Lesson Plan

East Coast and West Coast Estuaries: Compare and Contrast

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Grade Level:
High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade
Science,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:

Essential Question

What are the major similarities and differences between East and West Coast estuaries, in terms of local ecology, habitat and geology?


The student will be able to organize details about two estuaries on opposite coasts in a way that highlights how the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound are similar and how they are different. Given prompts, students will research, collect and organize details in a chart type format.


Teachers should be familiar with ecological processes in aquatic systems such as nutrient cycles.


1. Internet access and devices per student or group such as iPads, Chromebooks etc.
2. Digital or paper copies of blank compare contrast template, link provided.
3. Ability for teacher to show 2 video clips or ability for students to view on their own (links below).
4. Rubric for assessment of compare contrast activity (can be provided to students for guidance), link provided.
5. List of suggested resources for student research, link provided.
6. Answer key for compare contrast activity, typically for teacher use only, link provided.


Provides structure for student responses. Blank Compare and Contrast chart.

Download Compare and Contrast Charts: Blank

A teachers edition or sample of a completed Compare/Contrast sheet.

Download Compare and Contrast Charts: Completed Sample

A list of websites to help students find answers to compare and contrast exercise.

Download Compare/Contrast: Suggested Resources

Download Compare/Contrast Rubric

Lesson Hook/Preview

Invite students to explore Google Street View of Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay and the Elwha River Fishview: Both sites give students an excellent sense of being in the environment and habitat for each estuary. Note: the Puget Sound system includes portions of Olympic National Park and the Elwha River https://www.eopugetsound.org/articles/geographic-boundaries-puget-sound-and-salish-sea
Tangier Island:
Elwha River Fishview:


1. Lesson hook, Google Street View Tangier Island and Elwha River Fishview (links above).
2. Ask students to write a short summary of their observations on the two areas. Mention blue crabs and salmon as two food items that many students will have eaten and which estuary they are native to.
3. Challenge students to investigate these two bodies of water in an ecological compare and contrast activity. Use the following link to choose a graphic organizer as a template:
At a minimum students should have the following categories to compare and contrast:
1. East coast or west coast location
2. General shape of the estuary
3. Average depth of water
4. Miles of shoreline
5.. Average water temp
6. Nitrogen loads
7. Typical aquatic animals present
8. Top pollution issues
9. Optional, geological formation
Students can submit compare contrast charts on paper or digitally. It is suggested that students work in Google Docs and use the Explore feature to easily add citations to their chart. For more information on Google Docs Explore:


  • Estuary: An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea
  • Bay: A bay is a recessed, coastal body of water that directly connects to a larger main body of water, such as an ocean, lake, or another bay.
  • Sound: a sound is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay and wider than a fjord.
  • Nitrogen Cycle: the biogeochemical cycle by which nitrogen is converted into various chemical forms as it circulates among the atmosphere, terrestrial, and marine ecosystems. The conversion of nitrogen can be carried out through both biological and physical processes.
  • Glacier: a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight; it forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation (melting and sublimation) over many years, often centuries.
  • Tectonic plate: solid pieces of Earth's crust and uppermost mantle, together referred to as the lithosphere.
  • Erosion: the action of surface processes (such as water flow or wind) that remove soil, rock, or dissolved material from one location on the Earth's crust, then transport it away to another location.
  • Watershed: an area of land where surface water collects and converges.
  • Salmon: The common name for several species of ray-finned fish in the family Salmonidae, including salmon, trout, char, grayling and whitefish. Typically, salmon are anadromous: they are born in freshwater, migrate to the ocean, then return to freshwater to reproduce.
  • Oysters: the common name for a number of different families of saltwater bivalve mollusks that live in marine or brackish habitats. In some species the valves are highly calcified, and many are somewhat irregular in shape

Assessment Materials

Rubric for Compare and Contrast: Puget Sound and the Chesapeake Bay

Provide assessment structure for teacher and guidance for students on lesson requirements. Teachers can also use the answer key for assistance in verifying accuracy of student responses.

Teachers may use the rubric provided in the lesson materials section for assessment and student feedback. Students can have access to the rubric to assist in work completion. In general, teachers will determine whether or not:
1. Student has demonstrated authentic research using internet resources and relies on accurate sources of information and websites.
2. Students may work in groups as long as they are contributing to the research. If working in groups each student contributes information on at least 2 items.
3. Each student (even if working in groups) submits a compare contrast chart either on paper or a digital version.
4. The chart has the minimum of 8 categories (as listed above) with accurate information for both the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound.
5. Student may or may not attempt the optional category (no penalty either way).

Supports for Struggling Learners

The assignment can be adjusted by reducing the number of compare and contrast categories required (example 6 instead of 8). Students can also work in groups instead of individually.

Enrichment Activities

Excelling learners can work on the optional geological formation pieces for the two estuaries.
Excelling learners could also work on a digital version of the compare contrast chart where they provide scrambled boxes containing correct answers that other students (such as struggling students) can click and drag into one one of two columns for the two estuaries. 

Contact Information

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Last updated: April 14, 2020