Climate Change and the Keeling Curve Mark as Favorite (12 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Temperature, Isotopes, Heat, Temperature, Photosynthesis, ACS National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program. Last updated August 26, 2022.


In this lesson, students will learn about climate change through reading about research behind carbon dioxide emissions, which led to the development of the Keeling Curve. Isotopic tracing as well as photosynthesis are briefly touched on. There are a series of activities to help promote literacy in the science classroom related to the reading. This lesson could be easily used as plans for a substitute teacher, as most of the activities are self-guided.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This lesson will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-PS3-2: Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motions of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative position of particles (objects).   
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Understand how important collecting large amounts of data are.
  • Know that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.
  • Identify that isotopes are important tracers of history.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Gases
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Temperature
  • Energy
  • Global warming
  • Photosynthesis
  • Atomic Structure
  • Isotopes


Teacher Preparation: 10 minutes
Lesson: These are approximate times for students to complete each activity in the lesson.

  • Anticipation guide: 5 minutes
  • Reading: 20 minutes
  • History Exercise: 10–15 minutes
  • Graphic Organizer: 5–10 minutes
  • Why Mauna Loa Observatory: 5–10 minutes
  • Writing exercise: 20–25 minutes


  • Reading document and any lessons that accompany it that you want to include.


  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes


Lesson Overview:

  • The lesson includes multiple components, as outlined individually below. The Reading is essential for all of the activities. Teachers can choose to do one or all of the included activities. Student handouts and corresponding answer keys are provided for each item described below:
  • Reading: Climate Change and the Keeling Curve
  • Activity: Anticipation Guide
    • Anticipation guides help engage students by activating prior knowledge and stimulating student interest before reading. If class time permits, discuss students’ responses to each statement before reading each article. Then, while they read, students should look for evidence supporting or refuting their initial responses.
    • Instead of using the Anticipation Guide, consider this idea to engage your students in reading:
      • Ask students what they think they know about climate change and what may cause it.
      • Ask students when they think scientists had evidence the Earth is warming.
      • After all students have an opportunity to think about global warming, ask them what scientists think is causing global warming.
      • Engage the class in discussion as a warm-up to the reading.
      • After this discussion, invite students to read the article to find more details about the claim for global warming, the evidence that supports the claim, and the reasons the evidence supports the claim.
  • Activity: History Exercise
    • While they read, order events correctly, then describe scientists’ claims, evidence, and reasoning to relate fossil fuel combustion to global warming.
    • Challenge students to put the events in chronological order prior to reading. Provide the events on strips of paper to make this easier.
  • Activity: Graphic Organizer
    • Write the equations for processes described in the article and identify how each process affects the trends shown by the Keeling Curve.
  • Activity: Why Mauna Loa Observatory?
    • Describe three advantages and three challenges related to collecting data at Mauna Loa Observatory.
  • Activity: Writing Exercise
    • Summarize their current understanding of global warming and how it affects their lives.