In this lesson, students learn about water resources in their community. First, they watch a video showing a girl and her father following the path of melting snow, from their driveway all the way to the ocean. The students then discuss what happens to rainwater and melting snow in their own neighborhoods, and they look for places where water may flow and collect near their school. Next, they build a model watershed and demonstrate how flowing water carries trash, pollutants, and other materials. Afterwards, they watch a video of a group of kids helping clean up a local river. Finally, students identify the bodies of water their drinking water comes from. They then create informational flyers designed to teach other students about the importance of local water resources for people in the community, as well as for the plants and animals living there.
[Note: The goal of this lesson is for students to walk away with a general understanding that the water they rely on comes from local resources, and that the things we put on the ground—trash, pollutants, and other materials—can eventually wind up in our rivers, lakes, streams, and even in our groundwater and wells. While the lesson emphasizes surface waters, you can tailor it to address the particular makeup of your community’s water supply.]
- Three 60-minute class periods
- Show that the shape of the land affects how and where the water flows.
- Understand that a watershed is the land area that collects water and delivers it to a specific area like a lake or ocean.
- Demonstrate that flowing water can transport things, including trash and pollutants.
- Recognize that water is vital for life, so it is important to know where it comes from and how to keep it clean.
Prep for Teachers
- Read through the entire lesson.
- Gather a collection of maps of the United States, your state, and your town or city that show physical characteristics such as rivers and lakes. Try to find printed maps or atlases as well as online resources.
- Print a blank map of your state for each pair of students in your class.
- (Optional) Scout out places near your school where you will see storm drains or other places where rainwater may collect. Be sure you also troubleshoot any safety concerns, such as traffic, poison ivy, or sharp objects.
- Identify the source or sources of your local drinking water. Helpful resources include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Local Drinking Water Information website and the Environmental Working Group’s National Drinking Water Database, where you can search by ZIP code to identify the name of your local water authority. Note: Clicking on the name of your water authority will take you to a new page with information about pollutants in the water supply. As this information may be upsetting, especially for younger students, you may wish to share only the list of water authorities with your students.
- Atlases or maps showing the physical features of the United States, your state, and your town or city
- Crayons or markers
For the large landscape model (teacher demo):
- 1 large tray or shallow tub (e.g., sweater-storage tub, large storage container lid)
- 4 tall containers (e.g., 16-oz. cup or soda bottle, oatmeal container, milk bottle, etc.)
- 1 large sheet of clear or light-colored plastic (e.g., tarp, shower curtain, or cut-open garbage or dry-cleaner bag)
- 1 spray bottle
- Towels for cleaning up spills
For the small landscape model (per pair of students):
- 1 tray (lunch tray, lid of a plastic storage container)
- 2 tall containers (e.g., 12-oz. cup or soda bottle, coffee can, etc.)
- 2 short containers (e.g., soup or soda can, 6-oz. paper cup, yogurt container, etc.)
- 1 sheet of clear or light-colored plastic (e.g., cut-open garbage, dry-cleaner, or shopping bag)
- 1 spray bottle
- 2 bottles of food coloring
- Cooking oil
- Glitter, dried spices, cake sprinkles, pieces of confetti, or other small objects
- Towels for cleaning up spills
1. Have a short discussion about water in your students’ daily lives. Begin by asking students to raise their hands if they used any water before they came to school today. Then, ask students to give examples of the ways in which they used water. Examples might include brushing their teeth, washing their hands, flushing a toilet, or drinking a glass of water at breakfast. Jot down these ideas on the whiteboard.
2. Tell students that over the next few days, they will take on the role of water scientists, determining where their drinking water comes from, what happens to water that falls to the ground as rain and snow, and where the wastewater from our homes, businesses, and schools goes. Then, ask students how they, as water scientists, might learn more about water in the community. Where does the drinking water come from? What happens to water after it goes down the drain? What happens to rainwater and melting snow in the neighborhood? Tell your students it’s okay if they don’t know the answers—just like real scientists, they’ll work as a team to answer these and other questions over the next two days.
3. Show the video Follow the Water. Have a short discussion about the video. How are Ella and her father being scientists in this video? (Asking questions and making observations are two things scientists do.) Ask students questions such as, where do you think the water will go when it rains in our neighborhood? How could we find out? [Note: If it happens to be a rainy day or a warm winter day and snow is melting, take advantage of this teachable moment! If feasible, take your students outside to find out where water collects and where it flows].
4. Then, show students the map of your city or town. If you have large paper maps, spread them out on a table or on the floor and gather your students around them, or you might project a map onto the whiteboard. Identify the bodies of water closest to your school and determine whether any rivers or streams feed into it. Next, show students the state map, and ask for a volunteer to locate your city or town on this map. Can your students follow the river or stream closest to your school to another body of water in your state? Finally, show them a map of the United States. Can students trace a continuous path from your city all the way to the ocean? If they can, what might this mean about trash or pollutants that get into your local waterways?
5. Have students work in pairs to annotate a state map with crayons or markers, showing the location of your school and the bodies of water near it.
1. Refer back to the local bodies of water you identified yesterday. Introduce the term “watershed.” A watershed is the land area that collects water and delivers it to a specific area like a river, lake, or the ocean. Tell students that they, like everyone on Earth, live in a watershed. Find yours using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Watersheds resource.
2. Have your students work in pairs to complete the Build a Watershed activity. (Go to “Support Materials” for this video and select "Activity.")
3. When your students have completed the activity, have them look at the maps they made yesterday. Ask them to think about what they have just learned about how the shape of a landscape affects the flow of water. Have them find the school again on the map and imagine it is raining. Where do your students predict rainwater will flow? Given your location, where do your students think rainwater falling on your school might wind up?
1. Circle back to the watershed activity you completed yesterday and have a brief discussion. What happened to the pollution and trash in their model watershed? How do your students think the activity might relate to their own watershed?
2. Explain that you will now watch a video showing a group of kids working with a water scientist to test the quality of a river’s water. Show the video Water Carries Everything.
3. Discuss this video in the context of the activity and your watershed. In the video, the scientist and the kids measured pollutants that you can’t see. Ask questions such as: What were some of these pollutants? How might pollutants like these have gotten into the river’s water? How did they measure these pollutants, and what did this information tell them? Then, draw connections to your own community. Do you think we have these kinds of pollutants in our community? Where would they come from? How else might pollutants get into our waterways? How can we keep that from happening?
4. Explain that for the rest of class, students will make informational flyers for the other students at your school, designed to teach them about the water resources you share. The flyers will include a map of your watershed as well as information about how people rely on watersheds and how to keep the water clean.
5. Hand out one state map outline to each pair of students. Have them work in pairs to make an annotated map of your watershed. They should refer to your state watershed map and make an approximate outline showing the land area that makes up your watershed. They also should note the location of your school with a dot indicating your city or town, and the names of other cities or towns in your watershed.
6. After completing their maps, students should write messages about how everyone in the community relies on water from this watershed. Their messages should highlight the ways students use water every day and the things they can do to help keep the water clean. You might have students display these in a common hallway or share them with parents during an event such as an open house or parents’ night.
7. [Optional] If you have additional technology resources and extra time, you could photograph water resources near your school, such as ponds, lakes, or streams, and create an informational website about your local waterways. Students could produce short audio recordings or even videos identifying the names of the water resources, some of the plants and animals that live in or near them, and why it is important to keep these water resources clean.
Ask students to describe—using words, pictures, or both—how a raindrop falling from the sky will eventually come out of the faucets in their homes or at your school. Where might it land, and what path might it take from there? Then, ask students to explain why it is important to keep trash and pollution out of waterways. Return to the list of ways in which students use water, identified at the beginning of the lesson. Have students list additional ways in which they use water. Many recreational activities, such as swimming, boating, and fishing, also depend on water. How would pollution in the water affect each of these uses?
Next Generation Science Standards Correlations
Disciplinary Core Ideas
- LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
- LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems
- ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes
- ESS2.D: Weather and Climate
- ESS2.E: Biogeology
- ESS3.A: Natural Resources
- ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems
Science and Engineering Practices
- Asking Questions and Defining Problems
- Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
- Analyzing and Interpreting Data
- Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
- Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
- Engaging in Argument from Evidence
- Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
- Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation
- Systems and System Models