Lesson Plan: Chemistry of Carbon Compounds

As a high school Chemistry teacher, you can use this set of computer-based tools to help you in teaching the chemistry of carbon and its compoundsthe interaction of greenhouse gas molecules with electromagnetic radiation, and environmental chemistry.

This lesson plan allows students to visualize the molecular structure of atmospheric gases and to understand the effect of electromagnetic radiation on these molecules. The activity will also introduce the topic of greenhouse gases and their role in climate change. Thus, the use of this Lesson Plan allows you to integrate the teaching of a climate science topic with a core topic in Chemistry.

This Lesson Plan is available in various languages.

Click here to know more.


  1.  How do molecules of gases interact with electromagnetic radiation?
  2.  How do atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules interact with infrared photons?
  3.  What is the greenhouse effect of Earth’s atmosphere?
  4.  Could an increase in methane emissions affect the Earth’s temperature? Why?

Molecular Structure of Methane

About the Lesson Plan

Grade Level High School
Discipline Chemistry
Topic(s) in Discipline • Interaction of Molecules with Electromagnetic Radiation
• Molecular Vibrations
• Molecular Structure of Carbon Compounds (CO2, CH4)
• Greenhouse Gases
Climate Topic • Climate and the Atmosphere
• The Greenhouse Effect
Location Global
Languages English (Classroom/Laboratory activity available in multiple languages)
Access Online, Offline
Approximate Time Required 60-80 min



(10-15 min)

A reading that provides an overview of the interaction between infrared radiation and molecules of different atmospheric gases.
Link here
 (~8 min)
A micro-lecture (video) that explains the interaction of molecules such as CO2 and CH4 with electromagnetic radiation, and the resulting molecular vibrations leading to the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere.
Link here
Visualization and associated activity (45-60 min) A visualization and associated activity to observe, understand, explore and analyze the molecular structure of carbon compounds (CO2, CH4), the effect of electromagnetic radiation on the molecules, and the role of greenhouse gases in climate change.
Link here

Here is a step-by-step guide to using this lesson plan in the classroom/laboratory. We have suggested these steps as a possible plan of action. You may customize the lesson plan according to your preferences and requirements.


1. Introduce the topic through online reading
  • • Discuss the sources of carbon and its compounds.
  • • Discuss the molecular structure of some carbon compounds such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).
  • • Introduce the topic of atmosphere and its composition. Name the atmospheric gases (including CO2 and CH4) and their typical percentages.
  • • Discuss the phenomenon of sunlight striking the Earth and infrared radiation being emitted from the Earth.
  • • Use online reading material to provide an overview of how CO2 and other atmospheric gas molecules interact with electromagnetic radiation.
  • • The reading material is available here.
2. Play a micro-lecture (video)
  • • Now play this micro-lecture (video, approx. 8 min) to explain the interaction of molecules such as CO2 with electromagnetic radiation, and the resulting molecular vibrations that lead to the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere.
  • • The video micro-lecture from David Archer, the University of Chicago, is available here.
3. Conduct an activity using an interactive visualization
  • • Next, explore this topic in an interactive and engaging manner by using a visualization tool, “The Greenhouse Effect”, from PhET.
  • • The tool will help your students to visualize the molecular structure of carbon compounds (CO2, CH4), explore the effect of electromagnetic radiation on the molecules, and understand the role of greenhouse gases in climate change.
  • • Download PhET’s tool, “The Greenhouse Effect”, from https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/greenhouse.
  • • Launch the tool.
  • • Go to the Photon Absorption pane.
  • • For each Atmospheric Gas (select options under Atmospheric Gases)—CH4, CO2, H20, N2, O2—observe the molecular structure and the effect of the Infrared Photon on the molecule. The slider on the Light Source can be adjusted to control the rate of emission of photons.
  • • Use the Build Atmosphere option to set the number of molecules of each atmospheric gas. Visualize the effect of the Infrared Photons on the molecules in the atmosphere.
  • • The absorption of infrared photons by gases such as CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere results in the warming of the surface of the planet. This effect is called the greenhouse effect.
  • • Go to the Greenhouse Effect pane.
  • • Select different scenarios (Atmosphere during…), observe the Greenhouse Gas Composition for each scenario, and the corresponding surface temperature shown in the thermometer on the left. Draw inferences.
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