Water Cycle Models

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SWBAT create a model of the water cycle and explain its benefits and limitations of explaining the water cycle.

Big Idea

By creating a physical model of the water cycle, students will gain a kinesthetic understanding of the phase changes that occur throughout the cycle.


5 minutes

Teacher Tip: This lesson is designed for students to see the water cycle first hand by making a model.  You will need the following materials to accomplish this: a jar or bucket, water, a heat source (I used a radiator), and plastic wrap.  

This lesson addresses NGSS SP2 as students are creating an evaluating a model in order to better conceptualize a concept. 

To start the lesson, students work on their student notes sheet to independently complete the water cycle labeling.  They use words from a word bank, as most of the vocabulary is difficult for students to remember. This strategy helps the students with learning difficulties tremendously. After 3-4 minutes of labeling, I ask students to record a response on the SMARTBoard and we share with the class. It might be helpful for students to review the phase changes of matter prior to this lesson.  


5 minutes

Students are asked to consider what could be a way to demonstrate the water cycle by answering the following prompt: EXPLORE: With your group, identify a way you could demonstrate the water cycle to someone else. Students usually say they could act it out or draw a poster. I encourage them to think about using materials. At the end of 5 minutes, I ask 1-2 groups to share their responses with the class. 


10 minutes

The students now spend 3-4 minutes reading the procedure on their own (it can be found in the EXPLAIN section in the student notes sheet).  After 4 minutes, I ask students to read the procedure aloud, step-by-step, as I demonstrate what that looks like using my materials. 

The procedure is as follows: 

EXPLAIN: Water Cycle Model Procedure

Materials: large bowl, water, sheet of clear plastic wrap, cup, rubber band, graduated cylinder


  1. Pour 100ml of water into the large bowl.

  2. Place the cup into the center of the bowl. Be careful not to splash any water into it.

  3. Cover the top of the bowl with the plastic wrap.

  4. Put the rubber band around the plastic wrap on the top of the bowl.

  5. Place the bowl under the heat lamp.

  6. Record your observations.


15 minutes

For the model to work properly, it needs to sit on the heat source for about 5 minutes. Once there are a few drops of condensation on the plastic wrap, have the students begin to make observations by answering the questions in their notes sheet: 

ELABORATE: Respond to the analysis questions below.

  1. What starts to form on the plastic wrap?

  2. What causes this?

  3. What happens when the liquid on the plastic gets too heavy?

  4. After 5 minutes, remove the plastic wrap. Describe what’s inside the cup?

  5. What is this called?

After about 15 minutes, I ask the students to share their responses with the class as I write them on the board. Check out ELABORATE student sample to see actual responses.


5 minutes

Once the students have built, observed and analyzed their models, they now evaluate them and how successful the model was in demonstrating the process of the water cycle. By answering the following questions on their notes sheets, they complete this task: 

EVALUATE: Answer the following question using evidence from the model and your background information.

Our model is a good example of the water cycle because it shows…(shows the water cycle and they can name the phases)

The actual water cycle is different from our model because…(the actual water cycle is heated by the sun, condensation forms clouds)