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Lesson Three: Make a Paper Watershed

Students will make a watershed using crumpled paper and markers of different colors and solubility, which represent things present in the watershed. They will spray the watershed with water to simulate rain, and record how rain affects the watershed.

Students will be able to:

  • Describe how water from rain travels over a landscape
  • Identify human impacts to a watershed

Time Required
One fifty minute class session

Materials Required
11x17 white paper, or sheets of butcher paper cut to desired size (8x10 or larger strongly recommended)
Newspaper to cover tables
Lab notebooks or board to record predications and results
Crayola or other water soluble markers, in brown, black and red
Permanent marker in green
One spray bottle with water for each teacher/adult leader (set to mist)
Optional: a topographic relief map

1. Cover tables with newspaper.

2. Divide the students into groups of 2 to 4. Each group will ahve a scenario: Healthy Forest, Clearcut Forest, Suburban Neighborhood, or Industrial Factory. Introduce the concept of a watershed. If desired, use a relief map to demonstrate topography and discuss how rainwater would flow in certain directions depending on where it falls on the map.

3. Give each group a piece of paper. Have them crumple it slightly so that it has hills, ridges and peaks as well as valleys and drainages. Don’t crumple it into a ball!

4. Give one marker to each group:

Green permanent ("strong trees") for the Healthy Forest groups
Brown soluble ("loose soil") for the Clearcut Forest groups
Black soluble ("motor oil") for the Suburban Neighborhood groups
Red soluble ("pollution") for the Industrial Factory groups.
5. Discuss what might happen to the motor oil, soil and pollution when a rainstorm comes in. Discuss how this might be different from a watershed covered by healthy forest, with no human pollution. Have the students record their predictions (on board or in lab notebooks).

6. With the spray bottle set on mist, go around to each group and simulate rain by spraying their watershed. Have them observe where the water goes and what happens to the marker spots.

7. Have the students record their group’s results and present them to the rest of the class.