Meteorologist Activities – Discover How a Thermometer Works!

You can find all the bonus activities for our Meteorologist Kit here

How to Make a DIY Thermometer

How to Make a DIY ThermometerMaterials

  • Empty glass bottle or jar
  • Water
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Food coloring
  • A clear straw
  • Modeling clay (we used non-hardening, modelling clay)
  • A marker and piece of card

Gather together your materials. The thermometer will need to be prepared by an adult assistant with some kid help where safe and appropriate. It takes around 15 minutes to make the thermometer and then the activity can be extended as desired.


Fill the glass bottle or jar 1/2 full with rubbing alcohol and add the same amount of water so that the glass container is now almost full.  Carefully add a few drops of food coloring; we decided to use red like a traditional thermometer.

Put the clear straw into the glass container and hold so that it is suspended an inch or two from the bottom so it’s not touching the bottom of the glass container. Wrap the clay around the straw, so that it covers the top of the container, forming an air tight seal and stopping the straw from falling down and touching the bottom.

thermometer 2

Note how far the liquid comes up the straw; this is the temperature the liquid is just now.  Now move the thermometer to different locations where the temperature is different. For example, we placed our DIY thermometer jar into a shallow bowl of ice water and watched the height of the liquid in the straw decrease. Later we placed it in warm sunshine and watched the height of the liquid magically rise as our thermometer heated up.

Take Measurements

It’s fun to just observe the DIY thermometer but if you want to take it to the next level you can calibrate it with a real thermometer by recording the temperature readings (the height of the liquid) on a piece of card attached behind the straw. For example, we placed another thermometer (like the one found in your Bramble Box Meteorologist kit) alongside the DIY thermometer in ice water, so that we could find out the real temperature of the ice water, and marked it on the card the height of the liquid in the DIY thermometer at that given temperature (it might take a while for you DIY thermometer to adjust to the change in temperature and any reading is only going to be approximate).

Then we placed the real thermometer outdoors in the sunshine with the DIY thermometer and recorded the level of the liquid once it had finished rising and the reading on the real thermometer.  By recording the height of the liquid at various known temperatures you can then begin to use your DIY thermometer to estimate the temperature.

heating up

Heating Up – Warm Sunshine

cooling down

Cooling Down – Ice Water

Make Observations

Being a meteorologist (and a scientist) is about making observations and recordings. We made lots of observations during our DIY thermometer experiment.  For example, our DIY thermometer took a lot longer to change temperature than the real thermometer. We also observed that ice water was very cold and the sunshine was very warm.  We also tried to use a white stripey straw and found that we couldn’t clearly observe the height of the liquid like we could with the clear straw. What observations can you make with your thermometer?







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