Lunar and Planetary Institute

Flip-flops or Boots?

Flip-Flops or Boots?

Adapted from National Geographic's "Creative Climates" and Carleton College's Kids for Conservation "Spring 2007 Lesson 1: Introduction to Climate vs. Weather."


Children ages 9 to 13 undertake a long-term reading program to discover that, while weather is what helps you decide to wear flip-flops or boots on a given day, climate determines the ratio of the warm-weather shoe type over the cold within your closet. Children work in teams to research one of seven regions of the United States, collecting information about the climate, weather, crops, plants, and animals typical of the area. They share their findings on a regional map, and when assembled on the wall, the completed map of the United States indicates the key climate-related characteristics of each region. As a wrap-up, teams may put on a play or fashion show, create an exhibit for the library, or write a book showcasing their assigned region. The community can be invited to participate in a celebration showcasing regional foods and activities or in a photo contest.

This project is ideal for a summer reading program, but can be modified for shorter programs.

What's the Point?

  • Weather changes from day to day. Weather can be described by measurable quantities, such as temperature and precipitation.
  • Climate is distinct from weather. Climate is the typical weather pattern over a long period of time, generally 30 years or more.
  • Our local region is influenced by climate. Climate influences the weather, crops, plants, and animals that inhabit a region.
  • The United States consists of several regions that have unique characteristics that are influenced by climate. Regional maps are a tool for learning about and summarizing those characteristics.
  • Information about those regions can be gathered from a variety of sources, including books, the Internet, and multimedia.
  • The settings and characters of works of fiction can be representative of regional climate.
  • The global climate is changing. Some changes are predicted to be negative, such as a loss of species unable to adapt to the warmer climate. Some changes are predicted to be positive, such as longer growing seasons. Other changes may not have clear impacts, such as the replacement of forests with open grasslands following droughts and wildfires.
  • The Arctic is warming more quickly than the rest of the globe and the changes in climate will be felt by the unique plants, animals, and societies that live there.


For each of seven teams:

Parts I and II

  • Internet (suggestions listed in Facilitator's Regional Guide ), book, newspaper, and multimedia resources about their region of the United States describing:
    • Temperature (summer and winter average high and low)
    • Annual precipitation
    • Extreme weather events (e.g., tornados, hurricanes, wildfires)
    • Crops
    • Plants and animals and their special adaptations
  • 1 set of journals for the following roles:

Part III

For the group:

Part III

For the facilitator:


Parts I and II

  • Determine the desired length of the program. A longer program (or more attendees) will provide for a more in-depth exploration of a region's weather, climate, crops, and wildlife. A shorter program may allow only enough time to explore only crops or one representative plant or animal of the region, or may concentrate on a few regions.
  • Make a variety of Internet and multimedia resources and non-fiction and fiction publications available about each region.
  • Develop a reading list for each region, including non-fiction research sources and novels.

Part III


    Part I: Climate vs. Weather

1. Introduce the activity with a discussion of how the local weather and climate influences our daily lives.

      • What shoes are you wearing today?
      • How did you decide what shoes to wear? Answers will vary, but listen for those that relate to the day's weather.
      • How do we measure how warm or cold the day is? Temperature.
      • What's another word for rain and snow? Precipitation.
      • How do we measure precipitation? How many inches fell during the shower or storm.

Today's weather helped you decide what to wear.

      • What other types of weather do we have here? Answers might include sun, wind, rain, snow, or fog. What types of extreme weather do we have here? Answers might include tornados, hurricanes, or blizzards.
      • Do we have wildfires here? What kinds of weather conditions increase the risk of wildfires? Hot, dry, windy weather.
      • What would you have worn if it was sunny? Raining? Snowing?
      • Think about what's in your closet. Are most of them sneakers, Crocs™, sandals, flip-flops, hiking boots, galoshes...? Are there types of shoes that you only rarely or never wear?

Guide the discussion away from comfort and fashion and toward what is suitable for your local climate. For example, the children in northern regions or higher altitudes may only occasionally have the opportunity to wear warm-weather shoes such as sandals and flip-flops. Children in arid regions may not even own galoshes and those in warm, mild climates may not own snow boots.

        • Think about a place that you've been that's far away. Do you think the people who live there have different types of shoes in their closets than we do?

    Weather is what helped you decide what to wear today. Climate determines what you're likely to find in your closet.

        • Does weather change? Yes, every day and with the seasons.
        • Does climate change? Yes.
        • What was the climate like when the dinosaurs lived? Warm and wet.
        • What was the climate like when saber-toothed tigers and mammoths lived? Many places were colder and drier.
        • Is our climate changing now? Yes, our global climate is changing.

    Explain that while change is normal, it is not normal that it is happening so fast. Climate changes are now happening faster than over the last 10,000 years. The children may have heard a lot about climate change or global warming in the news and from adults. Reassure them that scientists have been talking about it as well, and are trying to decide what might be best to do about it. In general, the scientists agree that climate change is happening and our use of fossil fuels has a lot to do with it. There's a lot we can do about it, too! Turning the lights off when we leave a room, unplugging our computer when we are not using it, walking or carpooling instead of asking for a ride, and eating less meat and more vegetables are some changes we can make everyday to help reduce our impact on climate.

      Facilitator's Note: Changes in Earth's orbit, in addition to less influential changes in the Sun's intensity, outgassing from volcanos and other sources, and changes in ocean currents, have resulted in cycles of cooling and warming. However, none of these periods saw such a drastic change in global average temperature over a short period of time as today.

      Temperature Changes

      Ancient gases and chemical signatures trapped in ice cores, tree rings, and other data provide evidence that the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere, and Earth's temperature, have fluctuated in a cyclical pattern through time. These cycles of cooling and warming are natural, and were caused, over the last 750,000 years, primarily by cyclic changes in Earth's orbit. During that time frame we have experienced alternating periods of warmth and periods of glaciations. However, at present, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere far exceed even the highest levels of the past half-million years. Our global temperature is increasing in response to this added greenhouse gas. Image courtesy of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001.

      2. Divide the children into seven teams and assign each team to one of the following regions:

    • New England/Mid-Atlantic
    • Southeast
    • South
    • Midwest/Ohio Valley
    • High Plains
    • Southwest
    • Northwest

3. Explain that they will be using fiction and non-fiction books, the Internet, and other resources to take an imaginary journey to their assigned regions. What will the weather be like? What is the weather normally like — what's the climate? What foods grow there? What plants and animals live there? Once they have gathered information about their region, they will present their findings on their maps and display the results along with the other teams' maps.

4. Invite the children to decide what role each member will take on this journey. A team of five might each assume one of the following assignments, although additional team members could explore crops, plants, and animals.

    • Weatherperson: Determine the climate zones of the region and for four cities, gather temperature and precipitation data for:
      • July 30 of last year
      • January 30 of last year
    • Meteorologist: Extreme weather events (e.g., tornados, hurricanes, wildfires)
    • Farmer: Crops
    • Park ranger: Plants and their special adaptations
    • Biologist: Animals and their special adaptations

Optional: Refer the children to newspapers or websites where they can gather daily temperature, precipitation, and extreme weather data over time.

Provide each explorer with the appropriate journal and ask the children to record their discoveries there and bring them to future programs. Invite the children to write their names and circle the name of their team's region in their journals. Announce when the follow-up activities (including Part III, the optional "Grand Finale" play, community celebration, or photo contest) will be held. If your library offers rewards for summer reading programs, describe how their regional explorations might apply.

5. Invite the children to take their imaginary journeys to their regions through fiction works. Provide titles they may choose (suggestions are included in the facilitator's guide). Develop target dates for when the reading should be finished.

Part II: Journey to the Regions of the United States

Let the teams begin their fact-finding! If the activity is being conducted over several sessions, check in with the groups periodically. What are they learning about their regions? Make sure the different team members are sharing with each other as all the "pieces" are connected. What is surprising to them? What are they finding challenging to investigate? Are the non-fiction books helpful for getting a flavor about the region? How does the author weave the region into the story?

Part III: Changes to Come

1. Distribute the regional maps and Region Features pages to the appropriate teams. Invite the children use their journals to create a wall display of their regions. Explain that the maps and Region Features will be hung together on the wall to create a unified map of the United States.

2. Ask the children to note which states they "visited" by labeling them on their maps.

3. Invite each weatherperson to describe the average weather, or climate of the region, to his/her teammates. The children then color or use craft materials to add appropriate textures to indicate the climate zones of team's regional map. For simplicity, use the following climate zones:

  • Tropical
  • Dry
  • Mild
  • Continental
  • Polar
  • High elevations

Optional: Use craft materials to represent the climate zones; for instance, sand paper could indicate arid areas and paper bags crumpled to mimic high terrain could indicate high elevations. Alternatively, they might include photographs of the climate zones.

4.Have the meteorologists, farmers, and park rangers note the various features of their region on their teams' Region Features pages. Remind the children to note the colors or textures on their Region Features so that others may understand what they indicate.

5. Invite each team to hang their map and legend on the wall so that all the regions fit together to form a large map of the United States.

6. Discuss weather and climate features on the map display everyone has created on the wall. Refer to the Facilitator's Regional Guide for a summary of the key features of each region.

      • What features changed day to day and with the seasons? Temperature and precipitation.
      • Do those features have to do with weather or climate? Weather.
      • Did the temperature and precipitation data from each region's four selected cities fit in with the overall climate? Was July 30 a particularly hot day or January 30 a particularly wet day last year in one of your team's cities? Answers may vary, but could include a higher or lower temperature or more or less precipitation than usual.
      • Which features might be different when you are the same age your parents are now? In a thousand years? Temperature and precipitation are different each day and depend on the season. They also depend on the climate what's likely to occur. What crops, plants, and animals are found there may change over longer periods. More sensitive species may have moved into other regions or gone extinct.
      • Do those features have to do with weather or climate? Climate.
      • What do the people in the Northwest probably have in their closets? How about the South? Discuss the climate of the different regions.
      • How did you choose to dress today? Were you preparing for weather or climate? Weather.

7. Discuss the crops, plants, and animals representative of each region.

      • What foods are grown in your team's assigned region?
      • What about the region's climate allows them to grow there? It's not too hot/cold or it rains a lot.
      • Could you grow wheat in the desert regions of the southwest? Oranges in the northeast? Why not? Not enough rain; too hot.
      • What plant and wildlife species live in your team's region? Answers may vary, but may include cactus in the Southwest and alligators in the South. Other examples are listed in the Facilitator's Guide.

8. Share that our climate is changing. The average global temperature has increased about 1°F in the past 100 years. Scientists predict that the average temperature will continue to rise over the next 100 years, perhaps as much as 3°–10°F. Areas nearer the poles are more sensitive to warming than areas near the equator, and the Arctic is warming about twice as fast compared to the rest of Earth. It is normal for the temperature or precipitation to sometimes be a little different compared to the overall climate (as the children may have discovered while comparing their regions temperature and precipitation data with the overall regional climate). Weather changes all the time! Scientists are concerned because the overall climate is changing.

9. Show the Arctic map to the children and hang it on a wall.

      • Is the Arctic map to the same scale as our map of the United States? No, it is smaller.
      • What is the climate like in the Arctic? What did we learn in Know Your Poles? Polar.
      • Who lives there? What did we learn in Polar Bears or Penguins? Polar bears, caribou (wild reindeer), musk ox, foxes, wolves, people.

10. Invite the teams to modify the United States and Arctic maps according to some changes that might occur as climate change progresses. Distribute one set of What If... Cards to each team. Invite the children to cut out the cards and answer the questions on the backs. Provide the Arctic region's cards to the team that finishes first and ask them to answer the questions on the backs and then hang the cards on the map. (Alternatively, answer the questions and hang the cards together as a group.) Invite the teams to tape the cards to their regional maps and the Arctic map.

Facilitator's Note: Environmental responses to climate change are complex and interrelated. These cards explore just some of the potential changes and consequences of global warming.

11. Optional: Pass out only the photograph side of the What If... Cards and ask the children to research the implications and fill them in on the backsides.

 12. As a group, discuss how the potential consequences of climate change may shape our future.

    • What are some positive changes that might occur as temperatures rise? Longer growing season, more warm days to enjoy the outdoors, more summer foods available for caribou calves, etc.
    • What are some changes that may be difficult to judge as helpful or harmful? Grasslands taking over after forest fires, many heavy rains, etc.
    • What might be some difficult changes? Heat waves, butterflies and other species running out of places to live, Arctic hunters and polar bears struggling to find food, etc.
    • Will the changes be the same in all the regions? No. Some regions will experience larger temperature increases than others. Heavy and extreme precipitation events may occur more often, but at the same time, some regions will become drier. The unique regional ecosystems will respond to climate change in different ways.

Grand Finale (optional)
Consider tying these concepts together with one of the following activities:

  • Have each team put on a play or fashion show, create an exhibit for your library, or write a book showcasing their assigned region.
  • Celebrate your local climate! In advertising for your event, have the participants dress up in clothing or gear typical of your climate region — flip-flops if you live in a warm coastal area, cowboy hats in the West, or ski gloves at high elevations, for example. Provide a sampling of local crops or represent the regions of the United States with produce from across the country to sample.
  • Host a photo contest that features the representative weather, plants, animals, and fashion of your region.

In Conclusion

  • Are climate and weather the same thing? No.
  • Think about the novels you read. How did the region's climate create the setting? What role did weather play in moving the plot forward? What roles did the region's plants, animals, crops, industries, and customs play in shaping the story?
  • Will the same stories be possible in the future? In a different region?
  • Would our map of United States look the same if we created it again in 30 years? Will the map of the Arctic look the same in 10 years?
  • What could you do when you go home today and tomorrow to help slow climate change? Turning things off when we're not using them, walking or carpooling instead of asking for a ride, and eating less meat and more vegetables are some changes we can make everyday to help slow climate change. There is hope for the future!

Invite the children to discover how simple changes in our everyday lives can positively affect our world in the activity Polar Bears Go with the Floes.


Last updated
December 2, 2009


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