Water Around Us

By Lorraine Etherton

Grade Level- 5th and 6th  


Students create a collage of human land use activities around an image of the Missouri River. 

Student and Teacher Background Information

What people do with land use shows their priorities and lifestyles.  Every human use of land and water affects wildlife habitat.  Humans can often go beyond the natural limits of a setting.  We have the ability to bring in energy sources that allow a system to go beyond its natural limits.  People build dams for power, water can be harnessed for irrigation and recreation, swampy areas can be drained for building. All these types of activities affect wildlife and their habitat. 

Materials - for each three students 

  • Scissors
  • glue
  • one set of land use cutouts
  • one Missouri River cutout
  • one large piece of paper (18”x24”)
  • cards on which interest group’s name and interest are printed
  Learning Objectives and Key Concepts :  
  1. Students will put themselves in the place of a special interest group and evaluate the effects of different kinds of  land use on wetland habitats. 
  2. Discuss and determine which lifestyle changes minimize damaging effects on wildlife and water quality. 
  3. Come to a consensus within their group.  (This skill is difficult for many, practice helps.) 
  4. Consider what they have done and how it affects people and animals downstream. 
Activity Preparation—Prepare copies of land use cutouts, and large pieces of paper.  Prepare cards with description of each interest group. 

Teaching Sequence  

  1. Tell students they will be responsible for arranging the pattern of land use around the Missouri River so they can preserve the area.  They will also try to represent their interest group. 
  2.  Divide the class into groups of three to five students, each representing an interest group.  Possible interest groups are: 
    • Local residents—want to live in the area 
    • Farmers—want to use the land to raise food and livestock 
    • Business Interests—want to use the land for commerce, business and economic growth 
    • Feed Lot Owners—want to raise livestock in a healthy and economical way 
    • Bait Shop Owners—want to serve the greatest number of customers for a profit 
    •  Beef Packing Plant Representatives—want to preserve jobs, make a profit 
    • Workers at National Wildlife Refuge—want to preserve areas for endangered species   Have a place for recreation. 
    •  Army Corps of Engineers Workers—Build and regulate power dams, controls flow of water 
    •  Residents of a City Downstream—want to preserve quality of life
    •  Add others that may be important 
  3. Create a list of pros and cons for each land use.  Record these on the chalkboard. 
  4. Distribute materials.  Have students cut out land use pieces and Missouri River.  Tell them all the pieces must be used, parts may touch, but not overlap.  Students may also create additional land uses as they see necessary.  Suggest that they position their pieces and discuss possibilities before gluing the pieces down. 
  5. Students should work in their groups long enough to comprehend some of the consequences of land use.  The teacher may stop the groups and have them describe their plans while work is in progress or wait until groups are finished to have them describe and display.  The teacher may need to be firm in discussing consequences as well as being sensitive to their frustrations. 

Possible Extensions: 

  1. Collect data from daily Omaha World Herald on water level of Missouri River.  Graph data. 
  2. Repeat the activity and have the students take part in a different interest group. 
  3. Visit DeSoto Bend National Wildlife Refuge. 
  4. Invite a speaker from a group such as Ducks Unlimited, Army Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources District into the classroom. 
  5. Have students make a list of things they can do personally to change their lifestyles in order to reduce potentially damaging effects of their habit. 
  6. Investigate local zoning laws. 
Additional Resources:  
  • Nebraska Natural Resources Districts
  • Aquatic Wild
  • Nebraska Cooperative Extension Offices,  Issues Investigation:  Exploring the “Goldilocks Effect”
  • 4-H Youth Development Cooperative Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska

Properties of Water - Surface Tension

Grade Level - 5th and 6th 

Summary of Activity

Students will practice making uniform drops with eyedroppers or pipettes.  Students will use an eyedropper to put drops of water on a penny.  They will have five trials and find the average.  The results of each trial for each of the penny will be graphed. 

Student and Teacher Background Information

Surface tension is molecular attraction.  A sphere packs the greatest amount of water into the least possible space.  But surface tension forces act effectively only across short distances, therefore water droplets will not exceed a certain size.  The surface of copper pennies changes with wear and tear. 

List of Materials 

  • Pipette (or eyedropper) for each student
  • one cup each of water colored with red, blue and yellow to be shared with a partner or small group
  • plenty of paper towels for wiping up
  • Viva or Bounty towels for prints, one for each student 
  • plastic transparencies, one for each student

Learning Objectives and Key Concepts 

The learner will practice making uniform water drops and count them.  After this they will do this on each side of a penny.  Through this process the students will collect, record and graph data.  The learners will find the average of a set of numbers.  Students will form a conclusion as to whether the heads side or tails side of a penny can hold the most water.  In so doing they will discuss variables that may lead to different conclusions among groups.  Learners will become familiar with the term surface tension. 

Activity preparation 

Mix  one liter each of water with food coloring—red, blue, yellow,  Gather materials.  If students have not had practice making graphs you may wish to design your own activity sheet for recording and graphing results. 

Teaching Sequence 

  1. The day before you plan to do the penny activity, have students practice making uniform drops and counting those drops.  Distribute cups of colored water, pipettes (eyedroppers), transparencies, Viva or Bounty towels, paper towels for wiping up.  Let them  experiment and doodle.  Then they can make a dot picture on the transparency and make a print of their picture with the sheet of Viva or Bounty.
  2. You may need to do a task analysis of students’ abilities in averaging and graphing skills.  Preteaching or reteaching may be necessary.  Heterogeneous pairing may help students with these skill areas.
  3. Distribute materials to each student or pair.  Use the dropper to count drops on head of penny until it runs over. Record results. Repeat for a total of five times for each side , heads and tails.  Find the average and graph the results of each trial.
  4. Students will conclude which side of the penny can hold most water.  Conclusions may vary.
  5. Discuss variables of pennies, uniform drops, human error, etc.

Possible Extensions 

  • Introduce terms of cohesion and adhesion. 
    • Cohesion—the molecular attraction  by which the particles of a body are united throughout the mass. 
    • Adhesion—the molecular attraction exerted between the surfaces of bodies in contact. 
  • Distribute cups of water toothpicks and waxed paper.  Let students experiment with  and breaking apart water droplets, as well as stretching them.  Provide them with a maze which they can put under the waxed paper an time each other having water races through the maze. 

Water Goes 'Round and 'Round

Grade Level - 5th and 6th


This is a classroom demonstration of the water cycle.   It shows the processes of evaporation and condensation.  The demonstration is followed by a paper and pencil activity in which the students make their own models of the water cycle.    They will make designs on strips of paper to symbolize the water vapor on one strip and water drops on the other.  The learners then draw their own background of the demonstration that used a pan of water, pan of ice cubes and hot plate.  Another background may be drawn showing lakes and clouds.  Through each background students cut two sets of slits perpendicular to each other through which they draw the slips that depict water vapor and water drops.  Label appropriately with terms learned. 

Student and Teacher Background Information

The water cycle is the continuous movements of Earth’s water from oceans, to air and back to land and oceans.  The sun’s heat evaporated water then cool air condenses the vapor into water droplets or ice crystals.  These droplets and crystals then fall to ground in a process called precipitation.  It should be stressed with students at this level that as the water evaporates it is invisible.  When it is cooled, the molecular motion slows down, the water condenses and returns to its liquid state. 

Materials Needed  

  • a variety of weights of papers to choose from as each student will need three 9”x12” sheets for their models
  • an example of a picture done ahead of time
  • scissors
  • glue
  • markers, crayons, pencils

Note: may have precut strips

For demonstration:  

  • 1 hot plate or electric fry pan 
  • 1 saucepan 
  • water 
  • 2 large aluminum pie pans 
  • 1 tray of ice cubes 
  • tongs 
  • hot pad 

Learning Objectives and Key Concepts

The learner will observe and generalize about the different forms water will take when it is heated and cooled.  The learner will be introduced to or reinforced in the terms: water cycle, precipitation, evaporation, condensation, infiltration, ground water, the three states of matter.  Other information can be presented in depth later at discretion of teacher and time available. 

Activity Preparation  

Gather materials.  Prepare an example of a drawing/model of water cycle in which paper strips are pulled through a scene to represent the processes of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. 

Teaching Sequence  

  • Try to have the water boiling as students enter the room.  Observe safety procedures.
  • Have students observe and describe what they see.  Letting them sketch the demonstration is a possibility.
  • Ask questions such as “Where did the steam come from?”  “How did we get the water to turn to vapor?”  “How can we get vapor to turn back to liquid?”
  • Fill pie pan with ice cubes, hold over steaming pan.  Hold pies pans with tongs or hot plate.
  • As water droplets appear shake down droplets.  This may take longer than expected.  Ask questions about what process this reminds them of.  Discuss terms: 
    • evaporation—from liquid to vapor (gas), 
    • condensation—from vapor (gas) back to liquid 
    • forms of precipitation—rain, snow, sleet, hail
  • Discuss energy levels associated with three states of matter.
  • While waiting for droplets to form, selected students may pass out student materials or you may wish to wait to distribute materials.
  • Show examples of model—two-dimension diorama of water cycle.
  • Students design scenes in which they can pull their water vapor strips up through and water vapor down to demonstrate the water cycle.  They may label these.  Students should explain the changes the liquid water goes through.


  1. Make a miniature water cycle by putting a closed jar with a small amount of water in a sunny locale.
  2. Make individual terrariums or in small groups.  Cut the top off a one or two-liter plastic soda bottle; add soil, water and a small plant, cover with plastic wrap and a rubber band.  Place in a sunny location. Observe.
  3. Language arts—Write a story of what life would be like on a planet with little or no water.  Write a story or poem about a raindrop; tell where it has been and where it is going.
  4. Project Wild activities
  5. Quizzes over concepts and terms, label prepared diagrams with processes.
  6. Research freshwater and saltwater ecosystems.
  7. Map activities with Nebraska groundwater regions.
  8. Read about earth’s biomes (land ecosystems): tundra, taiga, deciduous forest, grasslands, tropical rain forest, deserts.
  9. Research other cycles such as carbon dioxide-oxygen cycle.

Additional Resources:

  • Stop, Look, and Learn About Our Natural World, A Nebraska Natural Resources Elementary Education guide; Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, 301 Centennial Mall South, P.O. Box 94876, Lincoln, NE  68509  Ph.(402)471-2081 
  • Water, Precious Water, AIMS Education Foundation, P.O. Box 8120, Fresno, CA 93747-8120  Ph.(209)255-4094 
  • Discoverworks, Grade 5, Silver Burdettginn, 299 Jefferson Rd., P.O. Box 480, Parsippany, NJ  007054-0480