Lesson Plan

The Power of Water

Two children sit at the edge of a waterfall
Water shapes every aspect of our lives
NPS Photo - Andrea Willingham


Water shapes our everyday lives in many ways.  We use it to cook.  We use it to bathe.  We depend on it for food.  When it rains or storms it also affects our lives.  Let's find out what role water plays in climate change!


The student will be able to explain what happens when it storms and how that can affect our lives.


  1. Review the water cycle with students. Discuss how precipitation can cause changes in the Earth's surface. As part of the climate change traveling trunk there are posters of the water cycle with all of its components and some that are missing. Use these as you review the cycle.
  2. Secondly, review erosion with the students. Make sure they know that erosion is a wearing away of the soil from a patch of land. It can happen quickly or over a longer period of time.
  3. Ask the students to tell you what role wind plays in both the water cycle and erosion. Emphasize that wind can be causative factor in erosion. (Show pictures of the tors from Serpentine Hot Springs.) It also helps move water around in the water cycle.


  1. Modeling clay or Play-Doh
  2. Marshmallows
  3. Large flat container with raised sides (i.e. top of a Rubbermaid storage container or large roasting pan.)
  4. Food coloring
  5. Water
  6. Fan


NOTE: If your school is near the coast take the students to the coastline. If it has rained recently it is often possible to see evidence of tides and storm surges. Look for lines of debris along the coastline above the water or high tide line. This is evidence of a storm surge and will give students a perspective on how high water can rise. It also gives them a perspective on how water shapes their environment.

Inform the students that they are going to investigate storm surges and wind in today's activity. Ask them what a storm surge is. Storm surge is an abnormal rise in water impacting the shore over the projected astronomical tides. It happens as wind blows offshore water towards the coast. It is particularly harmful when it happens during high tide. Storm surges can heavily impact coastal areas. They can happen as part of large events like hurricanes or they can be associated with regular storms and rain. Storm surges, along with wind and erosion plays a large role in everyday Alaskan life. Ask them how many of their families live close to the ocean or a large body of water.

Have them take the modeling clay and build some areas on the Rubbermaid container. These areas simulate land. Because land occurs at different elevations, make sure that some of their land is very low and that some is higher. Have them take marshmallows and create some villages. The marshmallows simulate houses. Make them put some of the villages in the lowlands and some in the highlands. Discuss why people would choose to live in these areas. Living in the lowlands close to water would allow people access to transportation and food sources. Living on the higher ground might mean an escape from bugs or proximity to other food sources.

Place some tap water into a large container. Use the food coloring to color it blue. Pour it into the Rubbermaid container until some of the land is covered. Ask the students if they made wise choices about the placement of their villages.

Add in some more water. This can simulate the rise of the oceans, the rising tide or a very wet and rainy season. Have them analyze their choices again. (If the marshmallows are floating on the water, that models houses that have been flooded and washed off their foundations.)

Add in a new twist. Hook up the fan. Have it begin blowing. Blow it from a couple of different directions. Ask the students if they made a wise choice now? (Hopefully, they will have some houses on the lee side of a mountain.) Ask the students how the water and wind has shaped the villages in their little world.

According to scientists, glaciers in Alaska are melting and sea ice is also melting quicker than it did 100 years ago. How might melted glaciers and the lack of sea ice affect storm surges? Can ice create a storm surge when wind blows (not to the same effect as it does on blowing water)? Also, according to the EPA, climate change will bring about more storms for coastal areas. This means that we will see an increase in storm surges affecting these areas.

To reinforce some real world examples bring up Solomon, Alaska. The island was flooded in 1913 and had to move. Students can also investigate Shaktoolik and the impact weather has had on that village. For many northern villages like Shishmaref, the loss of sea ice is exposing the village to more storm surges. This is leading to an increase in erosion.

A good National Geographic video relating to storm surges is available on Youtube. The web address is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTvkrLESrwU&feature=fvwrel&safety_mode=true&persist_safety_mode=1. It may be helpful to show this to the students after the experiment to see how storm surges look in real life.


  1. Have students review the water cycle once again.
  2. Have students review erosion.
  3. Ask students to list ways that water impacts their physical environment

Park Connections

In Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, the power of water can be seen in the way it has eroded away the tors at Serpentine Hot Springs with wind and rain.

A tor at Serpentine, an example of erosion

Additional Resources


Water cycle
Storm Surge
Ground water