National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
Learn, Protect, and Promote Water!
6 - 8
30 - 45 minutes
In this lesson students learn about water sources, water pollution, and water protection. Students participate in an activity where they demonstrate the water cycle and see the potential for our water supply to become contaminated.
- Water Pollution Scenario Cards, 1 copy
- Mini Posters, 1 copy
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
best management practices: methods that can improve efficiency, optimize resources, and prevent or help reduce pollution.
evaporation: the process of a substance in a liquid state changing to a gaseous state.
groundwater: precipitation that has infiltrated through soil, rock, and gravel in the ground
hydrologic cycle: a sequence of conditions where water moves through the atmosphere through precipitation, evaporation, and transpiration
non point source pollution: pollution from several areas with a less identifiable origin
point source pollution: pollution from a specific and identifiable source
precipitation: Forms of water such as rain, snow, sleet, or hail that falls to the ground
transpiration: a process where plants absorb water through the roots and give off water vapor through pores in their leaves
water table: The level in the ground which is saturated with water
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- Agriculture accounts for approximately 80% of the United States' consumptive water use.1
- Although agriculture accounts for a large portion of our water supply, large-scale farming could not provide food for the world's large populations without the irrigation of crop fields.2
- Irrigation has been around for as long as humans have been cultivating plants.2
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Help students begin to brainstorm ways in which we use water by completing the following activity. As a class or in smaller groups have students take turns sharing a response to the questions listed below. Each student should think of a response that has not already been shared. If everyone in the group answers, continue for a second round of sharing. Once students begin running out of responses, see if each group as a team can think of even more responses.
- How do I use water in my daily life?
- Who or what needs water?
- As students begin running out of ideas, give prompts such as, "Do farmers need water to produce our food? Is water necessary to process our food (clean, cook, and package it after it leaves the farm) and to keep restaurants clean and safe from foodborne illness? etc."
- Another way to facilitate this activity is to have students write down responses as a group in a certain amount of time, such as sixty seconds. Have students share and compare responses. For a friendly competition, see which group comes up with the most unique responses.
Activity 1: Groundwater Recharge, Pollution, and Protection
- Print and cut the Water Pollution Scenario Cards. (Attached in the Essential Files)
- Print the Mini Posters (Attached in the Essential Files)
- Hang or place the "Clouds" sign at the front of the room or learning space. In the following order, display the "Plants," "Ground," and "Stream" signs several feet away from each other and several feet down from the "Clouds" sign, such as in the middle of the room. The "Aquifer" sign should be placed on the opposite end of the room or space from the "Clouds" sign, several feet down from the "Plants," "Ground," and "Stream" signs.
- Explain to students that groundwater is a very important resource. As a class they will soon be demonstrating the hydrologic cycle and groundwater recharge. They will serve as the "water" that moves through the hydrologic cycle and provides nutrients to plants, recharges groundwater, and supplies aquifers.
- Explain to learners that Pennsylvania [or insert your state's statistics here] gets 41 inches of precipitation, on average. Of that precipitation, approximately 50 percent will evaporate or transpire from plants, 30 percent will go to infiltrate through the soil and recharge groundwater, and 20 percent will land on the ground and runoff into streams.
- Ask for 20 volunteers. Assign the following number of students in respective roles: 10 students will represent evaporation and transpiration, 6 students represent groundwater recharge, and 4 students will represent runoff into a stream. Once roles are assigned, have the 20 students come to the front of the room and stand by the "Clouds" sign.
- Teach students that approximately 50 percent of the precipitation will evaporate or transpire from plants. Have 10 students leave the "Clouds" sign, representing precipitation, and move to the "Plants" sign.
- Teach students that 30 percent of the precipitation will infiltrate through the soil and recharge groundwater. Have 6 students leave the "Clouds" sign, representing precipitation, and move to the "Ground" sign. Have the students step over the Ground sign, representing how precipitation infiltrates into the ground. Have half (3 of the 6) of the students move and stand next to the "Aquifer" sign, demonstrating how groundwater fills aquifers. Have the other 3 move towards the "Stream" sign, (still below the "Ground" sign,) but forming a horizontal line to replicate how the groundwater feeds surface water like the stream.
- Next, teach students that 20 percent of the precipitation will land on the ground and runoff into streams. Have the 4 remaining students leave the "Clouds" sign, representing precipitation, and move towards the "Ground" sign. Once they reach the "Ground" sign, the students should not step over the sign, but should move horizontally across to the Stream sign, demonstrating how the precipitation becomes runoff and feeds into surface water, such as streams and lakes.
- Now that all students have moved away from the cloud, Instruct the group of 10 students standing at the "Plants" sign to move back to the "Clouds" sign, demonstrating how water will evaporate (change from a liquid to a gas from being heated by the sun) or transpire (change from a liquid to a gas from being absorbed through plant roots and going out through leaves) as part of the hydrologic cycle.
- Explain that groundwater recharge happens primarily in the spring and fall. In the winter, soil is often frozen. In the summer, plants are growing.
- A Step Further: Instead of assigning students to groups, ask for volunteers and then have the students determine the numbers for evaporation and transpiration, the groundwater recharge, and the runoff into streams using the given percentages. Or, have the students represent certain inches of precipitation and allow them to determine where the water will move. Example: Each student represents 4 inches of precipitation. To replicate the movement of 40 inches of precipitation, 5 students would move to the Plants sign, 3 to the Ground sign for groundwater recharge, and 2 would be the runoff for streams.
- Have the students remain in the same positions near the "Stream," "Groundwater," "Aquifer" and "Clouds" signs. Select an additional 4 students. These students will now be representing either a "Point Source Pollution" or a "Non point Source Pollution." Distribute one Water Pollution Scenario Card to each of the 4 students as well as the corresponding Groundwater Mini Poster.
- Ask the 4 students to read the instructions on their scenario card and instruct the rest of the group to remain in their current position unless prompted.
- Note: The scenario card instructions tell the student to read the instructions, perform the action when prompted by the instructor, and then share the talking points when prompted by the instructor.
- Instruct Person #1 and Person #2 to perform the action listed on their scenario card.
- Instruct Person #3 and Person #4 to perform the action listed on their scenario card. Once Person #3 is positioned near the "Plants" sign and Person #4 is positioned near the "Ground" sign, say “It’s Raining.” Instruct the students near the "Cloud" sign, who are serving as precipitation, to move, encouraging some to move towards the "Plants" sign and others to move towards the "Ground" sign. Person #3 and Person #4 have an additional action step on their scenario card to move once the precipitation reaches them. Instruct the precipitation students to either stop once they have reached the signs or, take it a step further, with having the students at the "Ground" sign to either infiltrate towards the "Aquifer" sign or runoff to the "Stream" sign.
- Ask the students about their observation of the pollution and which was point source or non point source pollution. Have Person #1, Person #2, Person #3, and Person #4 read the Talking Points on their scenario cards. Have students propose solutions to protect water sources, such as avoiding applying fertilizer or chemicals near expected rainfall events and ensuring that oil in motor vehicles is not leaking. More water protection solutions will be discussed in the next section.
Activity 2: Water Protection
- Discuss and summarize with your students the information found in the "Water Protection" section of the Background Agricultural Connections.
- Reference the 4 pollutants students learned about in Activity 1. Assign students to research and explore best management practices to help prevent water contamination. Examples include:
- Pollutant – Pesticide Backpack Sprayer Spill
- Best Management Practice (BMP) – Handle equipment safely.
- Pollutant – Fertilizer or Chemical Application
- Best Management Practice (BMP) – Determine need to even use pesticide products and perform spot treatments when possible. Monitor weather to properly time applications.
- Pollutant – Oil Residue on Road
- Best Management Practice (BMP) – Prevent leaking. Be aware of oil residues from vehicles.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Water cycles through the atmosphere as a liquid, solid, or gas. This is known as the water cycle.
- Water is an important natural resource. Water supply is necessary and critical to produce our food.
- Water is a limited natural resource that needs to be managed properly and protected from pollution, damage, and waste.
- The use of "Best Management Practices" helps farmers and ranchers use water more efficiently as they produce our food.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Assign students to research specific examples and news articles that share about water contamination and the effects on the society. Allow students to share findings with a group.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Water Pollution Demonstration (Activity)
- Water: Sources, Use, Conservation (Book)
- Agricultural Commodity & Natural Resource Fact Sheets (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- How Do You Grow a Fish Sandwich? Video (Multimedia)
- The Story of Bottled Water video (Multimedia)
- Project WET (Website)
- Science in Your Watershed (Website)
- The USGS Water Science School (Website)
- Using Technology to Save Water (Website)
- Water Cycle Animation (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Describe benefits and challenges of using conservation practices for natural resources (e.g., soil, water, and forests), in agricultural systems which impact water, air, and soil quality (T1.6-8.b)
- Discover how natural resources are used and conserved in agriculture (e.g., soil conservation, water conservation, water quality, and air quality) (T1.6-8.c)
- Discuss (from multiple perspectives) land and water use by various groups (i.e., ranchers, farmers, hunters, miners, recreational users, government, etc.), and how each use carries a specific set of benefits and consequences that affect people and the environment (T1.6-8.d)
Education Content Standards
MS-ESS2: Earth's Systems
MS-ESS2-4Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.
MS-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
MS-ESS3-3Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
MS-ESS3-4Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
Common Core Connections
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.