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Water CycleWater Cycle

Grade Level: 4-6

Subject: Science

Time Frame: One 45 Minute Period (Teacher created model demonstration)

Or Two 45 Minute Periods (Using student created models)

Plus an optional additional (short) 45 Minute Period to play the Water Cycle Game (found in Extension section)


Image source:


 After students learn important and fun facts about water and how we use and need it, students will begin to form an appreciation of the limited amount of water we have and understand its worth.  Students will gain a better understanding of the different phases of water as it occurs throughout the water cycle. The knowledge of the water cycle will be taught and reinforced through classroom participation, teamwork, volunteer activities, and model experiments. Students will learn through classroom participation to fill-in a blank water cycle poster, placing the correct terms and images on the poster to create a complete water cycle diagram. Through visual stimulation and physical participation, students will work with a model to gain a better understanding of the water cycle and water’s phases.  Through classroom discussion and / or personal reflection students will reinforce their knowledge of the water cycle. For reinforcement and fun, students can also play the water cycle game.

NJ Core Content Standards

STANDARD 5.1 (Scientific Processes) All students will develop problem-solving, decision-making and inquiry skills, reflected by formulating usable questions and hypotheses, planning experiments, conducting systematic observations, interpreting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and communicating results.

A. Habits of Mind

·          Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of data, claims, and arguments.

·          Communicate experimental findings to others.

·          Recognize that curiosity, skepticism, open-mindedness, and honesty are attributes of scientists.

B. Inquiry and Problem Solving

·          Identify questions and make predictions that can be addressed by conducting investigations.

·          Collect, organize, and interpret the data that result from experiments.

STANDARD 5.8 (Earth Science) All students will gain an understanding of the structure, dynamics, and geophysical systems of the earth

B. Atmosphere and Weather

·          Describe the composition, circulation, and distribution of the world's oceans, estuaries, and marine environments.

·          Describe and illustrate the water cycle.

D. How We Study the Earth

1.        Utilize various tools such as map projections and topographical maps to interpret features of Earth's surface.

STANDARD 6.6 (Geography) All students will apply knowledge of spatial relationships and other geographic skills to understand human behavior in relation to the physical and cultural environment.

A. The World in Spatial Terms

·          Translate maps into appropriate spatial graphics to display geographical information.

·          Use geographic tools and technologies to pose and answer questions about spatial distributions and patterns on Earth.

B. Places and Regions

·          Explain how regional systems are interconnected (e.g., watersheds, trade, transportation systems).

Multiple Intelligences

Spatial, Kinesthetic, Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Logical/Mathematical, Naturalistic


bullet Artist's clay or plastic mountain model
bullet Plastic shoe box with cover
bullet Petri dish
bullet Lamp
bullet Water
bullet Crushed ice
bullet Mechanism to heat water to steaming (if possible)
bullet Water cycle poster (image can be obtained from website in Resources section)
bullet Water cycle tags and images for class participation
bullet Questions (supplied in powerpoint   / pdf format) (Can printed out if desired)


Note: Even if your class is well acquainted with the water cycle, a review is still strongly recommended to help the students to create a good connection with the future lesson plans.  There is a wonderful water cycle game for a fun review on the bottom of the lesson plan found in the “Extension” section.



·         Review the different properties of water


·         Relate properties of water to the water cycle


·         Distinguish the components of the water cycle


·         Investigate the groundwater portion of the water cycle


·         Identify the water cycle in the Barnegat bay and their hometown area


Anticipatory set

Teacher will present students with three clear cups: one containing ice, one with water, and one with water heating to the point of steaming.  (If heating water is not an option, teacher can quiz students on what would occur if they took the third cup of water and placed it on a stove top.)  Teacher will then prompt a classroom discussion of the similarities and differences between the three cups.   

Sequence of events

1)      Students will discuss where they would observe these properties of water in the water cycle, around the world, and their area.

2)      Students will then review the different properties of water and what makes water so different molecularly and physically.


Notes for above:

SOLID:  Water is solid when temperature is below 0 degrees Celsius, called ice. This is found as hail, snow, polar ice caps, icicles, and glaciers. Molecules of water are still H2O but they are immovable and more spaced out from each other.  This makes ice lighter than water (which is why the top of lakes are icy when there is still water below or when you put ice in a cup of water they float).

LIQUID: At room temperature, H2O is liquid.  It is fluid and takes the shape of its container, including when it is spilled on the ground (it spreads on the flat surface of the floor until it hits the side boundary like a wall). The molecules of H2O are closer together and are in constant motion.

GAS: H2O becomes a gas when the temperature is higher than 100 degrees Celsius.  The molecules are moving very quickly and randomly.  They do not have a definite shape, but fill the container in which they are held in, such as a balloon or even the classroom!    


*There are also additional websites (in Materials section) to show what the molecules look like in different phases for a better understanding. 


3)      Teacher will create a quiz (Jeopardy or similar) or some “fun facts” time in which fun facts of water (such as those in the quiz provided in powerpoint  and pdf format) are reviewed and / or learned.  Additional fun facts are posted at the bottom of this page if teachers wish to extend this activity.

4)      Students will be provided with the necessary materials to carry out an experiment to help build a better understanding of the water cycle.

(Source of activity:


Note: If you have a large aquarium, you can do this activity as a demonstration, allowing the students to study and observe the phenomena and develop their own ideas and conclusions for class discussion.

If there are sufficient materials, you can also do it as a group project, with teams of three to five students responsible for setting up the model and drawing conclusions from their own work.



1.      Using the clay, shape a mountain.

2.      Place the mountain on one side of the shoe box with the sloped side facing the interior of the box where the "ocean" will be.

3.      Pour warm water into the "ocean" basin until about one-fourth of the mountain slope is covered.

4.      Replace the lid of the shoe box.

5.      Place a petri dish on top of the shoe box over the mountain (as shown).

6.      Place crushed ice into the petri dish.

7.      Position the lamp over the ocean. Turn on the lamp. CAUTION: THE LAMP WILL GET HOT. DO NOT TOUCH THE BULB OR SHADE. ***Have students return to their seats for the next activity for changes to occur.***

5)      Students will be presented with water cycle poster to fill in the blank. (Water cycle image can be obtained from Resources section below and be made into a transparency for an overhead or pasted into a PowerPoint slide to present to the whole class.**(Use sticky tac in case you want to take the words down without ripping the paper)**

6)      Students will volunteer to post the different pictures and words where they belong on the poster to create an accurate water cycle.   (Words may vary depending on this knowledge but can include: precipitation, condensation, infiltration, groundwater, surface run-off, evaporation, sublimation, transpiration) (Pictures would include a sun, clouds, vapors, rain/snow, and river if they aren’t already on the poster).  

7)      Have students return to observe the container carefully and note any changes that they see. It might help to add a little smoke to the aquarium to help them see the circulation. (A few matches lit, then blown out and quickly dropped into the box will work).

Observations and Questions

Observation Questions


1. Which part of the activity simulated evaporation?

Evaporation was simulated as the 'ocean' was heated by the lamp.

2. Which part simulated condensation?

Condensation occurred as the water vapor from the ocean cooled on the lid of the shoe box near the petri dish of ice.

3. Which part simulated precipitation?

The drops of water falling from the lid of the shoe box simulated precipitation.

4. What is the energy source and what does it represent?

The energy source was the lamp, which represented the sun.

5. What elements of the water cycle are not represented?

Transpiration, infiltration, sublimation, and percolation were not represented.

6. How could we demonstrate transpiration in this activity?

We could demonstrate transpiration by adding live plants to the shoe box.

7. Would condensation occur in the box without the ice? Why or why not?

Condensation might occur over the mountains but not as quickly. The ice provided a greater temperature difference, forcing the vapor to condense.

8. After observing this activity, explain why water is considered a renewable resource.

Water is continually recycled through the various parts of the water cycle.

9. The system you observed/constructed is a model of the way the actual water cycle works. Why might scientists use a model like this in their research into the water cycle in the real world? Can you think of any reason that using such models might be a problem?

 To understand on a small scale events that happen at a larger scale that's much harder to observe

To help predict what might be happening in the real world

The models might not have enough detail to behave the way the real world does

Ground water isn't included in models.  Nor are plants.  As a result the real world won't behave exactly like the model


Have students answer some or all of the questions (above) in lab notebooks or in small group discussion.


Students will receive a hand out of the blank water cycle in which they will fill out the designated blanks with the key terms and hand in for evaluation.

Extension Options

Students will play the water cycle game

Observe a raindrop: Interactive Website

Matching Game: How Much Water?

Properties of water (molecules) to view

Where do rainy days come from? A collection of water cycle learning activity ideas:




bullet The average American uses about 100 gallons of water a day.
bullet75 % of the earth is covered with water.
bullet97 % of earth’s water is in the oceans. Only 3 % of the earth’s water can be used as drinking water. 75 % of the world’s fresh water is frozen in the polar ice caps.
bulletAlthough a person can live without food for more than a month, a person can only live without water for approximately one week.
bulletThe average person in the United States uses 80 to 100 gallons of water each day. During medieval times a person used only 5 gallons per day.
bulletAbout 1.2 billion gallons of potable water are used in New Jersey each day.
bullet87 % of New Jersey’s population obtains its drinking water from a public water system and 13 % from private residential wells.
bulletIt takes 2 gallons to brush your teeth, 2 to 7 gallons to flush a toilet, and 25 to 50 gallons to take a shower.
bulletIt takes about 1 gallon of water to process a quarter pound of hamburger.
bulletIt takes 2,072 gallons of water to make four new tires.
bulletSources of water pollution include: oil spills, fertilizer and agricultural run-off, sewage, stormwater, and industrial wastes.
bulletAncient Egyptians treated water by siphoning water out of the top of huge jars after allowing the muddy water from the Nile River to settle.
bulletHippocrates, known as the father of medicine, directed people in Greece to boil and strain water before drinking it.
bulletIn the 1950s scientists began to suspect that water might carry diseases. Although earlier treatment of water could make the water safer, it was mainly done to
bulletimprove the taste, smell or looks of the water.
bulletThe first United States water plant with filters was built in 1872 in Poughkeepsie, New York.
bulletIn Altona, Germany in 1892, the water from the Elbe River filtered before drinking. At the time, hundreds of people from nearby Hamburg (which did not filter their water) died from cholera. The citizens of Altona were untouched by this waterborne disease.
bulletIn 1908, Jersey City, New Jersey and Chicago, Illinois were the first water supplies to be chlorinated in the United States.
bulletThe Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 represents the first time that public drinking water supplies were protected on a federal (national) level in the United States. Amendments were made to the SDWA in 1986 and 1996.
bulletNew Jersey Legislature approved the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act, which authorized the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to assume primacy and enforcement responsibility for the Federal Safe Drinking Water Program.
bulletOne gallon of water is equal to 3.785 liters of water.
bulletOne cubic foot of water is equal to 7.48 gallons of water.
bulletWater boils at 212o Fahrenheit or 100o Celsius.
bulletWater freezes at 32o Fahrenheit or 0o Celsius.

Fun Water Facts


bullet Ninety-seven percent of the earth's water is ocean. Two percent of the earth's water is frozen in glaciers. One percent is fresh water for us to use.
bullet The average American uses about 100 gallons of water a day.
bullet A shower, bathroom faucet, toilet and kitchen sink use two to five gallons a minute.
bullet A dishwasher uses 25 gallons of water in a load.
bullet A washing machine uses 30 gallons of water in a load.

Additional Resources


The water cycle for kids (thanks to Samantha in Ms. Gardener's class at Mesa Valley High School in Arizona for bringing this great resource to our attention)


Really Great Water Cycle Site with lots of good info and resources  (thanks to Cindy Carson for bringing this site to our attention)


Some great resources and information  (thanks to Anna-Beth Craig from bringing this site to our attention)


USGS  Water Cycle Page:


NJ Water Association.


Another Water Cycle page:


Nice collection of water resource links from Rutgers University:


A water cycle resource from

TEACHER FEEDBACK REQUEST:  We are always to working to improve these lesson plans. If you use this lesson plan, we'd love to hear from you with your thoughts, comments and suggestions for future improvements.  Please take the time to fill in our survey at  Thanks!


 © 2011.  Amanda Traina (Author), Louise Wootton (Editor)



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