Exploring Erosion by Wind, Rain, and Waves

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SWBAT make observations of erosion processes caused by slope, waves or wind.

Big Idea

Students 'speed up' time to observe how wind, waves or slope may change surface features.

NGSS Connections and Class Preparation

30 minutes

This exploratory lesson prepares my students for investigations they will pursue in the coming weeks. Students use models of erosion processes to closely examine and articulate the effects of erosion on different landforms.

This lab took 2 days. The 2nd day the students and I were able to set up the presentation criteria that they will address in their 'expert panels' in the next lesson. 

NGSS Standards

2-ESS2-2.      Develop a model to represent the shapes and kinds of land and bodies of water in an area. 

Students do not develop a model, but use two models, slope and beach, to explore how water changes the land.

ESS2.A:  Earth Materials and Systems Wind and water can change the shape of the land.

Students use models to explore how wind and water can change the shape of the beach and slope.

Science Practices

- Developing and Using Models (SP 2)

Students use erosion models to explore how a model could be used to learn more about erosion.

- Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (SP 3)

Students carry out and investigation on erosion processes to establish base data for a future investigation.

- Analyzing and Interpreting Data (SP 4)

Students make observations and analyze data to determine the cause and effect pattern of erosion processes.

- Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Students take measurements to record how the 'land form' changes as erosion occurs.

Cross-cutting Concepts - Appendix G

- Cause and Effect  (XC 2)

Students use models to explore the causes of erosion, wind, waves and run-off, and the effect of erosion on surrounding landforms.

The preparations are for a class of 24 students in groups of 4. There are 2 erosion models for each station: wind, waves and slope.

In the next lesson, using the 'jig saw' strategy, experts share their observations with the other station experts.


For wave stations:

2 plastic bins

sand to build up 'beach' at one end of each container

wave generators - 2 pieces of 2 x 4 or similar material that fits in the container to push water

For wind / beach stations

2 lids from a cardboard box (I used the lids from a box that holds reams of copy paper)


cardboard to build bike path at one end of the box

Next time I will use the longer side of the box for the bike path; I think this will provide a wider area for students to make observations about and there will be less distance for the sand to move to cause an effect.

2 hand held fans and / or hair dryers

For slope station

2 plastic bins


2 spray bottles or watering cans

2 stop watches

I decided students would count out '30 seconds' instead of using the stop watches because they already had enough materials to keep track of.

For All Teams

Observation Notes  packet and Station Directions for each team

I printed wind, wave and slope directions in different colors so I could easily sort directions with station and / or team.

6 iPads

4 rulers

print or project class directions

copy 2 sets of Observation Notes packet and Station Directions for wind, slope and wave stations

copy 6 sets of photo sequence labels (laminate if possible)

Lesson / Station Preparation

place sand in 2 bins and 2 box lids;

level out sand in 2 box lids for beach, design the bike path and place along one of the sides of the container

push sand to one end of the 2 bins for waves and pour water carefully in the side that does not have sand

pour soil into 2 bins and students create a slope at one end of the bin

Next time students will add structures and / or road to use a reference for observations

set out the 'wind and wave generators' and rain makers' by corresponding stations

provide one iPads at each station

provide rulers for the wave and slope stations (4 total)

provide photo sequence labels

Question for the Day

10 minutes

Science starts with a question, usually written on the board, with students meeting on the rug. I have established this routine with the kiddos to keep transition time short and effective and redirect students' attention to content while allowing time for focused peer interaction.

This allows students to time to consider today's topic before the lesson has officially begun.

Erosion stations have been prepared and just need to be moved to the 'station area'.

Question for the Day: If the wind blows for hours over the beach what happens to the beach and bike path? If it rains for days over a dirt mountain road, what happens to the road? If there are stormy waves washing up on a sandy beach, what may happen to the beach? 

I expect most students will be able to share reasonable answers. Students have looked for evidence of erosion around school, defined erosion and searched for images of weathering on the computer, and most have played with water sand and soil.

I show one part of the question at a time to allow for discussion and answers. After I write volunteer reponses on the board, I ask students to share what is the same about all their answers.

I am checking and/or scaffolding for understanding of the term erosion. For example a possible answer could be, the land changed because sand or soil was moved away.

"Usually erosion happens over long periods of time. Sometimes hydrologists and engineers will build models to observe closely how water, waves or wind erode the surrounding land so that they can plan ways to stop the erosion."

"Today you will use erosion models, to observe what can happen on a beach or in the mountains when there is wind, waves or rain. Then you will prepare a presentation to explain what happens."

I project erosion teams with station assignments.

"When I say go, please meet with your team and take a seat on the rug."

Erosion Stations 1-2-3

45 minutes

After everyone is sitting with their team, I signal for students' attention.

"Each team will have their own erosion model, with 2 teams taking observations on wave erosion, wind erosion and water run-off erosion. Your team will become the 'erosion experts' for that type of erosion. When you meet with your team next time, you will present your observations to a panel of fellow scientists." 

I project the steps for reading and initialing the steps. Then I pass out the team's station directions, observation notes and camera labels.

I direct students to read the station directions with their team and initialize the tasks that they select to do. I hold up the Observation Notes, "These are for your observations that you will write." I hold up the camera labels, "And you will use these when you take your pictures."

"You may move to another place in the room to read the directions and initialize the tasks you will do. When you have finished, please return to the rug. I will answer questions after all the teams have read the directions."

I suggest they move to other areas of the room, so that they can hear each other without the distractions from the other teams.

I want the students to read the directions and select tasks before moving to their erosion stations so when they start their lab, they have an overview of what they will be doing.

By going through the directions and negotiating who will do which tasks, students become familiar with the lab and take ownership of their tasks.

I use this time to check that the stations are ready to go.

After students meet me on the rug to clarify any of the station directions, I demonstrate how they need to frame their phots so that we can see the entire model and that the label does not block the model. Then I show the teams their stations.

Each team will use an iPad to take pictures of how the landform looked before, during and after the erosion process. Teams will use the images when they share their observations with their expert panel.

As students work at the stations, I move around to answer questions and ask students about what they see.


5 minutes

As teams move to rug to indicate they have completed their station, I check in with teams and to ask how their lab went and what they noticed. I ask them to write any new learning on a post-it so that I can add to their KLEWS chart later.

I also use this opportunity to review the team's observation notes and ask for clarification if needed.

When all the teams are on the rug, I congratulate them for how well they worked together and shared the jobs, and thank them for cleaning up their station.