MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Terrarium-Investigating the water cycle in a 1 or 2 liter bottle.

Terrarium-Investigating the water cycle in a 1 or 2 liter bottle.

Kathy Cooke, Homecroft Elem. School, Duluth, MN.
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Students will build their own terrarium water cycle systems using 1 or 2 liter plastic bottles. The students will be able to see how water travels from the earth to the sky, as it maintains life on earth.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for students to see the movement of water from the ground to the sky. Students will mark, on the calendar, how long it takes for their terrariums to rain (complete a cycle). Through daily observations and questioning, students will develop higher level thinking skills, and learn how data analysis works.

Context for Use

This lesson is set up for 1st graders in any type of teaching setting. This lesson is a lab activity that could go for two sessions (30-45 min. per session), or 1 long session. You can do larger groups (up to 25), if you pre-cut the plastic bottles for the students. Students should have prior knowledge about the qualities and importance of water on earth. This activity adapts well to any setting or age group.

Subject: Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climatology :Hydrologic cycle
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity, Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Primary (K-2)

Description and Teaching Materials

You will need a 1 or 2 liter bottle (cut horizontally 1/3 from top) for each child. You will also need scissors, wide clear tape(to tape bottles back together after filling them). Small, slow growing plants, soil is optional, and a small amount of water will be placed in the bottom part of the bottle. The activities will will take 2 to 3 lessons; 1 day for preteaching the water cycle, and 1 or 2 to build the terrariums. Then watch daily for water movement.

Teaching Notes and Tips

>Safety guidelines: Go over proper handling of scissors.
>When cutting the bottles, you can cut them where the bottle straightens out (about 1/3 of the way down from the lid. To make it easier to fit the bottle back together, cut 3 slits (about an inch long)vertically up the sides of the top third of the bottle. It makes it easier for them to go back together.


The 1st graders will be able to draw a picture arrowing the direction of precipitation, ground water, evaporation, and condensation.


I.III.B.1 The Water Cycle

References and Resources

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