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  • Writer's pictureYouth Energy Squad

DIY Greenhouse Effect Model!

Context: Climate change is arguably the greatest issue facing this generation, as it will impact every aspect of our societies. Detroit will face hotter summers, more extreme storms, and greater flooding. Man-made climate change is a result of the greenhouse effect, where an increasing amount of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) are warming our atmosphere. These activity models the greenhouse effect, so that students can better understand how our atmosphere works, trapping the sun’s heat to warm our planet.


Goals: Age Group: 4th-8th grade

  • Learn about the greenhouse effect

  • Understand how the atmosphere warms our planet

  • Make connections to climate change

Supplies: Time: 45 minutes

  • A clear jar

  • Plastic wrap

  • A rubber band

  • Thermometer

  • Worksheet and writing utensil



  1. Gather materials with an adult. Feel free to use any thermometer you have at home, preferably one that fits inside your jar (I used a digital meat thermometer). Using a clear, dry jar, place your thermometer inside.

  2. Place clear plastic wrap over the top, making sure it is tightly closed with a rubber band. As pictured, I poked my digital thermometer through the plastic wrap, making sure that the top was still sealed with no air able to escape. If your thermometer is taller than your jar, similarly break through the plastic wrap to the air inside the jar.

  3. Then place your jar either in a sunny windowsill or outside in direct sunlight.

  4. Follow the worksheet guide below! Have your student make predictions about the temperature inside your jar before setting your jar in the sun, and then record at the temperature at the time intervals below.

  5. Afterward, watch the short video below to explain the greenhouse effect further.

Optional: Have another jar, with a centimeter of water at the bottom (or simply repeat the experiment if you only have one jar/thermometer). Same as before, seal your jar with plastic wrap. Place in sunlight, and observe what happens inside the jar and to the temperature! This can be used to model how the water cycle is impacted.



Description: The glass jar is modeling our Earth’s atmosphere, which surrounds the planet and allows sunlight to pass through. The air inside the jar represents the air that surrounds us. Use your thermometer to observe how the temperature inside your jar may change!

  1. Predict: What do you think will happen to the temperature of the air inside your jar, when it is in the sunlight? Why?

  2. Record:

  • What is the temperature outside the jar? (Either outside or your home if indoors)

  • Starting temperature inside the jar:

  • After 5 minutes in the sunlight, temperature inside the jar:

  • After 15 minutes in the sunlight, temperature inside the jar:

  • After 30 minutes in the sunlight, temperature inside the jar:

3. Reflect:

  • After 30 minutes, what was the temperature difference between the air inside your jar and outside?

  • Did this surprise you?

  • Why do you think this is happening?

4. Optional:

  • If you repeated the model with water inside the jar, answer the following:

  • What happened inside the jar?

  • How does this relate to the water cycle? What step of the water cycle are you seeing?

5. Watch the following two-minute video to learn more about what is happening in our atmosphere:

  • What would our planet be like if we did not have the atmosphere?

  • What is the greenhouse effect?

  • The video quickly mentions that greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, hold onto heat. Carbon dioxide comes from the burning of coal, oil, wood, and more (think of the smoke when you burn something). How are humans increasing the number of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere?

  • How does this change the temperature of our atmosphere?

  • How do you think this is affecting plants, animals, and humans?

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