1. Introduce the vocabulary.
Introduce the vocabulary term watershed. Ask students what they think the term means. Display for students the satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Then explain that a watershed is the land area from which surface runoff drains into a stream, channel, lake, reservoir, or other body of water. Tell students that people are either directly or indirectly connected to bodies of water, which connect to land.
2. Distribute the worksheet.
Distribute copies of the worksheet Components of a Watershed to each student. Have students label the watershed components using the words along the bottom of the diagram. (Answers: 1. River Source, 2. Upstream, 3. Downstream, 4. Main River, 5. Tributaries, 6. Floodplain, 7. Watershed Boundary, 8. Meanders, 9. Wetlands, 10. River Mouth)
3. Have students identify examples of pollution.
Tell students that people use water for agriculture, industry, manufacturing, power, transportation, and recreation. Explain the meaning of terms point source pollution and nonpoint source pollution. Show students the photo gallery and ask students to identify examples of each. Point sources include facilities such as sewage treatment plants and factory discharges; Nonpoint source pollution includes excess fertilizers from lawns and farms, oil from roads, overflows from city sewers, and animal waste.
4. Have students make a 3-D model of a watershed.
Divide students into small groups. Have each group begin by molding clay to represent mountains in a plastic or metal tray. Next, ask students to form the watershed by gradually leveling the clay so that it leads to the mouth of their river. Then, have them form river channels and coat with blue enamel paint and color the land with tempera paint. Finally, have students place construction paper figures on the model to simulate users of a river system, using the diagram in the worksheet as a guide. Let the model dry overnight.
5. Simulate the flow of water in a watershed.
The next day, have a volunteer from each group pour a slow, steady stream of water from the top of the mountain area. Have students watch how the "river" runs from its source to its mouth and orally describe it.
6. Have students apply their understanding to their own watershed.
Use the models to discuss your community's watershed. Ask:
- Where are its boundaries?
- What are the main sources of pollution in our watershed?
- Who is impacted?
- How can we ensure the watershed is a clean resource for the community?
Subjects & Disciplines
- Biological and life sciences
- define the terms
- create a 3-dimensional model of a watershed
- apply what they learned to their own community’s watershed
- Hands-on learning
National Standards, Principles, and Practices
National Geography Standards
- • Standard 1:
- How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information
- • Standard 14:
- How human actions modify the physical environment
National Science Education Standards
- • (5-8) Standard F-2:
- Populations, resources, and environments
What You’ll Need
Materials You Provide
- Blue enamel paint
- Construction paper
- Modeling clay
- Plastic or metal trays
- Tempera paint
The resources are also available at the top of the page.
Background & Vocabulary
People in a watershed are either directly or indirectly connected to bodies of water that connect to land.
Recommended Prior Activities
|Term||Part of Speech||Definition||Encyclopedic Entry|
nonpoint source pollution
toxic chemicals that enter a body of water from many sources.
point source pollution
pollution from a single, identifiable source.
entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries.
|Encyclopedic Entry: watershed|
For Further Exploration
The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.
Fred H. Walk
Christina Riska, National Geographic Society
Emmy Scammahorn, National Geographic Society
Alice Manning, National Geographic Society
Kim Hulse, National Geographic Society
Special thanks to Jeff Dow and Rita Bunzel
adapted from National Geographic “Strange Days on Planet Earth Educator Activity Guide”
For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service.
If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to obtain a license.
If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please visit our FAQ page.
Some media assets (videos, photos, audio recordings and PDFs) can be downloaded and used outside the National Geographic website according to the Terms of Service. If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the lower right hand corner () of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.
Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.
Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.