Lesson Plan

Scrubbing Your Water Clean!

Leaves on a water-covered rock.
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Science,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
State Standards:
Common Core Georgia Performance Standards: ELACC4W4, ELACC4W10, SCI.4.1.D.4, S4CS8 a, S4E3, & S5E1
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

Why is clean water important? What can you do to help clean water?


Students will be able to:

Explain how the components of soil can cleanse the water (both groundwater as well as rainwater.)
Explain how the forest canopy provides cleansing for the rain as it filters down to the soil.
Create a filter that can clean water of a majority of impurities given basic supplies.
Write about their filter and the steps needed for creation of filter.


Teacher will need to understand the tree canopy and how this filters rain and takes out many of the impurities that are in the rain due to pollution in the air. The teacher will also need to have a rudimentary understanding of the ways that a natural aquifer works as well as how we make versions of these to function as cleansers for our water systems.


  • A Raindrop’s Journey by Suzanne Slade
  • Water by Frank Asch

Lesson Hook/Preview

This lesson will teach children about the importance of clean water and the ways in which nature and humans can help clean water of the pollution and other impurities that are often present. Children will be able to engineer a water filtration device from given supplies that will be able to filter impurities from “polluted” water.


Teacher will need to have the bucket already full of clean water from a faucet before beginning your lesson. Teacher will have students gather in a formation that will allow them see items being placed/poured into the bucket.

As you begin you will reference the land where the CREEC is located. Ask them what they would hypothesize that this land was used for in the past.

Explain that a very long time ago; the land was used by the Native Americans that lived in this area of Georgia. This land was eventually used as farmland for many generations. Have conversations about what the land might have looked like had it been a farm (no forest of trees, large cleared fields, homestead/farmhouse area, barns, etc.). This is a set up to have them thinking about some of the changes the land went through and will help them as the water becomes “polluted” in the bucket.

Take a clear plastic cup and have a student come up to dip it into the bucket. The water will be clear and clean. Ask if they would be willing to drink this water.

Explain that this is how our water systems used to be, clean and able to be used for drinking water.

When farmers began to settle the area, they would have needed to cut/clear trees in order to create their homes and fields. When this took place saw dust would have been created and would have made its way to the streams/creeks/rivers around the area. Have a student come to the table and pour a prefilled cup full of corn meal into the bucket. Stir this up and then have the student dip another clear cup into the mixture. Briefly discuss the changes we can see to the water with just this added.

Next discuss that the clearing of trees would have caused a big change in the landscape. Have students discuss what they think the changes would have been. Would there have been erosion, etc. from the lack of tree and plant roots? There would have been, where would the soil go as it was pushed along by rainwater and irrigation methods of the day? It would have also been running into our streams/creeks and rivers. This would cause its own set of problems with this soil settling into the river beds. Have a student come up and empty a pre-filled cup full of top soil. Stir this and have them dip a clear glass out of the mixture now. Notice the changes and the fact that we wouldn’t really want to drink this mixture at this point. However, it still has hope of going through the process of sedimentation and settling to the bottom… leaving the clear water on the top to be used by the residents of the area.

Continue to discuss the fact that farmers want to have the best and largest crops that they can achieve. This enables them to continue to make a good profit. Ask if students know how a farmer could achieve this growth? If they don’t know, then help them understand fertilizers/soil additives/ and insecticides. Have a student come up. Give them a pre-filled cup of vinegar. Ask what they see inside. It is clear, and looks harmless (as do many chemicals). Ask them to smell this, much like many chemicals that we use to kill bugs, or grow our crops it has a bad smell. Ask about the bug spray they use for mosquitoes or other such sprays. They should admit that it stinks/smells like chemicals… though most often you can't see them. Have the student pour this into the bucket as a representative of this type of chemical. Explain that when it rains or there is irrigation, these chemicals can run off into our streams/creeks/rivers. This continues today with our lawns, farms, and other such types of areas.

Students should be told that we are going to move forward many years from just the basic farmland. Ask students how many of them are wearing clean clothes or have taken a bath/shower in the past few days. Ask them what they use to clean their clothes or their bodies. Soap is the natural answer. Explain that not all people are responsible with the flow from their washing machines and that sometimes there are leaks in the sewer pipes. Due to this we often find that we get soap residue in our water. This can also come from factories and other kinds of places (restaurant etc.) that use a lot of cleaning supplies. Ask a student to come up to take a pre-filled cup full of hand soap. Have him dump this in the water. Stir the water and have the student take a new sample of the water in a clear cup.  The water is getting progressively dirtier and it is no pretty noticeable… This is not the water that we started with in our first cup.

Now we have much more clearing and lots of homes being built. People are using the river for a lot more recreational purposes instead of just for sources of water and food. We have a lot of boats and other water craft on the water for fun. We also have cars on all of our roads and parking in our parking lots. All of the exhaust from the cars and the oil and gas in engines of all kinds create their own toxic mixture. Discuss the rainbows they have probably admired in a parking lot rain puddle… if they don’t know what that really is explain that it is a sign of pollution. Have a student come up and take the pre-filled cup of vegetable oil and add it to the water mixture. Explain how you see oil in water… it is easy since it doesn't mix well. Have the student take the final water sample from the bucket and put it in a clear cup.

You will need to divide students into small groups of four or five for the next part of the lesson.

Students will go to the next step of cleaning this water. We are going to use a mixture of natural and man-made materials to clean our water the best we are able. We have two goals.

  1. Keep as much of the water as possible when moving it from one glass to another.
  2. Make the water as clean as possible.

Give each group of students the following items:

  • 1 funnel
  • A handful of cotton balls
  • A cut piece of felt/ 3 coffee filters
  • A cup full of sand
  • A cup full of pea gravel
  • Two 16 oz clear cups
  • One 16 oz cup of the “polluted” water from the bucket.

Have students write their hypothesis about cleaning this water, is it possible, how will they use their materials in order to be able to clean it in the best possible way. Statements in an if/then format could be entered. If we put our materials in this way … then I believe that … . will take place. Once their hypothesis has been entered students should begin their building of the filter. Remind them of the two goals.Students should take time during the process to document what they are doing, what changes they are seeing, and if this changes their hypothesis in one direction or another. Once each group has completed their filtering process take time to discuss their findings. Once discussion is complete have students take time to write a conclusion in their journal. This entry should also include some labeled diagrams, and drawings to show their audience. Teacher can use chart paper to write/draw an example of what a good entry would look like to use as an example.


spring, filter, aquifer, creek, wetland, matter, water vapor, evaporation, condensation, precipitation, collection, accumulation, clouds, atmosphere, run-off, pollution, meteorologist, weather, climate, non-point source and point source pollution

Assessment Materials

Students will create a filter that will be able to effectively clean all debris and much of the chemicals from their water.

Additional Resources

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area plays an important part in the natural cleansing of the Atlanta Metro Areas water. In particular, the C.R.E.E.C. has several creeks, natural springs, and the actual river on site. This lends to a natural wetlands area that, with the current protections afforded, will be able to provide natural filtering of water before it flows into the river. Students are able to see first-hand the ways in which our rain water and groundwater are filtered to remove impurities without chemicals.

If lesson is taught in outdoor area with access to wetlands: Students can go outside and determine where rain water would naturally settle based on the settling of the soils and the naturally eroded water pathways they are able to see. They are then able to determine the resources there that would help to cleanse the water.

If taught at C.R.E.E.C. students can go on a hike and go off the main trails to the wetland areas to observe the natural sifting and cleansing properties of the creeks. They will also be able to see the spring which is the beginning of one of the creeks. They are able to see how the water simply filters through the ground and wells up into a flowing water source. This allows for more conversation about the filtering processes in nature as well as the natural erosion patterns caused by the destructive properties of water.

A site for students to visit which gives more information( in child-friendly formats) about filtering water and keeping our water clean so that it will be healthy for us.

Contact Information

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Last updated: November 2, 2018