Create your own thermometer

Type of Lesson: Hands-on activity

Time Needed: 40 minutes

Standards Addressed

EAW6 Describe patterns of changing weather and how they are measured.
PME8 Measure physical properties of objects or substances (mass, weight, temperature, dimensions, area, volume).

Quick Summary of Lesson

This is an activity that lets your students build a calibrated thermometer from everyday materials.


2 cups of lukewarm water
2 cups of hot water
food coloring
clear glass soda bottle
clear plastic straw
a large pan


1. Put two cups of lukewarm water into the bowl and stir in six or seven drops of food coloring. Fill the soda bottle with the colored water. Mold Play-Doh around the straw, about two inches (5 cm) from one end. Insert the straw into the bottle. Mold the Play-Doh around the top of the bottle to seal the straw. Do not let the straw touch the bottom of the bottle.

2. Let the bottle sit for a while at room temperature. Then use the marker to mark the water level on the straw. Take the temperature of the room with a real thermometer and write that number next to the mark.

3. Now set the bottle into a pan filled with two cups of hot water. Once the water level in the bottle has stopped rising, mark the new level on the straw. Take the temperature of the water in the pan and label that number next to the mark.

4. You now have a high temperature and a low temperature. Mark equally-spaced tics between the two numbers onto the straw. For example, let's say your low and high temperatures are 65°F and 80°F and the distance between the two marks is 1.5 inches. Measure at 0.5 inch increments between the low and high marks, adding 5° to each mark. So you'd have something like this:

Degrees: 65° 70° 75° 80°
Measure: 0" 0.5" 1" 1.5"

5. Now you have a calibrated thermometer!

Notes to the Teacher

If time allows and students are old enough that hotter and hotter water isn't a safety concern, you may want to let you students expand their thermometer's temperature range by having pans of hotter and hotter water available so higher temperatures can be noted.

Need More Information? Try Using Windows to the Universe

Please use these links for further ideas or more information:
Is there any uppermost temperature? Is it possible to measure the temperature in the core of a star?
Weather Crossword Puzzle

Last modified prior to September, 2000 by the Windows Team

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