Lesson Plan

Sea Level Rise: Climate Change

Students learn about how sea level rise is being caused by melting ice sheets.

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
2.RI.9, 2.SL.2, 2.W.7
State Standards:
State: FL
Subject: Science
Grade Levels: 4-6
Next Generation Florida Sunshine State Standards
Additional Standards:
Next Generation Science:
2-ESS1-1. Make observations from media to construct an evidence-based account that Earth events can occur quickly or slowly.
2-ESS2.A – Wind and water can change the shape of the land
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. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.


1. Show what happens to sea level when ice sheets melt.
2. Show what happens to sea level when icebergs melt.
3. Connect sea level changes in Miami to icesheets melting.
4. Explain that sea level changes are caused by melting/freezing of ice sheets in Antarctica/Greenland.
5. Show that communities in Florida will be affected by sea level rise.
6. Realize that South Florida has been under water many times in the geologic past.
7. Discuss ways communities can mitigate/adapt to sea level rise.


Our "Climate Change" unit is broken into three lesson plans, each taking 60 to 90 minutes to complete, and targeted mainly at fifth and sixth grade students. A class needn't complete every lesson in the unit, though some lessons do refer to one another and are better done in sequence. However, each lesson comes with its own set of objectives and resources.

Ice floating in the ocean, which then melts, does not raise sea level. However, ice sitting on land, which then melts and flows into the ocean, does raise sea level. This activity is designed to show the difference between melting icebergs and melting ice sheets. Students will build replicas of Florida and then simulate melting icebergs and melting ice sheets. Students will observe the difference in sea level rise by measuring the distance the water level has risen in the iceberg container and then measuring the distance water has risen in the ice sheet container.


The teacher should review the procedure and gather the materials needed to complete the activity.


Displays the development of the Florida coastline from 36 million years ago to today.

Download Florida's ancient coastlines

Shows students the difference between the two, making it easier for them to identify the effects of each one on sea levels.

Download Icebergs vs. Ice sheets

Shows the global position of Greenland and Antarctica in relation to Florida to help students understand that what happens in these places on opposite poles of the Earth has world wide consequences.

Download World map

Lesson Hook/Preview

Have students find the Arctic ice caps (not a land mass), Greenland and Antarctica (both are big landmasses covered in ice) and Florida on the globe. Explain the differences between Arctic icebergs, and Antarctica/Greenland ice sheets. Explain that Antarctica is a continent covered with ice sheets, and the Arctic ice caps are ice floating in the ocean. In places, Antarctica is covered by tens of thousands of feet of ice. Let them compare the size of Antarctica with the USA. Talk about icebergs being in the water, and ice sheets being on land. Also talk about how South Florida’s sea level has fluctuated throughout geologic history.


Step 1: Divide the students into two groups. Group #1 = effects on Florida of icebergs melting. Group #2 = effects on Florida of ice sheets melting. Give each group a large plastic container, an upside-down plastic bowl, and small plastic toys if available. (Having a hole pre-punched into the plastic bowls allows them to stay in the water better, or you can use a colander.)

Step 2: Tell each group that they are going to find out how environments are connected to each other through climate change.

Step 3: Each group places one upside down bowl at the bottom of their large shallow container – this one upside-down bowl is “Florida.”

Step 4: Group #2 then places a second upside down salad bowl at the bottom of its shallow container. This second bowl is “Antarctica.”

Step 5: Pour equal amounts of water into containers #1 and #2 – this represents the world’s ocean. Pour the water so that it stops about 1⁄2 inch from the top of the upside-down salad bowls.

Step 6: Add the ice for group #1 to container #1 only. The water level will rise a bit with the addition of ice: try to have the final water level no more than 1⁄4 inch from top of the bowl. All of this will depend on the amount of ice you’re using and the size of the large shallow container.

Step 7: Have students on both groups mark this water level/sea level with a dry erase marker on the side of their “Florida” upside-down salad bowl.

Step 8: Using any plastic toys provided, have each group create its own Florida landscapes on top of their upside-down salad bowl (houses, animals, cities, farms, roads, etc). Mark a city on the edge (coastline) of their bowl.

Step 9: For group #2 only, place their block of ice on top of their second upside-down bowl. This represents all the ice sheets on top of land masses like Antarctica or Greenland.

Step 10: Wait for the icebergs and ice sheets to melt. Go do another activity and come back, or place a heat lamp acting as the sun over the icebergs in #1 and Ice Sheets in #2 until the ice has melted.

Step 11: Look at the water level marks in both containers. Is the water level now higher, lower, or the same? – the “sea level” will not have changed in group #1. This is because ice cubes already displaced the ocean water and as the icebergs melted, and no more water was added to the oceans.

Step 12: The "sea level” will be higher in group #2's container. This is because the melting ice-sheets on land added extra water to the oceans. What happened to their cities as the water rose in group #2?

Step 13: Have students in the Ice Sheet in #2 group mark and measure the new water line, so they can determine how much the water has risen.

Step 14: Compare and contrast the effect of melting icebergs and melting ice sheets. (Note: if the teacher saw the ice cubes in group #1 displace the initial water level by one inch while setting up the activity, then the ice sheets melting should have flooded Florida in group #2 by one inch too). The students’ harbors, beaches, resorts, Miami, etc. should be underwater. Water already in the ocean no matter what form (solid, liquid) has the same amount of displacement. However, melting ice on land will add more water to the ocean.

Step 15: Melting icebergs won’t raise sea level, but melting ice sheets on land will raise sea level. Reiterate that climate change will not flood Florida overnight, but in geologic history there has been a pattern of total flooding in South Florida. We already are having higher flooding tides in South Beach.


1. Sea level: the level of the sea's surface.

2. Antarctica: a continent around the South Pole, situated mainly within the Antarctic Circle and almost entirely covered by ice sheets.

3. Greenland: a large island that lies to the northeast of North America, mostly within the Arctic Circle.

4. Ice sheet: a permanent layer of ice covering an extensive tract of land, esp. a polar region.

5. Iceberg: a large floating mass of ice detached from a glacier or ice sheet and carried out to sea.

Assessment Materials

Evaluation questions

The material will be used at the end of the lesson to assess student understanding and see if the instructional objectives were met.

  • Does what happens in Antarctica stay in Antarctica? Why or Why not?

  • Why did this happen? Why didn’t the icebergs melting cause a higher sea level?

  • In what other locations is ice melting on land? (glaciers)

  • What would happen to you if you lived/hunted on the arctic now that it’s melting? (You lose your habitat – polar bears/Inuit cultures)

  • What’s more of a problem: melting Arctic icebergs, or melting ice-sheets on Antarctica/Greenland?

  • Can you find other places in the map where rising sea level will flood the coastline? (Bangladesh, Venice, the Maldives, Tuvalu, Kiribati, other Pacific Islands)

  • Will this happen overnight, or over your lifetime? (over your lifetime)

  • What can you do to plan/mitigate/adapt for this?

  • What’s causing ice-sheets to melt?

  • If sea level has risen in Florida before, what is different about it this time? (Millions of people live here now. Billions of dollars of property and investments are based on the assumption that sea level is always the same)

Additional Resources

A Student's Guide to Global Climate Change: Coastal Areas

South Florida/Carribean Network: Climate Change Resource Brief

Satellite maps of Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt

Related Lessons or Education Materials

Everglades Climate Change for Kids

Contact Information

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Last updated: May 21, 2015