Measuring Rainfall

By Susie Jessop, August 6, 2008

Grade Level

  • PreK-1


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Mathematics
  • Science

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


Students will explain why rainfall is measured and design an object to measure rainfall.  The object needs to be built from a limited amount of materials and must withstand the effects of a simulated sprinkle from a watering can or spray bottle.   Students will share their models with their peers and discuss their strategies as well as their thinking. The students will also produce a written reflection and draw a picture of their design in their Science Journals.

National Standards



Standard 1. Level 1.  Understands atmospheric processes and the water cycle
1.  Knows that short-term weather conditions (e.g., temperature, rain, snow) can change daily, and weather patterns change over the seasons.


Standard 11. Level 1.  Understands the nature of scientific knowledge
2.  Understands that a model of something is different from the real thing (e.g., object, event) but can be used to learn something about the real thing.


Standard 12. Level 1.  Understands the nature of scientific inquiry
2.  Knows that tools (e.g., thermometers, magnifiers, rulers, balances) can be used to gather information and extend the senses.

Standard 13. Level 1.  Understands the scientific enterprise
1.  Knows that in science it is helpful to work with a team and share findings with others.


Students will:


  • explain why rainfall is measured
  • design an instrument to measure rainfall that can withstand the effects of a sprinkling of water
  • share their model and explain their strategies


  • National Weather Service -
  • How Artists See the Weather:  Sun, Wind, Snow, Rain.  By Colleen Carroll. (1996, Abbeville Press)
  • Weather (Eyewitness Explorers). By John Farndon. (1992, Dorling Kindersley Publishing)
  • Weather Forecasting.  By Gail Gibbons.  (1993, Aladdin)
  • Weather: Poems for All Seasons.  Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Melanie Hall.  (1995, HarperTrophy)
  • Weather Words and What They Mean.  By Gail Gibbons. (1992, Holiday House)
  • Down Comes The Rain.  By Frank Branley. (1997, HarperTrophy)
  • The Magic School Bus: At the Waterworks.  By Joanna Cole: illustrated by Bruce Degen. (1988, Scholastic)




  • eye droppers & watering containers (to simulate rain)
  • rain gauge (to measure rainfall)
  • spray bottle (to simulate rain)
  • rulers
  • magnifying lenses
  • scissors
  • tape
  • different sized containers (plastic and aluminum cups and trays)
  • straws
  • pipe cleaners
  • Popsicle sticks
  • scrap material
  • toothpicks 
  • foil




  • meteorologist: someone who studies weather
  • rain:  drops of water that fall out of clouds to the ground
  • rainfall:  the amount of rain that falls over a period of time.
  • rain gauge:  a tool for measuring how much rain has fallen.
  • model:  an object that can be created to learn something about the real thing.




Day 1

1. Explain that because water is an important element of weather, meteorologists study rain. One important activity used to study something is to measure that thing. 
2. Ask “Why do you think it’s important to measure rainfall?”
3. Ask “Who would measure rainfall?” (Meteorologists, gardeners, farmers…)
4. Ask “Why would it be important for farmers to measure rainfall?” (Discuss the effects of droughts and floods on crops.)
5. Explain that meteorologists use special tools to measure rainfall. 
6. Show an example of a rain gauge and demonstrate how it works.  Point out how to read the ruler on the rain gauge.
7. Say “Today we are going to design an object that measures rainfall but your object may not look like this rain gauge.  Instead, you and your partner will build an object that can measure rainfall, using only the materials provided, and it must withstand a sprinkling of water from a watering can.”
8. Tell students that a model can be created to help us learn something about the real thing.  
9. Show supplies.
10. Divide students into groups of two or three and give them 5-10 minutes to draw/sketch a picture of what they plan to build.  Select a few groups to share their drawings and reflect on their ideas.
11. Next, using the materials, students will design/create an object that will not only measure rainfall but will also withstand the effects of rain. (25 minutes) 
12. Students should document their steps in their Science Journals.
13. After twenty-five minutes, each group will share their model with the class. Ask each group to explain their strategy.  Ask, “Is there anything you wanted to add to your model or what anything you might you change?”

Day 2
Review and Reflect


Ask students the following questions:


1. Why do meteorologists measure rainfall?
2. Who else might measure rainfall?
3. Why is it important to measure rainfall?
4. What were some of the strategies you were thinking about when you designed your structure?  
5. How did you try to build your structure so that it is strong enough to withstand the effects of rain?
6. If you were a farmer, what might your structure look like?
7. If you were designing an object for your garden, what would that look like? Would it look different?

Test and Reflect

1. Today the students will test their structures by sprinkling them with water from a watering can.  Take the students out to the playground and perform the tests.  (This may be done as a whole group or in small groups.)
2. After the testing, share and reflect which strategies worked and which did not.  Based on the results, ask the students to think about how they could improve their structures.
3. Have the students return to their small groups, where they should discuss the following questions:

a.     “Why do meteorologists measure rainfall?”
b.     “Why would it be important for a farmer or a gardener to know how much rain has fallen?”
c.     “How could you improve your structure?”

4. After five minutes have students share with the class what they talked about in their small groups.
5. Now have students write their reflections in their Science Journals.  They may draw their structures and label them.  They may write and/or draw what they have learned.
6. Students may choose to change their structure and retest.


Share and Reflect

1. As a class or in small groups, students will share what they wrote and/or the drawing of their model.
2. Students will place their models around the room and the class will take part in a “Museum Walk.”  (Explain expectations that students must not touch objects, but they should walk and look closely at the other designs.  Optional:  Students may write comments to their peers with post-its and place them near their model.)
3. Gather once more and ask students, “How did that go?”  “What did you notice about other models?”  “What might you do differently next time when you build a structure that measures rainfall?"  "What did you learn from seeing other structures?" 


  • Students can tell or show why we measure rainfall.  (Teacher may use Science Journal as evidence or discussions.)
  • Students designed a tool to measure rainfall that was strong enough to withstand simulated rain.



Enrichment Extension Activities

Students may test their structures using a spray bottle or eye dropper and discuss their exploration with the group or document their tests in their Science Journals.

Students can explore a variety of rain gauges:   



  • In a Science Center, students could test different rain gauges by spraying them with a water bottle or using eye droppers.  What happens?  Can you easily measure the water?


  • Discuss where might be the best place to install a rain gauge.


  • Begin taking daily measurements of rainfall.


  • Chart the rainfall measurements on a weather calendar.


  • Compare the rainfall measured at school with the rainfall measured by the National Weather Service for your area. 


  • Make materials available for students to design other instruments to measure rainfall.  Design something that could be camouflaged in a garden.  



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