Keywords: water cycle, aquifer, buffer strips, ground water, infiltrate, watershed, pollution, erosion; Lesson Plan Grade Level: 5-6; Total Time Required: advance work to prepare stream tables, 2 class periods; Setting: regular classroom, activity may be done outside in good weather


  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of the water cycle.
  • Students will understand how vegetation and other land covers slow soil erosion and protect against sedimentation.
  • Students will understand that water flowing through the ground is cleaned as it travels.

Materials needed

  • prepared stream trays - one filled with sod
  • one filled with sand
  • one filled with gravel
  • one filled with loose soil
  • one filled with soil that has a loose vegetation cover
  • water
  • water containers with a sprinkle spout
  • containers to catch the runoff

State Standards Addressed : PA Science and Technology 3.1.4B, 3.2.4C, 4.1.4E, 4.2.4A

Teaching Model: Hands-on

Subjects Covered : Science

Topics Covered : water cycle, run-off, pollution, natural cleaning of water


  1. Begin with a review of the water cycle, water uses and sources.
  2. Discuss the vocab with the use of visuals.
  3. Divide the class into 5 groups.
  4. Assign each group to a prepared stream table tray.
  5. Gather the class around each tray and predict what might happen as water is added.
  6. Have the students assigned to the tray add water with the sprinkle spout.
  7. Observe what happens in the tray and with the water collected as runoff.
  8. Record observations.
  9. Continue until water has been added to each tray and observations have been made for each.


Students will write a paragraph describing the differences in the stream trays and in the runoff collected. Paragraphs should also include which set-up the student feels is healthiest for the environment and why.

Literature Cited

Sharpe, William E., and Sanford S. Smith. Incredible Water With the Water Lion, 4-H Water Project Unit 2. University Park, Pa.: Center for Water Stewardship, The Pennsylvania State University.

Swistock, Bryan, and Sanford S. Smith (2001). From the Woods: Watersheds. University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University


Deborah Filson, Highland Park Area Elementary School, Mifflin County School District, Grade 5