Can water change the shape of the land?

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SWBAT explore the movement and creation of rivers and streams.

Big Idea

Rivers and streams are powerful enough to change the look of the land. More than erosion and deposition, they can drastically change the lay of the land. This lesson explores the directions that rivers flow and obstacles that can get it their way.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

This lesson is designed to help demonstrate ESS2-A.  It also bring in background knowledge from lessons previously taught during the Alpine Unit and again in the Waters of the World Unit. I work to make the concepts recycle through my teaching as often as possible.  It offers the students several opportunities to work with the concept and continue to make connections.  

This lesson focuses on the changes that rivers and streams can have on land.  Because this lesson involved quite a bit of water and sand, I elected to demonstrate this in front of the students rather than to have them manipulate the materials.  Another deciding factor in this decision was the difficulty I had in securing enough sand.  I also choose to use sand rather than soil because the sand had a much quicker reaction time and was much easier to visibly see the erosion and growing size in the river itself.  

Materials needed: 

painters tray (the kind you find in a hardware store)


water and water can or cup to pour slowly





5 minutes

I began the lesson with my power point ready to go.  Slide one poses a question, Can rivers change the shape of the land? (SP1)

I ask the children this question and let them think for a couple of minutes about the idea.  I know that many of them will instantly make connections to the previous lessons. My hope is that they will and I hear comments about those lessons.  

I ask the children to turn and share their thoughts with a shoulder buddy about the question.  I move to slide two and explain that in this lesson we are going to be hydrologists (water scientists). 

I explain to the children the meaning of this word...that hydro means water and they quickly will help me with 'ologists.' They know this from all the other types of science we have discussed during other lessons.  



15 minutes

After the children have shared out their ideas, I bring our simulated mountain of sand up to the front of the room and place it under the document camera.  It works well to place it here.  The screen is large and all the children can see the demonstration easily.  (It does help to turn a set of lights off in the classroom to enhance the view). 

I move the power point to slide three and it explains that we should pour water slowly on our mountain. I change my camera to the document camera and follow our directions. 

When the document camera is set up and all the children are comfortable, I ask them to remember to control their excitement when we begin to see reactions in the simulation. I slowly poor a small stream of water on the sand and we watch as it fills in and soaks up (SP2).

At first, there is not much of a reaction in the sand. It builds up and creates a pond.  The children are quick to point out that this is what has been created.  I slowly take my finger and draw a ditch in the sand from the pond.  (I explain to the children that I am helping it along just a bit and this would probably not be what would happen in nature).  I slowly pour more water down the mountain and our river begins to grow. 

I flip the screen back from the document camera to the power point and ask the children "What would the river do if there were objects in the way?" The directions ask that we put some rocks in the path of the water and investigate some more.  Slide five asks the children to share with a partner their predictions of what they believe will happen.  

The screen is flipped back to the document camera and I slowly pour more water on the river with the rock in the way.  

The same process is followed with the sticks (we call them logs).  


10 minutes

Slide eight does a wonderful job of explaining in a video clip how the entire process happens.  I embed the video clip in my power point for ease of teaching purposes, but have included it here for teacher use.  


When we finish watching the video clip, I expect the children to see many similarities in the video clip and the investigation.  Using the sand really demonstrates it beautifully.  It really responds just as the video explains.

I follow up with a couple further questions....(SP4)

  • When this happens in nature, does the process happen as quickly as it did for us in class? 
  • Why do you think this is? 


15 minutes

I pass out a small half sheet of Student Thinking  that says "Internet Research."  I explain to the children that I want them to have a little more practice gathering information to back up our research.  I tell them all good scientists research their work to validate their findings and one way to do this to read about it on line.  

I bring up a website about rivers that is loaded with information.  Because I know that many of students may struggle to work through all the information on the website, I work to pull out some of the information for the children to look for and fill out the question stems.  I remind them that the answers need to be complete and not one word answers.  

(This part of the lesson could be done a couple different ways: Students could work independently or in teams at student computers to find the information.  Or the teacher could help the children along and work on it whole group). 


10 minutes

When all the information has been found to back up our learning during the simulation, I move to the last slide in the power point.  It shows the Claims, Evidence and Reasoning (SP6).  I expect to hear from the children,  "Oh! we have seen this before!"  It was used and introduced in earlier lessons

I review what each of the elements mean...following along with the language on the screen.  

I pass out another half sheet that has sentence stems to complete the thoughts for the process.  I know this will not be easy for the children, I prompt them with suggestions to get their ideas flowing. We practice verbally with the sentences before the children begin writing.  

I allow the children to fill in what works for them, but I do have them practice saying out loud what they are going to write before they write their ideas.