content. The lessons begins with a scenario. Picture this: You are sitting in your room instead of playing outside because of a massive thunderstorm. As you look out the window, you see a rotating, cone-shaped column of air extending downward, but it isn’t touching the ground. Instead, what you are seeing is a funnel cloud. This funnel cloud makes your older brother very nervous! He knows that as soon as it reaches the ground, there’s going to be a tornado. And so do your parents!

As the cloud touches down, you hear your dad call everyone to the bathroom in the middle of the house. You start to feel scared and are very glad that your family has a disaster plan. As you all wait in the safest place in the house, you cross your fingers and hope the tornado doesn’t hit your home!

What Is a Tornado?

A tornado is a rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm cloud to the ground. Tornados can have wind speeds up to 300 mph, which can do a lot of damage to houses and buildings and plants and trees. They have been known to rip trees from their roots, hurl vehicles, and destroy large buildings.

The lesson explains that tornados can form from any storm, but they are most likely to develop out of a supercell. A supercell is a unique system of thunderstorms that have rotating winds and an updraft. When a warm, moist air mass (from the Gulf of Mexico) meets a cool, dry air mass (from Canada), they create instability in the atmosphere.

The storm has lots of wind, all coming from and pushing in different directions. When the winds in a supercell line up just right and flow together with enough strength, the storm starts to turn faster and faster. Within a supercell, this area of rotation is called a mesocyclone. The mesocyclone, plus a strong updraft, tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical and makes a tornado.

Effects of Tornados

Students will learn that in an average year, there are 1,000 tornadoes reported nationwide. While they can happen at any time, peak tornado season in the South is from March to May. And in the North, it is from June to August. Usually, tornados happen somewhere between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Have you ever heard of “Tornado Alley”? It is located in the Great Plains, which is the central part of the United States. The states that comprise Tornado Alley are Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, and Louisiana.

Over 500 tornados occur in this area each year, which is why it got that nickname. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) work together to educate the people to better prepare and respond to tornados. Tornados can happen with little or no warning. That’s why people must take precautions before a storm comes. It is vital to develop an emergency plan, learn the warning signs for a tornado, and listen to tornado watches and warnings.


The Tornados STEM lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each one will help students solidify their grasp of the material they learned throughout the lesson. You can refer to the classroom procedure guidelines to know when to hand out each worksheet.


For the activity, students will get to simulate a tornado using water in bottles. They will use the materials you provide to build their tornado simulator. Then they will follow the instructions on the worksheet. Once they finish building the bottles, they will rotate the water at the top quickly. They can then watch the “tornado” twist down the bottle!


Students will practice analyzing information during the practice worksheet. They will review the descriptions for the five levels on the Fujita Scale. Then they will read through three scenarios and decide which level applies to each situation. If you want, you could have students create their own scenarios. Then they can exchange them with a partner and determine the F Scale for those situations.


The homework assignment requires students to develop a safety plan regarding tornados. Students will talk with their family and have them help answer the list of questions on the worksheet page.

Worksheet Answer Keys

There is an answer key for the practice worksheet at the end of the lesson plan document. Correct answers are in red to make it easy to compare them to students’ responses. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits this page. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep this as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade


Science, STEM

State Educational Standards

NGSS.3-ESS2-1, NGSS.3-ESS2-2, NGSS.5- ESS2-1

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.