Water cycle game

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Lesson Summary

Through a brainstorm about water's distribution and an interactive game simulating the journey of a water molecule in the water cycle, students gain an understanding of the water cycle and a greater appreciation of its complexity.  



Hook the students by asking them if they know how much of the earth is covered in water. Give the students some help by showing them a globe and / or a map of the world.  After taking answers, inform the students that 75% of earth is covered in water.  Explain to the students that they will be exploring the water cycle and get the chance to be a water droplet moving around the earth.

Age group: 4th-6th

Venue/s: comfortable space with room for students to move through nine stations (e.g. Great Hall, LS 102) Materials: globe/map of the world, white board, water cycle game signs and dice (see links below to download) 

Time: 45 minutes

Set up: set up nine water cycle stations with appropriate die

The core lesson:

I. Where do we find water? Ask the students, “If the surfaceof the earth is 70% water, where do we find all this water?”  Have the students brainstorm answers either as pairs or a large group, depending on the number of students.  Keep a record of student answers on a large white board so that everyone can see.  Give the students hints if they are having trouble coming up with all nine categories (oceans, rivers, lakes, groundwater, glaciers, plants, animals, clouds, soil). 

After the students have identified all of the places that water is found on the earth, ask the students where they think, of all these places, the most water is found.  Once the students have correctly identified the oceans, have everyone stand up.  Inform that students that they will now try to guess just how much water is found in the oceans.  Tell the students that you will be listing off percentages in increasing order, such as 50%, 55%, 60%, ext.  The students should sit down once you have listed a percentage that is larger than they believe to be the amount of water found in the oceans.  For example, if a student thinks that of all the water on earth, 70% is found in the oceans, they will sit down once you call out a number higher than 70%.

When only a few students are left standing, ask the students to share their predictions and inform the group that about 97% of all water on earth is found in the oceans.  This can be illustrated with a graduated cylinder or a bucket of water by removing 3% of the water.  Referring back to the list of water locations, ask the students where this remaining 4% of water is found.  Incredibly, almost all of that water is located either in ice as glaciers (2%) or underground (1%).  That leaves only 0.06% of all the water on earth for all of the rivers, lakes, animals, plants, and clouds! 

Be sure to review these incredible numbers a few times and answer any student questions before moving on.

II. Water Cycle Game

Now that the students have identified all the places that water is found on the earth, inform them that they will have a chance to be water molecules traveling through the water cycle.  If the students have not yet studied the water cycle, it would be helpful to introduce the three states of water (solid, liquid, gas) and water transportation methods (precipitation, transpiration, evaporation, percolation, sublimation).   see:  Water cycle

Split the group evenly between the nine water cycle stations (these should be set-up ahead of time).  Before handing each group their station die, have the students brainstorm where and how water might travel from their station.  For example, the students at the ocean station should be thinking of all the ways that water is able to leave the ocean, such as evaporation into the atmosphere to form clouds.

Give each group a few minutes to brainstorm, and then have each group share their answers.  Allow other groups to add their thoughts so that all the possibilities are explored for each station.

Explain the guidelines for the game:

  • Students should begin by recording their starting station in their journal. 
  • One at a time, students will roll the die at their station. After reading the die, students should move to the station stated on the die. 
  • If the die states that the student should stay at their present station, the student should move to the end of the line before rolling the die again. 
  • Students should record each roll of their die in their journals. For example, if a student started int he clouds and then moved to the ocean where they stayed for three rolls before returning to the clouds, their journal should look like this: cloud, ocean, ocean, ocean, cloud. 
  • Students should walk between stations.

Once the students understand all of the game guidelines, hand each station their specific die and allow the students to play for 5-10 minutes.  After the game, gather the students to discuss their journeys.

Ask for a few student volunteers to share their water cycle  journeys.  Encourage the students to explain how they got to and from each station, why they might have stayed at a station for a number of turns, and what state of matter (solid, liquid or gas) they were in at different parts of their journey.  Conclude by asking the students the following questions:

Why was everyone’s journey different?    

What are the similarities and differences between the game and the real water cycle?


Have the students write a story about their life as a water molecule.  Start the students off by having them rename each part of their journey as a specific place or thing. For example:

Ocean = Pacific

River = Duwamish

Lake = Green Lake

Groundwater = their school

Glaciers = Mt. Rainier

Plants = Red Cedar

Animals = black-tailed deer

Clouds = over the Cascades

Soil = Queen Anne Hill

Older students can then add sentences to link the parts of their  journey.  (For example, "I began my journey as a cloud over the Cascades before condensing and falling as rain over Bryant Elementary where I stayed and formed a puddle.")  Younger students could draw a picture of their w If time allows, have a few volunteers read their stories to the group.

see also:  Journey of a Water Drop

Formative Assessment Indicated:

This activity will allow the instructor to access prior knowledge that students have about the ways water can move throughout the water system.  During the initial brainstorm, are students able to come up with the states of water and water transportation methods?  How well do the students answer the questions at the end of the game?  In their story, how many phases of water are described and how accurately?

Background information

Water availability and human water usage:  http://nmepscor.org/sites/all/documents/TeachingMaterials/EveryDropCounts_Grades5-12WaterLesson.pdf
Distribution of Earth's water:  http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/earthwherewater.html

Map of estimated use of water in the US:  http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/maptotal.html
Water cycle

Curriculum References:
 Water Cycle Game:  http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/audience_subtopic_entry.php?entry_id=447&subtopic_id=27&audience_id=2

Cube cut-outs:  http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/book_shelf/1066_Game_cubes.zip

Station labels:  http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/book_shelf/1067_Station_labels.zip