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Unit 2: The Water Cycle and Freshwater Resources

Translated and adapted by Ruth Hoff, Wittenberg University, from Unit 2 material of Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources module by Adriana Perez, Jill S. Schneiderman, Meg Stewart, and Joshua Villalobos

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.


In this unit, students collect and analyze data about their own water usage. Then they develop a conceptual model of the hydrologic cycle, with an option to use a computational model to quantify their conceptual model. Using that conceptual model, they make predictions about effects of changes in the system.

Science and Engineering Practices

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking: Apply mathematical concepts and/or processes (e.g., ratio, rate, percent, basic operations, simple algebra) to scientific and engineering questions and problems. MS-P5.4:

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations: Collect data to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence to answer scientific questions or test design solutions under a range of conditions MS-P3.4:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena. MS-P4.4:

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking: Create and/or revise a computational model or simulation of a phenomenon, designed device, process, or system. HS-P5.1:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Systems and System Models: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems. MS-C4.1:

Stability and Change: Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part. MS-C7.2:

Scale, Proportion and Quantity: Scientific relationships can be represented through the use of algebraic expressions and equations. MS-C3.4:

Patterns: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships. MS-C1.3:

Energy and Matter: Energy drives the cycling of matter within and between systems. HS-C5.4:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes: Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land. MS-ESS2.C1:

The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes: Global movements of water and its changes in form are propelled by sunlight and gravity. MS-ESS2.C3:

Performance Expectations

Earth's Systems: Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth's systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity. MS-ESS2-4:

  1. This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

    • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
    • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
    • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
    • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
    • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.

  2. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

    This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

    • Scientific Accuracy
    • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
    • Pedagogic Effectiveness
    • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
    • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

    For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

This page first made public: May 23, 2016


In this unit, students are introduced to the concept of a natural cycle. They are first asked to identify the different components of the hydrologic cycle in Spanish. Students will be able to recognize the delicate balance between the individual elements of a large and complex system. Students will also be able to identify the interactions among parts of a natural system.

Learning Goals

Unit 2 activities support the overall module goals by guiding students through the basic structure, components, and interactions of the water cycle as they relate to the use and conservation of water resources. The specific learning objectives for this unit align with the World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages as follows:

  • Communication
    • Interpersonal Communication: Spanish language learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken conversations to share information, reactions, and opinions about the water cycle and how it works.
    • Interpretive Communication: Spanish language learners understand, interpret, and analyze what is heard, read, or viewed regarding water consumption in routine human activities.
  • Connections
    • Making Connections: Spanish language learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using Spanish to develop critical thinking. As part of this learners will:
      • describe the distribution of Earth's water among the major water sources such as oceans, ice caps, groundwater, soils, lakes, soils, streams and the atmosphere;
      • outline and reproduce components of the water cycle;
      • predict ways in which human activities are most likely to affect water availability and quality as it passes through the water cycle.

Context for Use

This unit is designed to function as one day of instruction in an intermediate-level Spanish class as a general introduction to the water cycle. It can be used as part of the Environmental Justice Module or as an individual lesson. The materials are especially appropriate for a Spanish course that focuses on environmental studies, human rights, contemporary issues, conversation, and/or global change. Students do not need any prior knowledge of scientific concepts or environmental justice. The plan is for a 50-minute class but it can be modified to fit various schedules. Although the instructions below include both Spanish and English, the lesson is designed to be conducted entirely in Spanish. This unit provides students with vocabulary terms and hands on activities embedded into the lesson notes and as handout materials in the lesson plan.

Description and Teaching Materials

This lesson is designed to be completed within a 50-minute class period. Sections of the lesson plan can be expanded through in-class discussions and supplemental activities to accommodate longer class times. This assignment is related to the following learning objective:

  • Students will predict ways in which human activities are most likely to affect water availability and quality as it passes through the water cycle.


Give students this handout Huella del agua (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 140kB Dec22 14) prior to starting this lesson to complete and bring to class. Have students predict which activities will use the most water. Advise students that they will be expected in class to compare answers in groups and then share their conclusions with the class as a whole. Expect that the instructor will need to guide the discussion with the questions below.


WATER FOOTPRINT (Huella del agua) (10–15 min)

Through this activity students will quantify ways in which human activities utilize water resources and will compare their personal, national, and world use statistics to predict how these activities affect water availability across the globe. Students will also be asked to describe ways in which they could optimize the use of these resources in terms of environmental justice. Questions and activities that you might consider discussing as a class are as follows:

  • Review, compare and share student answers to the pre-class activity.
  • Consider aloud how water consumption is linked to the water cycle.
  • Have class as a whole use a water use average and multiply that by the population of their city.
  • Discuss with the class how such water usage might compare to other cities or other countries around the world.
  • Ask students to consider with a classmate changes they would be willing to make to their water use to accommodate a decline in water supply.


Class discussion (5 min)

Ask students to think of ways in which water is present on Earth — ¿Dónde se encuentra el agua en la Tierra?

As students recall various examples of where water is found, make a list and begin to illustrate as appropriate. At this point, limit the words and concepts to vocabulary that students volunteer. Depending on the students' background these words may be as basic as "los lagos", "los ríos", "el mar", "la lluvia", "la tierra", "las plantas", etc.

Next, ask students to identify how water moves between these reservoirs (and changes state). ¿Cómo se mueve el agua de un reservorio a otro? Por ejemplo, ¿cómo se mueve de la atmósfera a la Tierra? ¿Qué otros movimientos hace el agua? ¿Qué tipos de cambio ocurren en estos procesos?

Again, limit the discussion to words students already know and suggest. Note any language gaps, or words that are missing by jotting down question marks for later follow-up.

Think-Share-Pair Activities (15 min)

At this point, label the drawing and words generated by the class with "El ciclo del agua" and let the class know that the water movement they have been describing is known by this name (and also by the name "El ciclo hidrológico").

Inform students that to further expand on what they have been discussing they will work in pairs to complete a drawing of the water cycle and practice describing (in Spanish) the various processes at work: handout Actividad -- El ciclo del agua (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 3.3MB May18 16) and slide 1 of the "Agua" PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 8.2MB May18 16). Follow-up discussion will allow the instructor and students to fill in any gaps for the class.

Once students have worked with their partners, go over the drawing with the entire class, asking individual students or pairs of students to explain terms and identify their location on the drawing. At the end of this discussion, show students the completed drawing with correct labels and offer any further explanations of concepts as needed (slide 2 of "Agua" PowerPoint).

Think-Share-Pair continued (10 min)

Show the second slide illustration of a more detailed version of the water cycle (slide 3 of "Agua" PowerPoint). Ask students to talk with their partner about overlaps, differences, and new terms they see comparing this slide with the previous drawing. Follow-up by asking individual students or pairs of students to describe these similarities and differences and to explain the processes at work.

As students become more comfortable with the water cycle and its processes, continue through the PowerPoint slide questions and charts. Ask students to discuss with their partner to: (Answers in bold)
  • Predict whether the atmosphere or land contains more water
  • Rank the components of the land (ice caps 1, streams and lakes 3, soil, plants and animals 4, groundwater 2) in order on the basis of which stores the most freshwater. Use this opportunity to note that there is much more water in groundwater than in surface water.
  • Predict the amount of water available for human consumption .3%
  • Make connections between the issue of water scarcity and environmental justice


Optional for longer class periods

  • Have students break into groups, representing the major mechanisms of transport (clouds, rain, rivers, groundwater, plants).
  1. The instructor will take the role of a consumer: farmer, industry, park, citizen, etc.
  2. As a class, discuss what would happen if changes occurred in the cycle.
  3. Try different scenarios:
    • What would happen to people living downstream if someone diverts or dams the river in your semi-arid region?
    • If global warming increases evaporation, what are the consequences?
    • If a company dumps toxic waste on the ground in an urban area, what are the potential consequences?
    • If your town relies on a well for water supply and it dries out, what are your options?

Teaching Notes and Tips

Since many of the words in this unit may be new for Spanish language students, when working in groups, encourage student partners to start with what they know, identify cognates, use context clues from drawings, employ a process of elimination, and make connections with the class discussion. Students should be encouraged to talk entirely in Spanish in their groups using words they know, gestures, and the drawing to get their ideas across.


WATER FOOTPRINT. Student handout can be turned in for credit; individual answers will differ. Assessment to be based on completion of the table.

WATER CYCLE AND WATER CYCLE SUSTAINABILITY: Student participation in the previous activities and their ability to answer how the different scenarios may affect and influence their communities. Assessment may be given orally as a class or group discussion or instructor may require written answers at the end of each activity. A grading rubric is provided if students were required to turn in individual water cycle diagrams and/or for discussion of scenarios. Unit 2 assessment rubric Spanish (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 116kB Apr28 16)

References and Resources

From the United States Geological Survey (USGS)

From the United Nations

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »