Often when I start a unit I provide students an opportunity to use a guided inquiry lesson, like looking at a complex model. Of course, the lesson is always driven by backwards planning and keeping in mind the grade level expectations that students are expected to meet. The See-Think-Wonder thinking routine lends itself nicely to that. Students were put into random groups of three, given the weather map below and given a key to decipher the symbols so they are not completely lost. They were then asked to write what they see on the map, what they think is happening, and what they wonder about.
This lesson was surprisingly engaging, even for 8th graders. All students were on task and enjoyed that chance to collaborate and even struggle together. Groups took turns to share out, and as I should have figured, many of the observations were pretty superficial due to a lack of background. Perhaps they were starting to "peel the fruit." The lesson , however, did serve nicely as a pretest and it also started to build a foundation of understanding just by becoming familiar with they symbols alone.
I plan on giving this same lesson again towards the end of the unit after they have more background knowledge and better understand the complex interactions that make weather. I will challenge them with some more higher level thinking around making predictions for future based on current conditions.