Activity 1.2
Greenhouse effect – looking at the causes

Introducing the concept of the greenhouse effect, this activity draws on understanding that some gases found in the atmosphere trap heat.

As the sun’s rays heat up the earth’s surface, it radiates heat back into the atmosphere, which is absorbed by these gases. This is the greenhouse effect, and the gases are called greenhouse gases. The greenhouse gases most responsible for trapping heat are carbon dioxide, and methane. There are other greenhouse gases – nitrous oxide, ozone, CFCs, and water vapour. The most abundant gases in our atmosphere are still oxygen and nitrogen.

Learners will have/be able to:

  • Seen and felt peat and coal, and looked closely at oil & natural gas/camping gaz/plg and describe how they are formed
  • Name the most common gases in the atmosphere, and the most important greenhouse gases
  • Describe the greenhouse effect in words, and/or a diagram/drawing
  • Describe the things they use at home/school that depend on the burning of fossil fuels
  • Explain the main steps in making electricity, and how industrial development has increased the proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere


  • Examples for handling in small groups
    Leaves (collected & squashed with bricks in a bag for 6 months), small log, peat briquette (broken up) or garden peat, small pieces of coal, small (200ml) sealed plastic bottle with engine oil, small, sealed plastic bottle – empty and labelled natural gas
  • Tables of carbon dioxide emissions
    SNH Advances 7 – The heat is up and it’s raining (activity 3) (see Sources & further inspiration):- Concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 1960 – table of figures- Carbon dioxide emissions per person from ten different countries (1997) – table of figures
  • 1.2A – Diagram explaining how greenhouse gases contribute towards global warming
    – 1 per student/group
  • Flash cards (optional)
    Fossil fuels, non–renewable, carbon dioxide CO2, methane CH4, water vapour H2O, renewable – use as necessary with older students
  • Internet searches
    Formation of fossil fuels, how a power station works, renewable energy sources
  • Schools Global Footprint resource
    Energy & transport

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