Hydrosphere: The Water Cycle Day 1

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SWBAT create and investigate physical models to describe the process of condensation in the water cycle.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students explore the process of condensation by completing two investigations. Students will then write and share scientific explanations of condensation by constructing evidence-based arguments.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase will others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at Edudemic.com, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will study each of Earth's major systems: biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. In addition, students will investigate how these systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth's materials and processes by conducting research, constructing graphs, creating models, carrying out scientific investigations, and analyzing real-world applications. 

Summary of Lesson

Today, I open the lesson by showing students a video on the water cycle. Students then explore the process of condensation by investigating two different scenarios in which water droplets form. At the end of the lesson, students reflect and apply their new understanding of condensation by explaining their findings during the investigations. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):'

5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 3: Planning and Carrying out Investigations 

Students conduct two investigations, while attending to fair tests and controlled variables. Students also measure temperature and make observations throughout both investigations. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 4: Systems and System Models 

Students study the water cycle by making models of the condensation process. Then, they observe how components (such as hot water, cold water, ice, and air) interact within the models. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS2.A:  Earth Materials and Systems

Earth’s major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans). These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth’s surface materials and processes. The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather. (5-ESS2-1)

ELA Integration

To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.5.2.B: Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic. In this lesson, students develop scientific explanations using exact details, examples, and observations from their investigations. 

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


10 minutes

Referring to the Earth Systems Poster from the beginning of this unit, I explain: So far we've taken the time to study the biosphere and geosphere. Today, we'll begin taking a closer look at the hydrosphere. Turn and talk: What is the hydrosphere again? (all the water on Earth)

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can create and investigate physical models to describe the process of condensation in the water cycle. 

I ask students to turn and talk: Share an experience you have had with little droplets forming on the outside of a cup or glass! Students didn't waste anytime! Some students mention getting a soda at a fast food restaurant while others begin talking about the droplets that form on the mirror in the bathroom.

This process is called condensation and condensation is an important process that is part of the water cycle. Turn and talk: Why does condensation happen and when does it happen? Many students are a bit baffled with this question. Some discuss the fact that condensation only happens when you have a cold drink.


I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I show the following video on the water cycle. In particular, I chose this video because it is high-interest, relevant, and provides students with key vocabulary terms, including condensation.

In addition, the video addresses the distribution of water on Earth (70% of water is in the oceans and 2/3 of freshwater is in the ice caps and glaciers). This supports NGSS Standard 5-ESS2-2: Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth. 

Turn & Talk Moments

Throughout the video, I pause frequently, asking students to turn and talk. This teaching move encourages students to not just watch the video, but to THINK about what they are watching. Here are examples of questions I ask during the video: 

0:27 - Turn and talk: Finish this sentence. This makes me realize... 

2:25 - Turn and talk: Where can water be found on Earth? 

4:59 - Turn and talk: What happens to precipitation once it falls to Earth? 

6:00 - Turn and talk: How do clouds form?  


30 minutes

Condensation Models

Out of the three main processes in the water cycle (evaporation, condensation, precipitation), condensation is the most challenging for students to understand. For this reason, I want students to explore condensation further by creating and investigating two models of this process.

Investigation #1: Two Cups with Different Temperatures of Water

For one investigation, Students Observe the Droplets on the Outside of Two Cups. One cup has ice water whereas the other cup has the same amount of water at room temperature. Students record the temperature of both cups of water and observe the number of water droplets that form on the outside of the cup. They notice that water droplets condense on the outside of the cold cup only. 

To prepare for this investigation, I set out the following materials: 


Investigation #2: A Plate of Ice on top of a Jar Filled with Very Warm Water

For the second investigation, students place a plastic plate on top of a jar of very warm water. Then, Students Place Ice Cubes on Top of the Plate. After some time, students see water droplets forming on the inside of the top portion of the jar. (Although, I was really hoping that droplets would form under the plate and begin falling/raining back down to the water at the bottom. This didn't happen!)

To prepare for this investigation, I set out the following materials: 


Getting Ready for Investigation #1

To set students up for success, I provide each student with a copy of this Investigation Student Handout. I then draw a diagram of investigation #1 and students complete their own diagrams as well: Invesitgation #1 Teacher Model. Before starting, I draw attention to the investigative question: How does the temperature of the water affect the number of droplets on the outside of a cup? I ask students: How do you think we could investigate this? One student suggests, "Take two cups. Put warm water in one and cold water in the other. Then look for water droplets."

Following the student's advice, I drew two cups. Then, as I draw the water line, I ask: How much water should we put in each cup? The students agree that both cups need to have the same amount of water. What do we call this when we keep the variables the same in an investigation? One student recalls from previous investigations, "A fair test!" Another student says, "It's controlling the variables!" We make note of this on the handout: controlled variable (keeping them the same). Looking back, I wish we would have written a more precise definition: "variables that you keep the same." 

I draw a blank line on each cup so that students can record the temperature of each cup of water. Students suggest that we "let both cups set for 10 minutes and observe the number of droplets." We take note of this suggestion on the page as well. 

Getting Ready for Investigation #2

To save time, we discuss investigation #2 as well before students gather supplies and build both condensation models. I wondered if this would cause confusion, but all groups were able to successfully set up both investigations without any problems (besides spilled water!).
Again, I draw a diagram of the investigation: Invesitgation #2 Teacher Model. And, again, before starting, I read the investigative question aloud: What happens when warm air meets cold air? How can we investigate the answer to this question? To guide students, I begin by drawing a jar (it's labeled 1 cup in the diagram, but we used a glass jar) with 1/2 c. hot water. I then draw a plate on top of the jar. Then, I ask: What could we place on top of the plate to make the air just below the plate in the jar a colder temperature? With time, students eventually came up with ice! 
I then draw a dotted line to show the collision of cold air (next to the ice at the top of the jar) and warm air (next to the hot water at the bottom of the jar). 
Gathering Supplies

At this point, I ask each student in each group of three students to silently show me a #1, #2, or #3 on their hands. To distribute supplies, I simply ask: Can #2 students get a plastic plate and a thermometer? Can #3 students get two cups of water? To avoid congestion, I spread out supplies throughout the room and/or I wait until students return to their desks before asking the next students to get other supplies. This same system works perfectly for easy clean up later on: Can #1 students empty and stack the plastic cups by the sink? 

 As soon as students have all the supplies needed for both investigations, they begin setting up both models. 

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What patterns have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. Has your thinking changed? 
  8. What conclusion can you draw about ____?

Student Conferences

During this conference, Conferencing with Students, I am reminded of how important it is to take the time to discuss the different scales on the thermometer, indicated by "C" for Celsius and "F" for Fahrenheit. I absolutely love how one student connects this investigation with the water droplets forming on the inside of windows in his RV! 

Here, Conferencing with Students as they make Observations, I ask the group to explain why water droplets form. I love how each student takes the time to explain condensation using their own words. One student says, "It's the merging of air (meaning warm and cool air)." Another student says, "When the cold air meets the water vapor, it turns to (liquid) water." To get them thinking about the water cycle, I then ask: Is this just like making clouds? 

I was so impressed with this student, Student Using a Ruler, for asking and answering her own investigative question today. She thought to measure the hot water in the jar at the beginning and at the end of Investigation #2. I love how she explains that the water level went down due to evaporation. 

Reflect & Apply

20 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to write about and share their findings. At this time, I ask students to answer the questions on the Investigation Student Handout. I remind students of the importance of making evidence-based arguments using their observations from the investigations.

Class Discussion

As students are ready, I ask them to share their thinking out loud with their classmates. I pass around a classroom microphone at this time as students often have a hard time hearing others. Sharing out loud also helps support students that struggle with developing explanations. Soon, these students are inspired, are more confident, and are able to successfully construct responses on their own. 

Here, Student Explaining Investigation #1, a student beautifully inserts key facts from her investigation as she draws conclusions about the formation of water droplets. I listen carefully so that I can offer little tidbits of advice on how to make scientific explanations more precise or clear. 

Another student, Student Explaining Investigation #2, explains how evaporated water takes on a visible form when the warm air meets the cool air. I then push his thinking a bit more by asking about the states of matter. He does a great job identifying water vapor as a gas and the droplets as liquid water. 

Student Work

Here are a few examples of student work at this time. I'm proud to see so many students restating the question in their answers (we've been working on this in reading) and using their scientific observations to draw conclusions.