Part 1-The Water Cycle

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SWBAT describe the processes that take place during the water cycle.

Big Idea

Students will investigate how water changes from one form to another during the water cycle.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Water on Earth Unit focuses on the interaction of the hydrosphere with other Earth systems including the geosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere. Through models, investigations, research, graphing, and multimedia, students learn that the amount of water on Earth never changes and the amount available for human consumption is small. They identify and calculate the distribution of water sources on Earth, distinguish the properties of various forms of water, and recognize the cycling of water in and out of the atmosphere. 

Lesson Synopsis

Part 1- The Water Cycle, begins with an open ended question about the age of the water in a cup. I have students use whiteboards to write justified predictions. I don't answer this question as they will discover the answer between today's and tomorrow's lessons. The lesson continues with the class taking part in a water cycle play. This play describes each phase of the water cycle and brings the concept to life.  After reading the play, we have a guided discussion about each process mentioned in the play and students note each one in a circle graphic organizer. I move on to further explain evaporation and condensation and have students complete two activities to observe each one in real life. I make a point to connect their investigations back to the water cycle. Once we have identified the processes, I have students complete an exit ticket to show me their understanding. I collect this and use it as a formative assessment.


Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address and support future lessons on the following NGSS Standard(s):

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

Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering practices:

3.) Planning and Carrying Out an Investigation- Students conduct investigations on evaporation and condensation to produce evidence to explain how water changes from liquid to a gas and a gas to a liquid.

8.) Obtaining and Communicating Information- Students obtain and combine information about the processes that take place during the water cycle from a play. They use the information within the play to describe each process water travels.

Crosscutting Concepts

Part 1- The Water Cycle  lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

4.) Systems and System Models- Students read a play to understand how water moves through the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. They can describe each part of the cycle and how water changes and interacts as it moves through each part.


Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS2.C:  The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes



Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirection.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


10 minutes

Sparking Curiosity

I begin by holding up a glass of water and asking students: "How old do you think this water is?" (This is just a glass of water from the faucet. While I am not necessarily looking for the age of the water, I want to get them to understand that water on Earth is constantly recycled and this cup of water is the same water from millions of years ago. This idea will come to light at the end of tomorrow's lesson when we figure out how water cycles through Earth's systems.)

I wait a few seconds to let students think about a possible answer. After noticing several hands up, I have them write their ideas in their notebook. Then I ask each group of students to do a turn and talk with their group. 

After some time, I reconvene the class as a whole and let each group shares their predictions out loud.  As part of their share, I ask them to provide a reason for their prediction.  I want them to be in the habit of justifying their thinking.

Once each group shares, I tell them their task is to find out the age of this water and come up with an answer at the end of tomorrow's lesson. One way to help us find this out is to find out how water moves through Earth's systems.


10 minutes

Exploring How Water Moves THrough Earth's Systems

I display the term Water Cycle on the board. I break down the word into two parts: water and cycle . I ask students to think of what they know about each word to help us develop a meaning. We identify water as a liquid substance on Earth.  I elaborate a little on this by sharing with them it is a form of matter (at the time of this lesson, I have not taught my unit on matter). We then discuss the word cycle.  From our discussion, I define the term on the board. I do this to support their use of academic vocabulary, especially for my English Language Learners and Special Educations students.

water cycle: The repeated movement of water through the environment in different forms.  

Preparing for The Water Cycle Play

With the term displayed on the board, I explain to students that we are reading a play about the water cycle process. I assign each table a role in the play. I hand out props to create visual replica of the role they are portraying.

There are enough roles for all students to have a part.

● Sun                          Ocean water drop 1       ● Ocean water drop 2 

● Ocean water drop 3   ● Ocean water drop 4       ● Water vapor 1 

● Water vapor 2          ● Cloud Snowflake 1         ● Snowflake 2 

 Glacier ice 1          Glacier ice 2                   ● Stream water 1 

● Stream water 2         ● River water 1                 ● River water 2 

● Reservoir water 1      ● Reservoir water 2           ● Tap water 1

● Tap water 2            ● Water in drain pipe (2 students) 

● Sewage processing plant (2 students)


I selected this play because it provides an interactive way of learning. The roles within the play connect back to the sources of water the students learned about earlier in the unit. The water cycle can be a complicated process with the many forms water can take and places water can travel.  In addition, this play benefits students who have limited science background, as many of mine do.  By bringing the water cycle to life, students can visually see and hear the process which helps construct a deeper meaning. 

Bringing the Water Cycle to Life

I hand out the script and explain, "when it is your part, please stand up,hold your prop (If you have one) and read the line of your assigned role  to the class."  I emphasize to them that they are acting and need to become the role. (They have studied plays in ELA and understand what I mean by this.) To allow students to understand their roles, I give them 2 minutes to scan through the play.

Once all groups appear ready, we begin.  I assume the role of the Sun/narrator to keep the flow of play and clarify along the way if necessary


20 minutes

After reading through the water cycle play, I instruct students to take out their interactive notebook. I have them paste in a circle graphic organizer. As we discuss and define each part of the water cycle, I have them write down details about the process. 

Guided Discussion-The Process of Water Cycle

With our notebooks set up, I explain to students that we are going to think about all the interactions that took place in the water cycle play and describe them in our notebook. They are creating an illustration and writing a description in each box that correlates to the processes.  I continue saying, "you can create your illustrations in your own way as we write the details to explain what is going on."  

Then, I project a water cycle chart displaying a replica of the process. I keep this posted as a reference point for students as we sequence the steps.

water cycle


I ask students to think back to the beginning of our play and to find where the water droplet underwent changes. The first change is when the water droplet changed into water vapor through the process of evaporation.  I ask students to think about what caused the water to change from liquid to vapor. With context clues in the play, the sun's heat energy is identified as the cause for the change from liquid to vapor. I explain that heat from the sun causes the water molecules to move faster and further apart changing them into vapor. To make this concrete, I use a computer simulation to further explain. At this point I only click on vapor and have it explain this process. It also ties in how water from plants is evaporated out of its leaves through the process of transpiration. I have them note the term evaporation and transpiration in their notebook

  • evaporation-when the sun heats up water in rivers or lakes or the ocean and turns it into vapor or steam. The water vapor or steam leaves the river, lake or ocean and goes into the air as a gas.

  • transpiration-the process by which water evaporates out of plants leaves


Next, students locate the next change in the play. This is when the the water vapor condensed into a cloud.  I explain that when the warm vapor meets the cooler air, the vapor changes back into liquid droplets. The cool air slows the water molecules down and they begin to stick together, forming liquid.  I share that this process is called condensation. Again to make this concrete, I use the computer simulation to further define. I define it on the board and have students write it in their notebook. 

  • condensation- As warm water vapor in the clouds cools down it becomes liquid water again.


We move on to defining the remaining processes. I continue explaining and illustrating precipitation, runoff, and infiltration. 

  • precipitation- Water falls from the sky in the form of rain, snow, hail, or sleet

  • runoff- Precipitation runs off the surface of the land, and flows downhill into streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.

  • infiltration happens when water soaks into the soil from the ground level. It moves underground and moves between the soil and rocks. 


15 minutes

Investigating Evaporation and Condensation

Since evaporation and condensation are new concepts for students, I decide to help them develop a better sense about each one by engaging them in two investigations.   

I begin asking: "Have you ever left a glass of water out and came back to it the next day and realized it was gone? Or how about after leaving your glass out for awhile, you begin to notice water on the outside of it, yet the cup does not have a whole in it. What you have noticed are examples of evaporation and condensation."  I tell them we are setting up a model to observe how these processes work.

Evaporation Investigation

I set up a demonstration to show students how heat causes water to evaporate and change from a liquid into a gas.  I have students circle around a table with their interactive notebook, where I use a hot plate and pan to boil water. As the water boils, I ask students to make observations and record these in their notebook. We talk about what is happening to the water as it is heated. I ask them:

  • what is happening to the water? (Students should observe water is bubbling more and faster as it is heated and steam appears to be rising from the pan.)
  • How is it changing? (The water is changing from a liquid to a gas)
  • Where is it going? (The water is in the air as vapor or gas)


After my demonstration, I share that boiling water was one way to make water evaporate. I explain that evaporation is a natural process within Earth's hydrosphere. And that evaporation changes liquid water into a gas, is a slow process.

Condensation Investigation

For this investigation, students set up two cups, one with ice and red water, the other with room temperature red water only. I explain that we are using red water so when it is time make an observation, we can clearly identify the water we originally used.

While they wait a few minutes, I have students draw a model of their two containers in their interactive notebook. After a few minutes, I have students make observations and record them in their notebook and add any details to their models.

I engage them in a brief discussion on their observations by asking them relevant questions to elicit critical thinking skills.

  • What do you notice about the outside of the cups? (I want them to recognize the outside water droplets are clear and the water is red.  I guide them in recognizing that the water on the outside is not the same water as the inside of the container.) 
  • Is there a difference between the results of the ice water cup and room temperature cup? Explain why the results were different. 



 As they share their observations, I explain that the water on the outside of the icy cup came from the water vapor in the air, not the water in the cup. I remind them the water in the cup is red and the water on the outside of the cup is clear. I continue, "Water vapor in the air is warm and changed into a liquid because it came in contact with the cold glass. This is how condensation takes place, warm water vapor comes in contact with a surface that is colder than the surrounding area. The cold ice water is the cold surface area that the warm water vapor comes in contact with causing it to change or condense.

Connecting Evaporation and Condensation to the Water Cycle

I connect their observations to the water cycle by pointing out that when water is heated over a period of time, it will change into a vapor through the evaporation processes. The heat causes the liquid water molecules to move far apart and eventually become light enough to rise into the air as gas. I explain that the atmosphere holds this vapor until it condenses back into a liquid.  That is when vapor changes back into liquid, through condensation. The vapor condenses into tiny liquid droplets and forms a cloud, and when the clouds are too filled with condensed water, they are released back to the Earth by precipitation. 


5 minutes

Checking for Understanding

After identifying and defining the processes of the water cycle, I hand out an exit ticket. This exit ticket has students analyzing a blank diagram of the water cycle. Their task is to label each arrow with a process that arrow is illustrating. Then, theyuse the diagram to answer questions about it.

I collect this at the end of class and use it as a formative assessment.