Keywords: water cycle, water pollution, sources of water pollution; Lesson Plan Grade Level: ninth through eleventh grade; Total Time Required: two 45-minute periods, not necessarily continuous; Setting: classroom, library/computer lab

Goals for the Lesson

  • Students will analyze water samples for contaminants.
  • Students will use the Internet or other sources to identify sources of water contamination.
  • Students will relate contaminants to local sources.

Materials Needed

  • Internet and/or library access, and suggested sources of information
  • tables for testing results ( table 1 and table 2)
  • contaminated water for testing (see teacher notes)
  • equipment to test for contaminants (see teacher notes)
  • table for search results on sources of contamination

State Standards Addressed: Pennsylvania Department of Education Academic Standards for Science and Technology: Inquiry and Design (3.2); Earth Sciences (3.5); Technological Devices (3.7); Pennsylvania Department of Education Academic Standards for Environment and Ecology: Environmental Health (4.3); Agriculture and Society (4.4); Humans and the Environment (4.8)

Subjects Covered: earth science, environmental science

Topic Covered: sources of water pollution


  1. Students have previously learned about the water cycle.
  2. We have talked about the movement of water through the water cycle. What drives this movement? (sun's radiation leads to evaporation)
  3. Is the water evaporated pure water (H2O), or are there other materials mixed with it (pure H2O)
  4. What happens to the water after it evaporates? (travels through atmosphere, eventually falls as precipitation, into infiltration, run-off, transpiration)
  5. If you test the water in nearby streams, groundwater, lakes, will you find pure H2O? (no)
  6. What are some of the things you might find? (See teacher notes)
  7. Today we will be testing that prediction.

Activity 1: Testing for Water Contamination

  1. This activity can be done at actual stream, groundwater (well), lake, or other sites outside, or with samples collected from representative sites, or with samples "manufactured" to represent various contaminants. (See teacher notes)
  2. Students work in pairs or small groups.
  3. Test for contaminants using available equipment. (See teacher notes)
  4. Students record sample number and results on table 1.

Activity 2: Discussion of Results

  1. Lead classroom discussion of what students found in the water.
  2. Are the same contaminants in every sample? (no)
  3. What are possible sources of these contaminants? (See teacher notes: agriculture, industry, municipal, natural, etc.)
  4. Are all of these sources human made, or are some natural sources of contamination? (some are natural, for example, groundwater infiltrating through and dissolving rock, sulfuric acids in volcanic regions)
  5. Do these sources of contamination come from very localized sources or from larger sources? Introduce concepts of point source and non-point sources of contamination. (See teacher notes)

Activity 3: Identifying Sources of Water Contamination

  1. Students go to computer lab or library for access to Internet and other information in texts, journals, and pamphlets.
  2. Assign each pair or group of students to research a certain number of possible sources of contamination to determine what those sources contribute.
  3. Students record the source, types of pollution, point source or non-point source, and source of information in table 2.
  4. Provide possible places to find information. (See teacher notes)

Activity 4: Discussion of Results

  1. Lead classroom discussion of what students found.
  2. Are some contaminants contributed by more than one source? (yes)
  3. Are more contaminants point source or non-point source?
  4. Lead discussion to whether all contaminants are harmful.
  5. Lead discussion to what sources of contaminants are present in local area.


  • Prepare a concept map of what you learned from this activity.


  • Write a paragraph of how you will feel the next time you go wading/swimming/fishing in local waters, knowing what contaminants might be in those waters.


  • Pick a type of pollution and research the health risks associated with that pollutant.
  • Evaluate your local watershed. Access EPA Surf Your Watershed.
    1. Click on search by map.
    2. Click on your state.
    3. Click on your county.
    4. Click on environmental Web sites concerning this watershed.


Collect student work and check for accuracy.


Anderson, Stanley H., Ronald E. Beiswenger, P. Walton Purdom (1987). Environmental Science . 3rd edition. Ohio: Merrill Publishing Company.

Krantz, David, and Brad Kifferstein. Water Pollution and Society .

Spaulding, Nancy, and Samuel N. Namowitz (1994). Earth Science. Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company.

Suggested Web Sites


Colleen M. Serencsits