Teach the Earth > Oceanography > Teaching Activities > Waves and Tides: Understanding Characteristics & Practice Problems

Waves and Tides: Understanding Characteristics & Practice Problems

Stephanie Jaeger, Green River Community College, Auburn, WA. Revised and expanded from activity from Kathryn Hoppe, Green River Community College.
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This page first made public: Jun 3, 2013


Part A: Students identify basic characteristics and terminology for waves. Part B: Students define factors that influence tides and practice using tide charts and tide tables.



Activity used in an introductory oceanography course for non-science majors at a community college.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students have read chapters in textbook on waves and tides, and have briefly heard some background in lecture.

How the activity is situated in the course

Activity used as a practice problem set (either in-class or take-home) to reinforce basic concepts about waves and tides.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will understand basic wave terminology, learn how to read and interpret a tide chart, and review factors that impact the tides.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students analyze recent NOAA tide charts in different regions to determine whether the patterns they see are diurnal, semidiurnal, or mixed.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

Student Hand-out: Includes both part A (waves) and part B (tides), with relevant web links embedded in the file. Useful materials include: rulers, printed copy of local tide tables from NOAA and map of local water body (Puget Sound in this case).

Student Handout for Waves and Tides (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 99kB Jun3 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Usually, I have students start this activity in class, and take it home to finish up the rest. Students may need to be reminded to pay close attention to a 24-hr time period to figure out tide characteristics, and may interpret the tidal patterns differently.


This is a practice problem set, so mostly I assess for completion and justification in student answers. Even if they interpret the regional tide charts differently from given answers, then I check to see that they correctly looked up the reference for the predicted tidal patterns for each region.

References and Resources

Textbook used (not required): Essentials of Oceanography, 10th ed. by Trujillo & Thurman (2011).

Web resource for descriptions of tides and animations from NOAA (be aware of some oversimplification here regarding tides from inertia & gravity):

For more detailed information on tides:
An interesting and very detailed discussion of misconceptions/simplification in textbooks regarding forces that generate tides (distinguishes between centripetal and centrifugal forces): from Donald E. Simanek at Lockhaven University: