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Related pages

  • Water cycle word study: Students will look at the written similarities in the words used to describe the water cycle (ex., evaporation, transpiration, precipitation, accumulation, condensation), focusing on suffixes and prefixes as a way to gain understanding of those terms. Students will group words by meaning and label a blank water cycle chart based on the categories for the groupings they create. This lesson is designed in conjunction with “More than just a rainy day—the water cycle.”
  • Weathering the water cycle: Condensation: This lesson introduces students to condensation as one phase of the water cycle. Through the use of the four lessons in this series students will learn that the water cycle is a continuous cycle. The other lessons in this series include lessons on evaporation and precipitation as well as a conclusion.
  • Round and Round It Goes; Water, Where It Stops Nobody Knows: This experimental lab lesson will show the process of the hydrological cycle as it relates to the earth's atmosphere by showing three different scenarios.

Related topics


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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • learn the steps, processes, and vocabulary of the water cycle through gathering data from a variety of resources.
  • learn why the water cycle is important.
  • learn how the water cycle connects to their daily lives.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

3 hours


  • pencils
  • sketch pads or digital camera(s)
  • pictures of water sources in the environment with labels
  • glass of water with label
  • chart of water cycle with each step of the process labeled
  • blank water cycle chart for Day 3 (optional)
  • list of critical vocabulary words for LEP student(s)
  • 7 index cards (1 card for each group)labeled:
    1. evaporation
    2. condensation
    3. precipitation
    4. transpiration
    5. accumulation
    6. subsurface runoff
    7. surface runoff
  • water source flow chart graphic organizer
  • water cycle vocabulary sheet
  • stations for water cycle study groups, Day 2:
    1. several non-fiction texts from school media center on the water cycle
    2. bookmarked websites for water cycle information
    3. encyclopedias and dictionaries
    4. classroom science textbooks (can be multiple grade levels as long as water cycle information is included)
  • computer with Internet connection
  • Bookmarked water cycle website(s). Suggestions include:


  • LEP students should be familiar with the term “body/bodies of water” and synonyms for bodies of water that are included in the critical vocabulary list:
    • river
    • stream
    • creek
    • pond
    • ocean
    • sea
    • puddle
    • lake
    • and any other words which mean “body of water” that are used in the textbook, reference sources, surrounding community, and website(s) used in this activity.
  • This list of critical vocabulary may be used as part of a spelling study list, for example, and the words on the list should be matched with pictures so that LEP students may understand how each word is related to the central concept of water and how each word is distinct (ex., How is a pond as a body of water different from an ocean as a body of water?)
  • Teacher can have resource texts, labeled pictures of bodies of water, and a labeled chart of the water cycle which will be used in this lesson on display in the classroom so that students may become familiar with them, build background knowledge, and begin to formulate questions.
  • The teacher should make these materials readily accessible, posting them near the board or other prominent classroom area, and will refer to these materials in the brainstorming discussion of Day 1 of this lesson.
  • The teacher should plan grouping for students teams prior to Day 1 of the lesson. Suggested groupings are:
    • Mixed abilities (low, high, and average)
    • novice LEP students paired with a patient, helpful student; it is not necessary to pair LEP students who speak the same language or with advanced students, but with students with whom they will feel comfortable and who are interested in helping the novice LEP student.
  • Number of students per group will vary according to class size, but students should be divided into 4 groups of “water detectives.”


Day 1

Building Background Knowledge: How much do you know about water?

  1. Teacher shows students a glass of water which is labeled “water,” and tells them that it is water. The teacher then asks, “What can we do with this?”
  2. Students verbally brainstorm ideas and respond with comments. Examples of likely responses are:
    • drink it
    • wash with it
    • swim in it
    • cook with it
  3. The teacher then asks the class where they think water comes from.
  4. Students verbally brainstorm and respond with answers. The teacher records the answers on the board or overhead projector, indicating photographs or drawings that have been placed in the room as resource material and posted near the board or other prominent classroom area.
  5. Divide students into 7 “water detective” teams and explain that they will be searching the school campus for all the sources of water that they can find. (It is important to divide students into 7 teams because these teams are linked to 7 critical vocabulary words that are taught in Day 2 of the lesson.) Students will follow teacher to different areas of the school campus, fanning out to find water sources. As groups find water, they will either sketch the water source on their sketch pads or photograph the water source with digital cameras according to the teacher’s preference and/or the availability of these resources. They may brainstorm predictions about the water’s origin in their groups. Upon being signaled by the teacher, they will return to the teacher and move to another area of the school campus to search for more sources of water. Examples of water sources likely to be found are:
    • water fountain
    • bathroom sink and toilet
    • mud puddle
    • fish pond in school garden
    • bird bath
  6. After completing their rounds as “water detectives” on the school campus, students return with the teacher to the classroom.
  7. Students remain in their groups and report their findings to the entire class. The teacher writes the findings on the board.
  8. Students will then begin to connect their findings of water sources on the school campus with the pictures of bodies of water that are displayed near the board or other prominent classroom area that were shown to the students in Step 4 of this lesson.
  9. Teacher will complete the water source flow chart graphic organizer to model taking a water source found on the school campus and tracing that water source to its origin in the natural environment or as far as possible for students. Teacher will use illustrations to complete the water source flow chart graphic organizer.
  10. Students assist teacher in completing several more examples of a water source flow chart graphic organizer in preparation to their completing one on their own for homework. Students will choose 2 water sources found through their water detective discovery on the school campus to trace to their origins, and will be asked to use illustrations to complete their graphic organizers.

Day 2

Introducing Water Cycle Vocabulary: What words do we use to describe the water cycle?

  1. Teacher puts the 7 index cards labeled “evaporation,” “condensation,” “transpiration,” “precipitation,” “accumulation,” “subsurface runoff,” and “surface runoff” on the board for all students to see. Provide LEP students with the “LEP Water Cycle Vocabulary Words” list attached at the end of this document for use during each day of this lesson.
  2. Teacher begins class discussion by choosing several examples of water source flow chart graphic organizers to share with the class. Through this discussion, the teacher will connect vocabulary from the 7 index cards to drawings on the water source flow chart graphic organizer (ex., if a student’s graphic organizer stops with the last source of water being the ground, teacher may ask where the water in the ground comes from, calling it specifically “surface runoff” as it is labeled on the index card).
  3. Introduce as much vocabulary by using student homework water source flow chart graphic organizers. Any word on the 7 index cards which describe the water cycle which is not evident through students’ graphic organizer homework should be explained by using the resource texts made available for the water cycle study in the class.
  4. Students return to the same “water detective” groups that they were in the previous day. Each group receives one of the 7 water cycle vocabulary words on the index cards on the board.
  5. Students are directed to 1 of 4 different stations set up with resource materials: computers with previously bookmarked websites, non-fiction texts from the school media center, encyclopedias and dictionaries, and classroom science textbooks (science textbooks from multiple grade levels may be included). Two groups of students, each with different water cycle vocabulary words to research (ex., one group will define “precipitation”, while another group defines “accumulation” at the same station), will go to each station except the Internet station, which will host only one group at a time. Students will spend approximately 10 minutes in each station using the resource materials to gather information about the water cycle vocabulary word on the index card their group has received.
  6. Students will rotate stations until they have visited all 4 stations.
  7. On his or her own piece of paper, each student will copy, draw, paraphrase, or write simple explanations which will help their group define the water cycle vocabulary word they received and give them as much contextual understanding of the word as possible.
  8. On the reverse side of their papers on which they gather information about their group’s given water cycle vocabulary word, each student will write the following as an exit/closure activity for Day 2:

    3--write 3 things that you saw
    2--write 2 things you know or learned
    1--write a question about anything you don’t understand related to the lessonNovice LEP students, as well as any other who may need to, may sketch instead of write their responses. Teacher will take up these papers and gather the 7 index cards with water cycle vocabulary words on them. These 7 index cards will be put back on the board for use in the next day’s lesson.

Day 3

Putting it all Together with the Water Cycle: How do the steps of the water cycle fit together?

  1. Teacher should review the 3-2-1 student exit activity from the previous day to see if students are understanding the concepts and vocabulary introduced. Any students who are having great difficulty should be given one-on-one attention to clarify and correct their misunderstandings.
  2. Teacher returns student papers from previous day (Day 2) and asks students to return to their water detective groups from Days 1 and 2.
  3. Teacher will refer to 7 index cards with water cycle vocabulary words on board (replaced from previous day’s lesson), pointing to and saying each word. Students will repeat each word after the teacher says it. Teachers may choose for students to tap out, clap out, chant, sing, or use any other strategies to anchor the words in students’ minds.
  4. Teacher will select students at random to point to examples in the room or describe examples of all 7 of the water cycle vocabulary words. Teacher will connect examples that student indicates or describes to the related area on the labeled water cycle chart.
  5. Students will work collaboratively about 15 minutes to create a presentation for the class which will define the water cycle vocabulary word they were given. Teacher may model an example of a presentation through a song, a poem, a skit, or any other medium of presentation. The form which student presentations may take are limited to only by what the teacher chooses or will allow.
  6. Students return to their seats and get out a sheet of paper and fold it to make 8 sections. Students will then label each section with one of the 7 water cycle vocabulary words on the board, and will put their name in the last (8th) block of the paper.
  7. Students will then begin giving their presentations one group at a time. As one group is performing, the other 6 groups will draw, note, or record any information that they gather from the group giving the presentation about the water cycle vocabulary word that is being performed (ex., students who are watching “precipitation” being performed may write down words such as “rain” or may draw pictures of clouds with water droplets beneath them).
  8. After all presentations have been performed, teacher will ask class to connect the information that was presented back to the labeled water cycle chart.
  9. Teacher models drawing a water cycle chart on the overhead projector, or may choose to fill in vocabulary on the blank water cycle chart).
  10. Students turn to the reverse sides of their paper folded into 8 sections and draw their own version of the water cycle, labeling each cycle with the correct water cycle vocabulary word.
  11. Teacher will collect papers.


  • participation during brainstorming exercises (Collaborative Work Skills LEP Student Communication Assessment rubric attached)
  • water detective sketches or photographs
  • completed water source flow chart graphic organizers
  • group work checksheet (Collaborative Work Skills LEP Student Communication Assessment rubric attached)
  • group presentations
  • written facts and illustrations from group presentations
  • 3-2-1 exit activity
  • labeled water cycle chart with student drawing on reverse

All items in this list which do not indicate an checksheet or rubric attached are to be assessed independently by the teacher using his or her own professional discretion.

Supplemental information

The teacher may wish to use images of bodies of water to make critical vocabulary of LEP students concrete using websites, magazines, encyclopedias, nonfiction texts, or other visual resources.


  • Use realia (actual objects)--teacher will show students a glass of water which is labeled “water” to begin the class discussion; students will form teams of “water detectives” and will seek out actual sources of water in the school environment (ex., water fountain, mud puddle, bathroom sink).
  • Use of visuals--teacher will show class pictures of water in different forms in the environment which are labeled (ex., rain, swimming pool, garden hose, ocean); websites, reference books, textbooks, and non-fiction books with picture support will be used in this lesson.
  • Collaborative grouping--students will work in teams consisting of mixed ability levels.
  • Vocabulary connection--teacher will write names of all water sources that students collect from the school environment on the board and put student photos/sketches up on the board near the written vocabulary word.
  • Use of non-verbal communication--Novice English language learners may draw their responses or use gestures to communicate their understanding on the water cycle graphic organizer used at the end of the lesson.
  • LEP students may work on critical vocabulary listed in the English Language Development Additional Information Critical Vocabulary for English Language Learners box above during dedicated ESL class time with the ESL teacher.It would benefit LEP students to group all synonyms on the “Water Cycle Critical Vocabulary Words” attached at the bottom of this document (ex. “lake,” “stream,” “river,” etc. should be grouped under “body of water” so that LEP students begin to connect vocabulary with concepts). The same kind of synonym activity can be used with different forms of precipitation (ex., snow, ice, rain).
  • Provide LEP students with the “LEP Water Cycle Vocabulary Words” list attached at the end of this document for use during each day of this lesson.
  • It would be beneficial for LEP students to label all objects on the blank water cycle chart that is completed near the end of this lesson (ex., clouds, river, rain, etc.) in addition to the processes of the water cycle (evaporation, condensation, precipitation, groundwater). Teachers may choose to use this modifications for all students since it would be of benefit as an anchor.
  • LEP students should be assessed with the “Water Cycle Presentation--LEP Students” rubric attached at the end of this document rather than the “Water Cycle Presentation” rubric which is designed for non-LEP students.

Alternative assessments

  • Checksheet to assess English Language Development objectives.
  • Acceptance of illustrated or gestured responses for water cycle graphic organizer.
  • LEP students should be assessed with the “Water Cycle Presentation--LEP Students” rubric attached at the end of this document rather than the “Water Cycle Presentation” rubric which is designed for non-LEP students.
  • ELD SCS LISTENING objectives will be assessed for LEP students using the following lesson activities:
    • class brainstorming activity
    • water source information gathering on school campus with assigned group
    • water cycle vocabulary station work with assigned group
    • water cycle group presentation
  • The listening component of these activities may be assessed for LEP students using the attached “Collaborative Work Skills LEP Student Communication Assessment” rubric.
  • ELD SCS Speaking objectives will be assessed with the following lesson activities:
    • class brainstorming activity
    • water source information gathering on school campus with assigned group
    • water cycle vocabulary station work with assigned group
    • water cycle group presentation (”Water Cycle Presentation--LEP Student” oral presentation rubric attached).
  • The speaking component of all of these activities EXCEPT the water cycle presentation may be assessed for LEP students using the attached “Collaborative Work Skills LEP Student Communication Assessment” rubric.
  • ELD SCS READING objectives will be assessed with the attached “Collaborative Work Skills LEP Student Communication Assessment” rubric.
  • ELD SCS WRITING objectives will be assessed with the attached “Collaborative Work Skills LEP Student Communication Assessment” rubric.

Critical vocabulary

water cycle, hydrologic cycle, ground water, surface water, sub-surface water, evaporation, condensation, precipitation, rain, body of water, river, stream, creek, pond, ocean, sea, lake, puddle, source, origin, aquifer, sun, sky, heat, moisture, clouds, droplets, snow, ice, up, down, rise, fall, earth, land, ground, soil, dirt, transpiration, accumulation, subsurface runoff, surface runoff


This lesson plan was developed during the English Language Development Standard Course of Study lesson planning institutes hosted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and LEARN NC, June and July, 2004. It includes specific strategies, instructional modifications, and alternative assessments which make this lesson accessible to limited English proficient students. Please note that this lesson has been aligned with the goals and objectives of the N.C. English Language Development

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Grade 5

        • 5.P.2 Understand the interactions of matter and energy and the changes that occur. 5.P.2.1 Explain how the sun’s energy impacts the processes of the water cycle (including, evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation and runoff). 5.P.2.2 Compare...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Development (2005)

  • Objective 0.01: Copy letters of the English alphabet and space letters appropriately.
  • Objective 0.02: Follow simple, one-step directions with modeling and prompting.
  • Objective 0.02: Use a variety of non-verbal communication strategies to express own ideas or thoughts with prompting and modeling (e.g., draw, play games).
  • Objective 0.02: Print first and last name with assistance.
  • Objective 0.03: Produce non-verbal responses to indicate comprehension of familiar text told or read aloud to them with prompting and modeling (e.g., pictures, drama).
  • Objective 0.03: Form letters, print words legibly, and copy simple sentences using correct spacing with modeling.
  • Objective 0.04: Listen to oral presentations, stories, and/or familiar texts told or read aloud and respond using physical actions and other means of non-verbal communication with modeling and prompting.
  • Objective 0.04: Draw pictures and use letters to write about experiences, stories, people, objects and events with direct instruction and assistance.
  • Objective 0.06: Recognize that books and other sources provide information through pictures and simple vocabulary.
  • Objective 0.06: Check copying for accuracy.
  • Science (2005)

    Grade 5

    • Goal 2: The learner will make observations and conduct investigations to build an understanding of landforms.
      • Objective 2.02: Investigate and discuss the role of the water cycle and how movement of water over and through the landscape helps shape land forms.