Where's the Water?

    Where's the Water?

    PDF of This Lesson


    To identify the reservoirs of the Earth's water cycle (e.g., oceans, ice caps/glaciers, atmosphere, lakes, rivers, ground water) locally and globally and to graph or chart relative amounts in global reservoirs.


    In this lesson, students will explore and identify Earth's reservoirs and bodies of water locally or globally, learning how water is distributed around the world. Using 10 liters of water to represent all the water on Earth, students will divide this water according to the percentages given for different water bodies.

    See discussion questions for some general background information as well as leading questions to help guide discussions.  

    The lesson is designed in three parts:

    1. A classroom activity that helps students visualize the relative volume of usable water on Earth;
    2. follow up STEM activities where students apply their knowledge of Earth's water resources;
    3. and watershed connections.

    Materials Needed:


    Classroom Activity:

    1. Show the students a map of the world or the globe. Ask them what the color blue represents (water). Ask them what percentage of the globe/earth is covered in water (72%). Is it all usable by humans? (No)

    2. Ask the students to identify the various reservoirs of water on the earth other than oceans.  As they give answers, make a list in the front of the room. Use the following categories for student responses: icecaps/ glaciers, groundwater, freshwater lakes, inland seas / salt lakes, atmosphere, and rivers.  Note: Students will have many ideas.  For this exercise freshwater lakes would include ponds, reservoirs and wetlands; groundwater would include wells; and rivers would include springs, canals, and small streams.

    3. When the list on the board is complete, pass out the
    water distribution worksheet and divide the students into groups.

    4. Ask the students to estimate the percentage of water in each reservoir. Based on their estimation, have them calculate the volume of each reservoir, and record their data on the
    water distribution worksheet.

    5. Discuss the results of the groups' estimations.  Where did they think most of the water was located?

    6. After discussing the initial estimations, demonstrate to the class the actual amounts found in each reservoir (table included in background information).   As you mention each reservoir measure out the actual volume and add it to your small container. 

    7.  Show the small container to the students and ask if all this water is actually available for human use (answer is no).  Discuss each reservoir and remove the volumes not available for human use. See discussion question 1 for more details.  This can lead to a discussion on water conservation and protection from pollution.  See discussion questions 2 and 3.

    *This activity adapted from Activity D-1:  Sources of Drinking Water in the manual Water Conservation and Nonpoint Source Pollution by Dr. Kitt Farrell-Poe.


    STEM Activity:


    1.  Have students create pie charts of water reservoirs on Earth.   A second pie chart could be created to show the AVAILABLE water reservoirs on earth to compare and contrast with the first. You can view examples of graphed data here.

    2.  Have students explore the actual percentages of different reservoirs that are impacted by pollution. 

    3.  Have students research water availability and use in your home state.   See USGS Water Science Center website for state by state information:   http://water.usgs.gov/district_chief.html

    Watershed Connections

    Watersheds are natural outdoor laboratories. Use the map below to find the watershed you teach in. Use the watershed connections in the Stream Side Science lessons to learn how you can use specific stream locations, local data sources, local contact and other information in your area to make the Stream Side Science experience more relevant to your students.   
    What watershed do you live in?
    If you live in Utah, the map below shows all of the watersheds that either drain into or out of Utah.
    OR go to Surf Your Watershed to locate you watershed anywhere in the U.S. 

    Utah Watersheds


    Curriculum and Teacher Materials 

    Core Alignments By Grade:


    Materials and Worksheets: 

    Worksheets and More: