Kakadu - Australia's Ancient Wilderness Purchase Video
Classroom Resources

Beware: Lightning!
Suggested Grade Level: Grades 6-8. See adaptations/extensions below for more ideas for younger and older students.
Estimated Time of Completion: 3 class periods. Allow one class period for the static electricity activity and Internet research; a second class period for working on projects; and a third class period for the sharing of the products.

Lesson Overview
Lesson Objectives
Science Standards
Tools and Materials
Teaching Strategy
Helpful Web Sites
Assessment Reccomendations

Lesson Overview

Lightning occurs more frequently on Kakadu than any other place in the world. It plays a significant role in the life cycle of the Kakadu region of Australia. In this lesson, students will participate in an experiment that will help them create miniature lightning and learn how lightning works. They will then research the topic of lightning using related links listed below, and work on a project that demonstrates their knowledge of lightning and its effects on earth and its people.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Describe how lightning forms
  2. List different types of lightning
  3. Identify safety practices during a lightning storm

Science Standards

This lesson addresses the following national standards as found at http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/

  • Understands basic features of the Earth
  • Understands basic Earth processes
  • Understands the cycling of matter and flow of energy through the living environment
  • Understands basic concepts about the structure and properties of matter
  • Understands energy types, sources, and conversions, and their relationship to heat and temperature
  • Knows the kinds of forces that exist between objects and within atoms

Tools and Materials

  • One balloon for each pair of students in the class
  • Pieces of nylon, wool, or fur so that each group has one item
  • Computers for Internet research
  • Art supplies for posters

Teaching Strategy

Background knowledge: Electrical charges build up within the cloud as a thunderstorm grows. Oppositely charged particles gather at the ground below. The attraction between positive and negative charges quickly grows strong enough to overcome the air's resistance to electrical flow. Racing toward each other, the charged atoms connect and complete the electrical circuit. Charge from the ground then surges upward at nearly one-third the speed of light and we see a bright flash of lightning.

There are also other forms of lightning besides the ground to cloud variety. The most common type of lightning in a thunderstorm is in-cloud lightning, which occurs within the cloud itself. Cloud-to-cloud lightning is a common occurrence in which opposite electrical charges in one cloud attract those in another. An extremely rare form of lightning is called ball lightning. It is so rare that scientists often question its existence. Those who have witnessed ball lightning describe it as a round ball of fire seen on telephone wires or entering through windows and doors during a thunderstorm. To find out more about different types of lightning, go to A Lightning Primer from the GHCC at http://thunder.msfc.nasa.gov/primer/index.html.

Since lightning is a common occurrence in many areas of the world, it is important for students to be safe during a lightning storm. Students will explore Web sites that give information on lightning and safety tips during a lightning storm.


The preparation: Read this poem to students. Ask them whether they think the events in the poem could actually happen.

A crack of thunder suddenly, with lightning, hail, and fire
Fell on the Church and tower here, and ran into the Choir.
A sulfurous smell came with it, and the tower strangely rent,
The stones abroad into the air with violence were sent...
One man was struck dead, two wounded so they died a few hours after...
One man was scorched so that he lived but fourteen day and died,
Whose clothes were very little burnt, But many there were beside
Were wounded, scorched and stupefied...
Some had their skin all over scorched, yet no harm to their clothes
One man had money in his purse which melted was in part,
A key likewise which hung thereto, and yet the purse not hurt
Save only some black holes so small as with a needle made...
The Church within so filled was with timber stones and fire
That scarce a vacant place was seen in church or in the choir.

This IS an actual poem recounting a particularly disastrous lightning strike that occurred at Widecombe in the Moor, Devon, on October 21, 1638. Afternoon service was in progress in the parish church when a severe thunderstorm occurred, with consequences which were described by Richard Hill, the village schoolmaster. His verse is still displayed on boards in the church, and indicates that a huge storm cloud wielded all the powers at is disposal. (Poem reprinted from The Guinness Book of Weather Facts and Feats, by Ingrid Holford.)

How does lightning occur? Students can create "miniature lightning" through the following activity:

  1. Have students rub an inflated balloon with a piece of nylon wool, or fur. Alternatively, they could rub it on their clothing.
  2. Students should watch the balloon in the dark as they bring their finger near to it. Miniature lightning should appear. Students might compare results with different types of cloth used to rub the balloon.

    For an alternative activity exploring lightning, go to NOVA's Indoor Lightning activity at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachersguide/lightning/lightning_sp1.html or Newton's Apple Lightning Bolts at http://www.pbs.org/ktca/newtons/15/lightning.html

    How did this work? Students rubbed a material like nylon, wool, fur , or cloth on a rubber balloon. An electric charge was built up on the balloon. When their fingers approached, electricity in the balloon jumped to their fingers and created the small lightning flash.

    The word static means "standing still." Therefore, static electricity refers to electric charges that remain on materials without leaking off. When a charge jumps off to cause a spark, it becomes a moving type of electricity, which we refer to as electric current.

    The giant lightning flash that you see during a storm is caused by an enormous charge of static electricity that builds up as a result of the motions of billions of water droplets in a cloud. When the charges becomes big enough, it suddenly jumps to the ground or from cloud to cloud to create a lightning flash.

  3. Have students draw a picture of what happens when lightning is formed, in terms of positive and negative charges.
  4. After the activity, students should go to the Web sites listed below to learn more about lightning and lightning safety.
  5. Students can choose from one of the activities below to demonstrate their knowledge of lightning:
    • Create a series diagram, showing the different types of lightning. Be sure to include the positive and negative charges and the direction that the lightning travels.
    • Design a poster illustrating safety tips during a lightning storm.
    • Develop a script for a public service announcement on lightning and provide safety reminders in your clip.
    • Using the Internet, search for and investigate major fires started by lightning and assess the damages of those fires.
    • Research where on earth lightning is most and least frequently occuring. Summarize why lightning is frequent or not frequent in that part of the world.
    • Have students collaborate with other students in different part of their country or elsewhere in the world to compare information about lightning in their areas. Students could find another class to collaborate with by visiting http://www.epals.com. Share your lightning tips, multimedia programs, and public service announcements with them in exchange for lightning information and safety tips from their area. [New Media: please create link]

Helpful Websites

Lightning Activities and Information:

NOVA: Lightning!

Lightning Information with Health and Safety Implications:

Dr. Koop's Medical Encyclopedia

Lightning Injury Research

Sabrina's Lightning Safety for Kids

Personal Lightning Safety

General Lightning Information:

USA Today Information on Lightning

The Weather Channel's Information on Lightning

Assessment Recommendations

Students can be assessed on their participation in class activity and discussion. Student drawings of lightning simulation could be assessedfor completeness and concept understanding. Project work can be assessed by the demonstration of new information acquired and the clarity of the concepts presented.


Younger students can create mini-lightning, then learn about lightning safety tips by going to the child-created site, Sabrina's Lightning Safety for Kids , at http://www.azstarnet.com/~anubis/zaphome.htm. They can create posters illustrating one safety tip concerning lightning.

Older students can study the history of lightning science at A Lightning Primer from the GHCC at http://thunder.msfc.nasa.gov/primer/index.html and study our current practices of lightning investigation. Then students might create a report on paper or use a multimedia program to disseminate information to others.

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