WHEN TO OBSERVE
While there is no need for expensive equipment, you do need to choose your observing time carefully. The table below gives the dates of peak activity for major showers. For the best observing times on those dates, however, you will need to check local newspapers, astronomy magazines, or the Internet. Because of Earth's rotation and orbital motion, the exact time of a shower's peak varies slightly each year, usually by about six hours. Also, the shower's radiant not be visible in your area at the time of maximum activity.
Say you live in Chicago and would like to observe the Perseid shower. The Perseids peak on 12 August. In 1997, the peak occurred at 18 hours Universal Time (UT), which converts to 1 pm in Chicago— obviously not a good time to look for meteors. You could observe either before dawn (some 9 to 10 hours before the peak), or in the evening (8 to 9 hours after the peak). An early morning session would probably be better choice because the side of Earth faces into its orbital path.
You also need to check when the shower's radiant will be above the horizon, and where in the sky it will be. The radiant of the Perseids is in the constellation Perseus. For Chicago observers during August 1997, Perseus rises in the northeast at about 10 pin and stays visible until dawn.