4-6, Unit Seven, Activity 3: "Puzzle it Out"

Students will identify the components of Earth’s climate system using a puzzle.

Grades: 4 – 6
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Subjects: Visual arts, meteorology

Earth’s climate system is comprised of many individual parts -- some of them global, like the ocean with its deep currents or the atmosphere with its greenhouse cycle, and some of them local, like rain, wind, the shade of a forest, or the heat trapping pavement of a city. The scientists who are working on the global climate change issue are trying to understand how all of these various components of the climate system fit together. When they have learned how each piece of the puzzle operates, they will be better able to understand what happens when pieces are changed or shuffled around. It is interesting to find out that scientists are still finding new pieces to this climate puzzle and trying to understand them well enough to fit them into the big picture. Clouds have turned out to be more than just rain bearers and volcanoes have earned a place in the puzzle with their ability to affect the temperature of the planet.


  • Construction paper cut into universal puzzle shapes (meaning that all of the pieces will fit into every other piece)
  • Drawing markers, crayons

1. Cut out enough puzzle pieces made of construction paper to give one to every student. If the class is small, each student could do two pieces.
2. On the back of each piece, write down the name of one component of Earth’s climate system. Every piece should be different and your list could include the following:

Temperature, light, moisture, wind, snow, ice, desert, forest, rock, clouds, deep ocean currents, plankton, fresh water, salt water, atmosphere, infrared energy, photosynthesis, greenhouse gases, human industries, volcanoes, trees, and plants. (The bibliography lists several resources for gathering information about each of these components.)

3. Each student receives a puzzle piece and draws a picture of whatever is listed on the back.
4. When all the pictures are drawn, the class comes together to talk about each piece of the puzzle and figure out how they all might fit together.
5. Give each student time to research their piece and then explain it to the class. When all of the pieces have been described, find a large flat area to lay out the pieces and start trying to fit them together.
6. Discuss the fact that several of the pieces of this puzzle can fit together in more than one way. Try several different combinations and ask how each variation changes or doesn’t change the big picture.
7. When the students have the puzzle put together to their satisfaction, tack it up on the wall.

Variations and Extensions:
Students may want to make changes in the puzzle as they continue with the global climate change unit.

Scientists have to be ready to modify their theories on Earth’s climate system whenever new data changes the perspective on how pieces fit together. Also, Earth’s climate system is dynamic rather than static so it is continually making adaptations and adjustments to situations like the human caused increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Does all of this mean that your puzzle on the wall can never be “finished”? Does it have to be finished in order for you to feel confident that you understand enough to step in and start manipulating pieces of the puzzle? Can we learn to control Earth’s climate system?

Last updated: November 8, 2017

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