The Water Cycle NGSS MS ESS2-4


We begin this unit with the resource students are most familiar with: Water!


In The Water Cycle mini unit, students track their personal water use and research where their local water comes from. Then, they build their own personal water cycle using everyday materials.


Extension activities challenge students to develop, build and test a self-contained water filtering system to clean dirty water.

Anchor Phenomenon Ideas: Find a local article about recent droughts, review the rainfall data for your area over the past few decades, invite a local farmer (in person or virtually) to talk about how the lack of rain has impacted their crops or review the National Drought Website (NIDIS). After reading, analyzing and/or listening, use the questions your students come up with to make connections throughout your water cycle unit.

Make it Relevant: Focus on where your local comes from to make the science of the water cycle relevant for students. For example, St. Paul Regional Water Services in Minnesota has a video and interactive Story to follow the path local drinking water takes from the Mississippi River to a faucet in a student's home.

Tips and Tricks: Because this is often the first unit taught, fairly specific lab directions are provided in the student packet - including how to use the TARE function on a digital scale. For question four, students can add heat energy to their ice cube with a flashlight, sunny windowsill, hair dryer, hot plate or any heat source you have on hand. We’ve even had kids shake the ice cube in the beaker to create heat through friction!

Start collecting recycled containers of all shapes and sizes for students to build their own models of the water cycle for the summative assessment: Trays and large bins to hold entire models, smaller plastic containers to represent lakes and ponds. You’ll also need sand and/or rocks to represent land, foil and plastic wrap to work as an atmosphere and a heat source.


To make “dirty” water to filter for the engineering project, we recommend a good dose of sand mixed with coffee grounds! If you do add soil, be prepared for some funky smelling water as the bacteria grow.

Enrichment Ideas: Help students visualize what happens when pollution is introduced into the water cycle using a simple, Enviroscape model you can paint and use. This watershed model shows how water flows over different surfaces and just how wide spread pollution can quickly become. If you are a Maker, you can create your own model with a large tub, newspaper, foil, plastic wrap and food dye to signify pollution.