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Oregon in Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

Water Supply

Grade Level
3 - 5

Students observe the change of water states as it moves through the water cycle. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time
1-2 hours
Materials Needed


Activity 1: Water Cycle

  • Water Cycle in a Cup:
  • Water Cycle Demonstration:
    • Large, clear plastic bowl
    • Small container (like a butter tub)
    • Water
    • Clear plastic wrap
    • Large rubber band
    • Small weight (like a rock with a diameter the size of a quarter)

Activity 2: The Earth's Water Supply

  • Water
  • 1-gallon container (such as a plastic ice cream bucket)
  • 1/2-cup measuring cup
  • Clear bowl
  • Eye dropper
  • Small plate

Activity 3: Water Savers!

  • Lore Story
  • Game Cards (Print on cardstock and cut them out)
  • Hero Cards (Print front and back on cardstock and cut them out. Be sure to let the printer know the weight of the cardstock, otherwise they will not print front and back correctly.)
  • Villain Cards (Print front and back on cardstock and cut them out. Be sure to let the printer know the weight of the cardstock, otherwise they will not print front and back correctly.)
  • Game Board (Print on 11 x 17 paper)
  • Pollution Track (optional)
  • Paper clip
  • 6 different colored pogs or small tokens to act as player tokens
  • Rule Sheet and Game Instructions

bioreactor: excavated pits filled with wood chips that filter tile drainage water. As water from the tile line passes through the wood chips, denitrifying bacteria converts nitrates in the tile water into di-nitrogen gas

buffer strip: areas near waterways in fields that slow water that runs off and helps hold soil in place to prevent the erosion of topsoil

condensation: water that collects as droplets on a cold surface when humid air is in contact with it

cover crop: a crop grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil

dead zone: when less oxygen is dissolved in the water causing marine life to leave the area or die

erosion: the process by which the surface of the earth is worn away by the action of water, glaciers, winds, waves, and other natural forces

evaporation: the changing of a liquid into a gas

gas: a state of matter where a substance (such as oxygen or hydrogen) is like air and has no fixed shape

infiltration: to pass through a substance by filtering or permeating

invasive species: a plant, fungus, or animal species that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species), and which has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health

irrigation: artificial application of water to the land or soil to assist plant growth

liquid: a state of matter in which a substance exhibits ability to flow freely like water; not a solid or a gas

pollinator garden: supports and maintains pollinators by supplying food in the form of pollen and nectar that will ensure that these important animals stay in the area to keep pollinating crops for continued fruit and vegetable production

precipitation: moisture in the form of rain, snow, sleet, or hail that falls to the ground

restoration: continual improvement of degraded land and water resources

runoff: the draining away of water from the surface of an area of land

solid: a state of matter where a substance has a definite shape and volume; not liquid or gaseous

water: a transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid, a compound of hydrogen and oxygen

Background Agricultural Connections

One of the most important natural resources that covers the earth’s surface is water. All living things depend on water for survival. As the world population continues to grow, more and more people, plants, animals, and other living creatures need water to live. Water is a renewable resource used over and over through evaporation, transpiration, and precipitation. The water that is on earth now is the same water that has always been here. No “new” water is being made.

The movement of water in and around the earth is called the water cycle. The water cycle is continuous. Rain or snow falls on oceans and land as precipitation. The soil will soak up some of the water. Plants will take up some of this water through their roots, and some water will move down through the soil to become groundwater. Some of the water from the rain and snow will run off the land into streams, marshes, lakes, and oceans. The water that remains on the earth’s surface is called surface water. The surface water will return to the atmosphere through evaporation. Then water vapor may form clouds that cause precipitation—rain or snow—to occur again. The precipitation will return to the surface of the earth, and the cycle will continue. Through different stages of the water cycle, water can be liquid, solid, or gas.

Water is extremely important for crop production because crops (plants) need water to grow. A good crop of corn or soybeans needs at least 20 inches of water a year. Yet, almost every year, the corn and soybeans’ water is limited to some degree by drought. Drought occurs when there is a lack of water. Some years the summer rainfall is below normal, and some years there are varying amounts of rainfall throughout the season. For this reason, more and more farmers are installing irrigation systems to ensure that their crops receive an adequate amount of water. Irrigation means watering land with artificial methods, or man-made watering. Water is taken from lakes, rivers, streams, and wells, transported to croplands, and used to water the crops. Irrigation is used in areas that go without rainfall for a long time. Places such as the southwestern United States, Egypt, and Italy use irrigation during dry periods or all year. 

Water Savers! Game

This game is a European style game built to support 2-5 students and to encourage brainstorming of various environmental problems and issues within the students' community and/or region. The game was also developed to begin the process of brainstorming environmental actions that individuals and/or a group might take to help with an environmental issue.

About the Heroes: Each Hero Card is based on an ecological practice that farmers, conservationists, or other individuals carry out to help combat environmental issues. Below are the different heores and an explanation that can be used in the classroom to help students connect to science concepts.

  • Buffy the Nutrient Slayer: This hero is based on a buffer strip. These areas are normally planted in farm fields near waterways and may contain native prairie grasses or other types of grasses. The purpose of a buffer strip is to slow water that runs off a field to utilize the root system. As the water is slowed down, the roots are provided time to absorb varying nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrates) that are in the field soil, preventing nutrients from entering waterways. Buffer strips also help to hold soil in place to prevent the erosion of topsoil, which can cause waterways to decrease in light transparency or dam up waterways if too much soil is caught in one area.
  • Nectravore: This hero is based on a pollinator garden. Pollinators such as bees, moths, birds, and other animals are important to our food supply. We depend on pollinators for many of our fruits and vegetables and for honey. If you plant a pollinator garden, new habitat is created and animals that help with pollination are encouraged to fulfill their niche. In turn, this also helps farmers and the average consumer to obtain food. Pollinator gardens also help water quality by slowing down the flow of water, covering soil to prevent erosion, and providing educational opportunities.
  • Cropidash Radish: This hero is based on cover crops. The use of this conservation practice allows farmers to cover their land in the winter and store nutrients while increasing biomatter. By planting a crop in the off-season, farmers reduce the erosion of topsoil and prevent sediment in waterways. Cover crops such as winter radishes are known as a trap crop, meaning they absorb and store nutrients which reduces the risk of nutrients leaching or running off into waterways.
  • Phoenixflare: This hero is based on controlled burns which help with prairie restoration, grazing areas for livestock, and oil spills. When a controlled burn, or prescribed burn, is used in prairie land, or on grazeland, it provides opportunities for wanted species to grow while reducing the number of unwanted species. This creates habitats for many species and fresh grass for livestock. Prairie lands are also known to help with decreasing greenhouse gases which are contributors to climate change. Increasing healthy prairies reduces greenhouse gases. Controlled burns also help with the cleanup of oil spills to reduce damage to the environment.
  • HydroMax: This hero is based on the need to wash equipment with water after using them. Many organisms live in waterways, and they are always looking for a place to hide. By washing watercrafts and other water equipment, such as swimsuits and flotation devices, before leaving a designated water area, an individual can reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species.
  • Righteous Azoto: This hero is based on a bioreactor. This conservation farming practice is long term and happens beneath the surface as water exits a field. Within a bioreactor, there are wood chips and cultures of bacteria. The water that is exiting a field goes through the bioreactor and the bacteria use a process known as denitrification to convert nitrates into di-nitrogen gas, reducing the number of nitrates that enter the water systems.

About the Villains: Each Villain Card is based on current environmental issues that are affecting water. These issues have varying players that are involved, all of which have different motivators. Through the use of the villains, students can gather an introduction to varying issues within their area and worldwide. Below are short explanations of each villain and the issue they are based on.

  • The Eroder: This villain is based on erosion. This occurs when water runs over soil, rocks, and other parts of the land shaping it. Erosion is a problem in farm fields and along the riverbanks when soil moves into the waterway. In turn, this can cause problems with light infiltration of water and lower the integrity of land formations causing other issues. Erosion can also occur through the movement of wind as it blows over land and moves other objects around. An example of historic wind erosion is the Dust Bowl (see the lesson Dark Days to examine the modern and historical importance of soil erosion during the Dust Bowl).
  • Dr. Bloom: This villain is based on runoff and nutrient pollution. This type of environmental problem occurs from cities, farms, homeowners, and factories dumping intentionally or unintentionally into waterways. These various nutrients and chemicals can lead to algae blooms, fish kills, plant booms or degradation, and other organism death.
  • Raider and Looter: This villain is based on aquatic and terrestial invasive species. An invasive species is a non-native organism that causes harm to the habitat or environment it is in. Since these species are new to a habitat, they have few or no predators but plenty of food. This causes their populations to skyrocket and leads to native species having trouble staying alive. Invasive species can cause new disease outbreaks, altered ecosystems, and environmental damage to crops, animals, and farmland. Though we can help prevent the spread of these organisms, they are expensive and hard to get rid of once they are established in a habitat.
  • Crudella: This villain is based on an oil spill and the different types of oils that can be involved in an oil spill. Oil spills can happen on both land and in aquatic environments. These occur when a malfunction of equipment occurs and large amounts of oil is leaked. This oil can cause damage to animals as it gets into their lungs, gills, or bodies. It also creates problems with aquatic and terrestrial plants as oil covers leaves and reduces the amount of positive nutrients that the plant can absorb. Oil spills can lead to explosions and fires on land and in aquatic environments. Oil pipelines can also produce complications to wetlands as they are distributed during construction.
  • Dead Zone: This villain is based on the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. These areas are created when soil nutrients (fertilizer) run off or leach into local waterways and eventually into larger waterways within the Midwest and Central U.S. leading to the Mississippi River that feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrates and phosphorus are two of the main nutrients that have caused the dead zone. Though nitrates can break down and dissolve into the atmosphere, phosphorus stays within the ocean sediment, Phosphorus is a promoter of plant growth. Large amounts of plant growth within aquatic areas can decrease oxygen, increase water temperatures, and decrease light to other organisms within the aquatic habitat. In turn, this limits the amount of life in that area. Farmers are utilizing various conservation practices such as buffer strips, cover crops, filter strips, and various others to lower the amount of nutrient runoff and leaching.
  • Plasticwherewolfe: This villain is based on plastic pollution. Single use plastics, such as bags, straws, and styrofoam, have been found in all parts of the world, even in areas that humans have not settled. Overtime, these plastics break down releasing chemicals into water and creating smaller pieces. These small pieces can be eaten by fish and birds causing death or digestive problems. In other cases, plastics have caused the entrapment of animals to change their growth and ability to live. The plastics that make their way into the ocean tend to end up in five different places, known as garbage patches, due to ocean currents.
  1. Place one cup of water into a clear bowl. Place a piece of masking tape on the outside of the bowl at the top of the water line. Set the bowl on a sunny window sill. Check the bowl every half-hour to see what happens. The sun will warm the water and cause the water to evaporate. This means that the water will turn from a liquid into a gas (water vapor). The amount of water in the bowl will decrease when the liquid turns into water vapor. (Remind students that we cannot see water vapor.) 
  2. After you place the bowl of water on the window sill, fill a clear glass three-fourths full with ice. Set the glass of ice where most students can watch it. Check the glass every 15 to 20 minutes to see what happens. Explain to your students that ice is the solid state of water. Ice will melt because the classroom is not at a cold enough temperature to keep the ice frozen. The melting ice demonstrates the change of a solid to a liquid. 
  3. Clarify for the students that water exists in different forms. Water can exist as a liquid (water), solid (ice), or gas (water vapor) and can change from one to another.
  4. Show your students the Water in Agriculture pictures attached to this lesson.
    • You can print the pictures or project them on a screen
  5. As you display the pictures, ask students to identify what they see in common in the pictures.
    • Students should recognize water in each picture. They should also recognize that each picture shows a plant or animal that is produced to provide our food.
  6. Begin a basic conversation with your students about the importance of water. Likely, they already know that we need water in our bodies to live and be healthy.  Help them extend their knowledge and begin to understand that without water, farmers could not provide our food.
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Water Cycle

Explain to the students that water changes from one form into another naturally in the environment. Choose one of the two water cycle activities to help students understand how water changes from one form into another in nature. 

  1. Water Cycle in a Cup:
    1. Organize students into groups of two and explain the directions for the Water Cycle in a Cup activity. Review key vocabulary that are labeled on the Water Cycle Diagram and make sure students understand their meaning.
    2. Color the Landform Cutout.
    3. Tape the landform drawing to the back of the cup.
    4. Add 60 ml (1/4 cup) of water to the earth cup and cover with plastic to keep the water from evaporating.
    5. Use a crayon or permanent marker to mark the starting water level with the current time.
    6. Place the cup outside in the sun for 1/2 hour.
    7. Observe and discuss changes.
  2. Water Cycle Demonstration:
    1. Take the clear, large plastic bowl and place the smaller container (butter tub) in the middle of the large bowl. Pour water into the large bowl, around the small container, but not inside the small container. Fill the large bowl until the water level reaches to about three-fourths of the height of the small container. 
    2. Place a piece of clear plastic wrap over the large bowl. Put the rubber band around the top of the bowl to keep the plastic wrap in place. Take the weight (rock) and put it in the middle of the plastic wrap. Place the “water cycle” inside the classroom in a sunny spot (like a windowsill). 
    3. The sun will heat the water in the large bowl so the water will evaporate, just like the water did in Activity 1. Here the liquid form of water has changed into gas. The evaporated water (gas) will rise and condense on the plastic wrap. This means that the water vapor has turned back into liquid. The water droplets will slide down the plastic wrap until they are underneath the weight (rock). Then they will fall into the small container. The small container collects the water that has been “recycled.” 

Activity 2: The Earth’s Water Supply 

  1. Discuss the Earth’s water supply using the information from the introduction. 
  2. Display the following information on a poster or the chalkboard.  
  3. To demonstrate how much of the Earth’s water supply is actually used, ask some students to help you with the next steps. (Make sure that the students understand this is just a demonstration and there is actually more water than this on earth.) 
  4. Pour water into a one-gallon container, such as a plastic ice cream bucket. This represents all the water on the earth. 
  5. Pour a half-cup of water out of the one-gallon container and into a clear bowl. The water in the bowl represents all of the fresh water on earth, which is less than three percent of the total water on earth. Fresh water is found in lakes, rivers, groundwater, ice, and living things. The 15 half-cups that are still in the one-gallon container represent salt water. We cannot use salt water without first removing the salt in a process known as desalination. Though research and technology are improving this process, it is still prohibitively expensive and often impractical.
  6. With an eyedropper, drop one drop of water from the half-cup onto a small plate. This one drop represents the freshwater that is available for our use. This water is found in rivers and lakes. The rest of the water in the half-cup is deep groundwater, water bound up as soil moisture, biomass water, or water in the atmosphere. 

Activity 3: Water Savers!

  1. Organize the class into groups of 2-5 students. Provide each group with the Lore Story and game materials.
  2. Instruct the groups to read the Lore Story together.
  3. Review the Rule Sheet and Game Instructions together as a class. The following modifications can be made to the game:
    • For younger students, remove the Crisis and Event cards or lower the number of them within the deck.
    • For students with prior knowledge of environmental issues, have them create their own crisis, hero, or villain.
  4. Have the groups play the game together. (You may use a timer for the game or the Pollution Track. As they play, encourage them to think about how they can defeat the villains and how it relates to their everyday life. Students should also be reminded to think about how the game connects to the big ideas surrounding environmental issues.
  5. After the game, discuss the following with the class:
    • What motivations did you, as the player, experience while you played the game? If you were put in your hero's shoes, do your motivators change?
    • Who were the different villains? Do you think the villains live on Earth? How might these villains represent issues in our community? Could the villains represent environmental issues and/or problems? 
    • Could the heroes live on Earth? Do you think the heroes could be found in our community? Do they represent things near us? How might these heroes be examples of players? 
    • Why do you think the game designers chose to represent environmental actions through the cards like they did?
  6. Ask the students, "What do you already know about watersheds?"
  7. After listening to the students' answers, watch the What is a Watershed? video or the Watershed! video. 
  8. Ask the students to make connections between one of the villains (environmental issues) and/or one of the heroes (sustainable farming practices) and the importance of healthy watersheds in our communities.
  • Invite a soil and water conservationist into the classroom to talk to the students.

  • Look on a world map to locate where water exists as a solid, a liquid, in the land, oceans, rivers, and lakes.

  • Have the students make posters to teach other students why we should not pollute water. Hang the posters around the school.

  • Learn more about how water is important to us as human beings and to all other living organisms.

  • Play the My American Farm interactive game Wild Water Adventures.

  • Have the students explore what goes into their water or where their water comes from (this is a good place to make connections to the water cycle and/or nitrogen cycle).

  • Have the students design a buffer strip, or other sustainable farming practices, that will also increase biodiversity.


After conducting these activities review and summarize the key concepts using the following questions: 

  • In what forms does water exist? 
  • Can one form of water change into a different form? 
  • How can water change from a liquid into a gas (water vapor)
  • How does ice (a solid) change into water (a liquid)
  • How does a liquid (water) change into a solid (ice)
  • What is the water cycle? 
  • Why can’t we use the water available in the oceans? 
  • What types of water can we use? 
  • Where is the water found that we can use? 
  • Can you think of ways that we can conserve water? 
  • Activity 1 was adapted from California Department of Water Resources.
  • Activity 2 of this lesson is found on many websites, and the original author or source is unknown.
  • Activity 3 was developed by Cathryn Carney, Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation.
Debra Spielmaker
National Center for Agricultural Literacy
We welcome your feedback. Please take a minute to share your thoughts on this lesson.