MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Watersheds Urban and Rural

Watersheds Urban and Rural

William Lubansky
King of Grace Elementary School
Golden Valley, MN 55422
Based on an activity done at the Mnstep Elementary Biology/Environmental Science Teacher Institute
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Students will build models representing rural and urban watersheds. Through the observation of these models, they will understand how the structures that make up a watershed determine the distribution of water and other elements contained in the watershed.

Learning Goals

Students will make inferences about how an actual watershed interacts with their community based on observations of their models.
Students will have a better grasp of how the water cycle is an integral part of a watershed.
Students will discuss the differences in rural and urban watersheds.

Context for Use

I've addressed standards for 3rd grade because that is the grade level for which I will use this activity. I think it could easily be expanded to challenge grades up through 6th grade. You will need to have a place to set 2 to 5 small watershed models. These models will be observed over 4-12 weeks. This project would be a follow up to introducing the concepts of a watershed and the water cycle. Students must also have a grasp of what man made and natural items determine whether an area is considered rural or urban.

Subject: Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climatology :Hydrologic cycle, Environmental Science:Water Quality and Quantity
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Water, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Atmospheric Science, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Climate Change

Description and Teaching Materials

Divide the class into small groups of 3 to 5 students. Each group will be in charge of constructing a watershed model using materials provided. (There are numerous instructions for making watershed models on the Internet; I have attached two basic models and a Web Site with pictures of models that would work well.) Half of the groups will construct a model representing a watershed in a rural setting, and the other half will construct models representing a watershed in an urban setting. This is a great opportunity to discuss the differences between rural and urban.
Water is applied to the watershed models using a spray bottle. Discuss ways to distribute and apply the same amount of water to both types of models. Discuss the scientific process and the validity of comparing models. Allow the water applied to evaporate. The absence of water several days later is an excellent prompt to discuss the water cycle.
Add various chemicals, or alter objects in the watershed model, over time to simulate erosion, chemical spills, fertilizer, and man made barriers intended for controlling the flow of water.
Watershed Model #1 ( 52kB Aug2 09)
Watershed model #2 (Microsoft Word 43kB Aug2 09)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This lesson is one that should not be introduced until students have an understanding of what a watershed is. Pictures or models of actual watersheds should be discussed prior to students building their models. Water cycle, urban and rural, pollution, erosion, irrigation etc. are all terms that can be discussed and explored.


During the experiment I move about the room and make note of students level of participation in the construction of their models. Students' models should have elements from actual pictures and models of real life watersheds. I use this project as a teaching tool to support or enhance my instruction on water cycles, erosion, geography etc. Assessment will come through tests and worksheets in these areas.


Science Construct reasonable explanations based on evidence collected from observations or experiments. Recognize that the practice of science and/or engineering involves many different kinds of work and engages men and women of all ages and backgrounds.
Social Studies
V. C. Physical Features and Processes
The student will distinguish between physical and human-made features of places on the Earth's surface.

References and Resources