Watershed Education Lesson Plans

This collection of lesson plans on watershed and water quality topics was drawn from a wide variety of sources, and is designed to provide local middle school teachers with interesting and practical SOL-based hands-on science activities. The activities were also chosen for their suitability for use in preparation for, and reinforcement of, “Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEE).”

The following WATERSHED EDUCATION LESSON PLANS are in PDF format and arranged by chapters:


How Big is the River Really?
Students investigate the concept of a watershed, identify a local river’s watershed system and describe the immediate watershed in which their school is located.

Color Me a Watershed
Through interpretation of maps, students observe how development can affect a watershed. This activity is a good follow-up to watershed mapping. Three options are given to help the teacher match the lesson plan with the level and ability of each class.


Plants: Nature’s Filters
Students perform a demonstration of how plants in wetlands and riparian buffers can remove pollution from water.

Wetlands: Our Natural Purification System
Students perform an experiment on how the sediments in wetlands help to filter pollutants out of surface water before entering the groundwater.

Aquatic Organisms and Habitat

Creek Critters
Students learn how benthic macroinvertebrates are collected, identified and categorized to assign a water quality index to a stream. They will also become familiar with some representative species of benthic macroinvertebrates.

Biological Monitoring of Streams
Students collect benthic macroinvertebrates from a local stream. They then identify and categorize the species collected, and use the result to calculate a water quality index for the stream. The activity described in this lesson plan is a simplified version of the Virginia Save Our Streams protocol used by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Stream Survey
A field exercise in which students survey a stream, collecting data and reaching conclusions about the health of the stream.

Students construct terrariums and observe the water cycle inside them. May be used as an introduction to the water cycle, or a review and reinforcement of the topic.

Hot and Cold
Students observe the effect of temperature on the rate of respiration of a goldfish and relate this to the effect of temperature on other creatures living in streams and other

Balance in an Aquatic Community
Students will learn about the roles of producers, consumers  (herbivorous , carnivorous , and omnivorous) and decomposers in maintaining a balanced aquatic community.

Chesapeake Bay Habitats
Students use a binary key to classify Chesapeake Bay habitats pictured on cards.

Chemical Properties of Streams

Parts Per Million
Students gain an understanding of the concepts Parts per Million (ppm) and Parts per Billion (ppb) by carrying out a series of dilutions of food coloring.

Drinking Water Quality
Students learn about regulations governing drinking water quality and how to test drinking water for various parameters. They also graph data on drinking water collected over a month.

How Much is Too Much?
Students practice what they’ve learned about parts per million (ppm) and parts per billion (ppb) by calculating the amount of an environmental contaminant in a body of water. A good follow up for the lesson plan Parts per Million.

Students determine the pH of various liquids.

pH and Aquatic Organisms
Students bring in water samples from local bodies of water and test pH levels in class.


Does it Soak Right In?
Students investigate differences in how quickly water soaks into the ground in order to gain an understanding of factors in groundwater recharge.

Water Contamination Experiment
Students perform a demonstration of how pollution can contaminate ground water and the water drawn from a well.

Why Water Pollutes Easily
Students investigate filtration and the causes/sources of pollution.

Pollution in Groundwater
Students perform an experiment that demonstrates how pollution in solution can get into the groundwater after it enters a pond.

Groundwater Recharge-Discharge
Students will set up a model to show how precipitation recharges both groundwater and surface water, and to demonstrate how the two are connected.

Water Pollution: Sediment     

Invisible Passengers
Students perform an experiment to investigate the characteristics of sediment in water. They will also discuss the effects of various types of pollution on aquatic organisms.

Muddying the Waters
Students investigate the behavior of sediment in water, and discuss how sediment can affect waterways and the creatures that live in them.

Erosion: Rubbing the Earth the Wrong Way
Students perform an experiment to determine how water volume and velocity affect soil erosion.

Water Pollution: Nutrients

Fertile Green: Nutrients and Water
Students observe the effects of nutrients on algae growth in water samples.

Nutrients in Lakes and Ponds
Students simulate aquatic habitats using lake water and goldfish in glass jars and observe the effects of nutrient loading and nutrient limitation on aquatic life for one week.

Water Pollution: Bacteria

Poison Pump
Using a series of clues, students solve a mystery to discover the source of a deadly illness in 19th Century London.

Water Pollution: Hazardous and Toxic Waste

Hazardous Substance in My Home?
Students learn how to identify hazardous household products by reading product labels.

Oil and Water Don’t Mix
Students perform experiments that demonstrate why oil is such a powerful pollutant of water.

Water Pollution: Litter and Solid Waste

Dilemmas! You Make the Decision
Students will read and analyze a given litter dilemma. They will propose a solution by reviewing it from the perspective of a specific audience.

Decomposition Experiment: Planting a “Reverse” Garden
Students will perform an experiment on rates of decomposition for various items over a period of time.

How Long Will it Be There?
Students predict how long it takes specific items to decompose and then compare their predictions to the correct times.

Nurture Some Nature
By keeping an area in a park or other location free of litter students will become aware of their responsibility and ability to help solve the problem of litter.

Water Treatment

Nature’s Cleaning Process
Students learn how a septic system cleans wastewater by performing an experiment.

Mini Water Treatment Simulation
Students will do an activity that simulates the steps in the water treatment process using plastic cups, including aeration, coagulation, sedimentation, filtration and chlorination.


Read All About It
Students become familiar with current environmental topics by reporting on newspaper, internet and/or television news stories.

Environmental Dilemmas
Students discuss environmental dilemmas, consider possible solutions and reach a decision regarding what action to take. Some situations involve personal decisions and others are policy decisions affecting a community.

Back to the Future
Students analyze streamflow data for a hypothetical town’s nearby river to discover seasonal trends in flow variation, and to determine the frequency of water shortages and floods. Students then use the data to help decide where to locate new housing and/or industrial development in relation to the river’s floodplain.