Part 2-The Water Cycle

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SWBAT explain how water moves through Earth's systems.

Big Idea

Students will create a model to illustrate the processes that occur 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 2- The Water Cycle, begins with a video that reviews the water cycle. This animation shows the journey of a water molecule through the different processes of the the water cycle. Then I have students create their own model of the water cycle to help them see all the parts happening at once.  This visual model is to help students grapple with how water moves through a system and changes along the way. We discuss their models and observations as a whole class. Next, students take part in an activity where they become a water molecule and travel to different stations set up in the room. This is to illustrate that all water does not move through Earth's systems in the same way. We discuss their experiences and share what we learned. Once we finish, I bring students back to the question I started yesterday's lesson with "How old do you think this water is?" and ask them to write a response. I add on that they need to apply what they have learned about the water cycle to justify their answer.


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:

2.) Developing and Using Models- Students use a water cycle model to illustrate and examine all the processes occurring during it. They use their observations to later construct an answer to an open response question.

Crosscutting Concepts

Part 2- The Water Cycle  lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

4.) Systems and System Models- Students use a model to illustrate parts water of the cycle. They observe how water changes and interacts as it moves through each part of the Earth.


Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

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



Classroom Management Ideas

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.


For time management purposes, I use “lab rats ” where each student has a number on the back of his or her chair, 1,2,3,4 (students sit in groups of 4)and displayed on the board.  For each activity I use lab rats, I switch up the roles randomly so students are experiencing different task responsibilities which include:  Director, Materials Manager, Reporter, and Technician.  It makes for smooth transitions and efficiency for set up, work, and clean-up.  



10 minutes

Reviewing the Water Cycle

I start off today's lesson with a video to review how water moves through Earth. This video is an animated journey of a water molecule travelling through different processes and parts of the Earth.  I selected this video because it gives a clear, but brief synopsis of the water cycle and keeps students attentive.


After the video, I ask students to identify and explain what they observed in the animation. I want to make sure students are clear on how water moves through Earth systems.

Now I explain, "You are creating your own model of the water cycle to actually see these processes take place." 


30 minutes

Create a Water Cycle Model 

At this point, I move students in preparing for their water cycle model by pointing out their lab rats' roles and setting up their interactive notebook with water cycle model task card  I begin by reviewing the task card directions and pointing out the materials on the tray.  Each tray consists of two halves of a soda bottle, small amount dish soap, a container of ice, and a flashlight. I explain that they are wiping the sides of the bottles with a little bit of soap. I do this so that water will not condensate on that section, the soap prevents it from doing this. That way the container is not so fogged up that it makes observations difficult.

water cycle model


I tell them they will be receiving warm water that has been dyed blue. This water goes into the bottom portion of the container. I color the water so students can recognize that only the water evaporates, not what is in it, in this case the blue dye. I color the ice to help illustrate that the condensed and precipitated water is not coming from the ice in the top portion of the container.

When they are ready for their water, lab rats' director raises his or her hand. I pour the heated blue water into their container and a group member places the ice cup on top.  I tell them to let is sit for a a minute or two to let processes happen. As they start to notice water is going through different processes, I turn off the lights and have them shine the flashlight throughout the bottle. This lets them see the water changing to vapor as well as condensation and precipitation.

As groups are working, I am circulating the room and checking in with each group and their observations.  Once they complete their observations, I ask them to draw their model in their notebook and write an explanation of their observations. I tell them their explanation should include evaporation, condensation precipitation. I want them to apply the water cycle vocabulary we have been learning throughout the last two days. 


15 minutes

Journey Through the Water Cycle

At this point, I share with students that they are going to take part in an activity where they assume the role of a water molecule traveling through the water cycle. I explain they will experience a simulation to determine where and how water cycles through the Earth's systems. It is an active way for students to experience the journey water takes over many, many years and to recognize that no two journeys are alike.

I hand them a recording sheet to keep track of their journey.  First, I point out the different stations posted around the room- Animals, Clouds, Glacier, Groundwater, Lake, Ocean, River, Soil, and plant. I show them that each station has a die at it. Their task at each station is to roll the die and read the information on it.  It directs them to a different station or to remain at their current station based on the scenario on the die.  I tell them the recording sheet is to help them keep track of the journey. At each roll of the die, they need to record what happened to them (keeping in mind they are a water molecule) and to state where they went, i.e. Soil, Clouds, Animals, Lake etc.

After several rounds, students return to their seats. We discuss the different journeys that took place and discovered that water does not cycle through Earth's systems the same way. Some questions I ask include

  • Which stations did you seem to bounce back and forth between? (i.e. clouds, oceans) Why do you think that happened?
  • Who travelled to the fewest places? (i.e. glaciers, oceans, groundwater) Why do you think that happened? 
  • Which stations did you pass through quickly? (clouds, soil, animals, plants) Why do you think that happened?


I also point out that while they moved from one station to another throughout class time, water does not go cycle through the Earth's systems as quickly. I explain that water can stay within one system of the Earth for a long period of time before moving somewhere else. There is no time frame for water to travel, it's a natural process that takes place on Earth.

Using turn and talk norms, I have them discuss with their groups the different paths each member took and have them look for any patterns of the journey.


10 minutes

Applying What We Learned

After going through the water cycle simulation, I repost the question from the beginning of yesterday's lessonHow 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 should come to light now that they have learned about how water cycles through Earth's systems.)

I ask: "How many of you think you could now answer this since learning about the water cycle?" I look to see if more hands are raised than yesterday.  

I handout an assignment to students and explain their task is to answer this question and others that are related to their water cycle investigation. They need to apply their understanding of the water cycle to construction a written explanation that answers each question. I have students work on these for the remainder of the period and finish for homework if necessary.  I collect this assignment and use it as an assessment.