The Great Lakes are essential to the people who live around them. In these lessons, students learn about watersheds, think about how they use water in their daily lives, and how the water cycle happens all around them.
The free lesson plans below can be taught as part of a unit on “Earth’s Systems.” Each lesson plan includes assessment rubrics and student journal pages.
Elementary & Middle School
Mapping Our Watershed
- Maps of Home – Classroom activity, grades 3-6 Students draw maps of their neighborhoods, including the nearest Great Lake, then compare these to professional maps. Using maps, students determine the best way to get from school to the lake, and discuss the location of the lake in relation to the rest of the United States.
- Looking at Landscape – Outdoor or classroom activity, grades K-8 Students observe the local landscape then use journaling and discussion to explore its impact on their lives.
- Watershed Orientation – Classroom activity, grades 4-8 Students orient themselves to the Great Lakes using maps and learn about watersheds, including point and nonpoint source pollution, by building a model.
- More resources – including a short video – are available in our H.O.M.E.School Maps lesson.
Water Cycle in the Real World
- Water, Water Everywhere – Classroom activity, grades 4-8 Students participate in a demonstration of the types of water on Earth and reflect on their own water use through reading, discussion and graphing.
- Follow the Water – Classroom activity, grades K-3 Students act out the Great Lakes water cycle, read a water flow poem, sing a water cycle song and label the water movements on a map.
- More resources – including a short video – are available in our H.O.M.E.School lesson Watersheds and the Water Cycle.
Groundwater & Wetlands
- Groundwater Exploration – Classroom activity, grades 4-8 Students make a model to learn how groundwater moves. They locate wetlands on a map of the local watershed and write about the movement of water through their watershed.
- Value of Wetlands – Outdoor or classroom activity, grades 4-8 Students participate in a demonstration of the values of a wetland and use poetry to discuss the significance of a wetland ecosystem.
- Working Wetlands – Classroom activity, grades 4-8 Students create and observe models that demonstrate how wetlands clean water through sedimentation, filtration and absorption.
- A Sense of Place – Classroom activity, grades 9-12 Students draw maps of their local area, weaving in the importance of the Great Lakes.
- Create-a-Watershed – Classroom activity, grades 9-12 Students orient themselves to the Great Lakes using maps and learn about watershed management and water pollution.
- Watershed Mysteries – Classroom activity, grades 9-12 Students analyze data from a coastal habitat scenario, plan a presentation, decide on actions for improving the health of the habitat and present their action projects.
Next Generation Science Standards alignment:
- 2nd grade: 2-ESS2-1, 2-ESS2-2 & 2-ESS2-3
- 5th grade: 5-ESS2-1, 5-ESS2-2 & 5-ESS3-1
- Middle school: MS-ESS2-4, MS-ESS3-1 & MS-ESS3-3
- High school: HS-ESS2-5, HS-ESS3-1 & HS-ESS3-4