Hands-On Water Cycle Lesson!

Written by Zack King

In early October I organized a lesson based around water cycles for a 4th Grade and Kindergarten big buddy/little buddy group. I’m going to relate this lesson because I feel it is one of my more successful lessons this year and I believe it’s fairly simple and easily repeatable. I’d chosen the water cycle topic, which included information about evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and water flow back to large bodies of water, because teachers had requested this as a subject that fit with their current curriculum. I searched the LifeLab curriculum books and, while I found many interesting lessons, I didn’t find anything that quite fit with the combined subject, grade level and focus on activity that I was looking to put together (this experience has repeated itself whenever I’ve looked for lesson ideas in LifeLab – I usually end up pulling inspiration from LifeLab rather than actual, complete lessons).

As mentioned, I work with a big buddy/little buddy group. We (myself and the two lead teachers) split the class into 3 groups and we each take a group for the duration of our lessons, and then they rotate to a different lesson station. My challenge is mainly that hands-on activities with simple informational elements seem to fit the Kindergarteners better, while the 4th graders’ background knowledge and ability to absorb more verbal information allows for more complex topics to be covered. When the two classes are combined, I feel that I need to strike a balance between elements of play/hands on activities, and elements of information conveyed verbally, to engage both classes at a level that fits them. My analysis of this balance is based on my own subjective observations as well as my conversations with the teachers I work with and my conversations with the students about what they would like to do. Dialogue with students about their preferred activities is a high priority for me.

The lesson itself was simple and not costly to put together. The materials were:

-plastic bowls with holes cut in them (they needed to not get soggy with water)

-paper cups

-a large bucket full of water

-a handpainted, cardboard ‘sun’ and a handpainted cardboard ‘rain cloud’

I began the lesson by asking the students if they knew what happens to water when it gets hot. This didn’t receive much response so I asked them what happens when they boil water on the stove while cooking. I received answers like “It disappears!”, “It goes up!”, and “It dries up!”. I explained that this process, in which water turns into a gas and rises, is called “evaporation.” I explained that when the sun shines on bodies of water, evaporation occurs. We discussed, through question and answer and observation, where water goes when it evaporates, how clouds are formed, why it rains, and where water goes after it rains.

To illustrate the lesson, I used the materials provided while I was explaining these processes. When I discussed evaporation, a volunteer helper held up the sun over the bucket of water and then I scooped up some water with a cup, lifting it up high. I then “drifted” as a cloud over to one of our planter barrels. The volunteer helper held up the ‘raincloud’ and I poured the water from the cup into a plastic bowl with holes cut in the bottom, and I ‘rained’ the water into the planter (I had tested the bowls the night before to see how many holes should be punched to create just the right amount of time for the water to completely drain). I then “drained into creeks and rivers” and “flowed” back over to the bucket full of water to begin the cycle again.

After this, I handed out cups and bowls to the students, and they performed this activity as I or a volunteer held up the sun and rain cloud and talked the students through the activity. They told me later that they greatly enjoyed the activity and it seemed beneficial that they were able to role play and “become” a part of the water cycle through the lesson.

*I’ll add pictures of the materials when I get my hands on a camera : )

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