ALEX Lesson Plan


Where's the Water?

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Kathy Perkins
System: Tuscaloosa City
School: Tuscaloosa City Board Of Education
The event this resource created for:NASA
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 34789


Where's the Water?


The majority of Earth's surface is covered by water, but only a small percentage of this water is freshwater.  In this lesson, students will learn where saltwater and freshwater are found.  Then they will use models to show the distribution of different types of water in different reservoirs and depict this information using bar graphs and pie charts.  Finally, they will use their data as evidence to support the idea that freshwater should be conserved.

This lesson was created as part of the 2016 NASA STEM Standards of Practice Project, a collaboration between the Alabama State Department of Education and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 5
15 ) Identify the distribution of freshwater and salt water on Earth (e.g., oceans, lakes, rivers, glaciers, ground water, polar ice caps) and construct a graphical representation depicting the amounts and percentages found in different reservoirs.

Insight Unpacked Content
Scientific And Engineering Practices:
Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
Crosscutting Concepts: Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
Disciplinary Core Idea: Earth's Systems
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Describe and graph the amounts of salt water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • Fresh water
  • Salt water
  • Oceans
  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Glaciers
  • Ground water
  • Polar ice caps
  • Reservoir
  • Graph
Students know:
  • Nearly all of Earth's available water is in the ocean.
  • Most fresh water is in glaciers or underground; only a tiny fraction is in streams, lakes, wetlands, and the atmosphere.
Students are able to:
  • Graph the given data (using standard units) about the amount of salt water and the amount of fresh water in each of the following reservoirs, as well as in all the reservoirs combined, to address a scientific question:
    • Oceans.
    • Lakes.
    • Rivers.
    • Glaciers.
    • Ground water.
    • Polar ice caps.
  • Use the graphs of the relative amounts of total salt water and total fresh water in each of the reservoirs to describe that:
    • The majority of water on Earth is found in the oceans.
    • Most of the Earth's fresh water is stored in glaciers or underground.
    • A small fraction of fresh water is found in lakes, rivers, wetlands, and the atmosphere.
Students understand that:
  • Standard units are used to measure and describe physical quantities such as the amounts of salt water and fresh water in various reservoirs.
AMSTI Resources:
AMSTI Module:
Dynamics of Ecosystems

NAEP Framework
NAEP Statement::
E4.10: The supply of many Earth resources such as fuels, metals, fresh water, and farmland is limited. Humans have devised methods for extending the use of Earth resources through recycling, reuse, and renewal.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.5.15- Identify the distribution of freshwater and saltwater on Earth (e.g., oceans, lakes, rivers, glaciers, ground water, polar ice caps).

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

The students will:

  • use water to model the distribution of freshwater and saltwater on Earth.
  • create pie charts to show the percentages of water found in different reservoirs.
  • use data regarding the distribution and amount of freshwater on Earth to support water conservation.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

Greater than 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

  • Inflatable globes (1 for each group of 4-5 students)
  • Gallon jug
  • Water
  • Pipette/dropper
  • Food coloring
  • Protractors (one for each student)
  • chart paper
  • clear plastic cups
  • copies of NASA handouts (p. 1 for each group of 4-5 students; p. 2 for every student)
  • copies of water graphing handout for each student (see Attachments section)
  • one color copy of NASA handouts p. 3-5 OR project these images during the lesson
  • paper, pencils, crayons, markers
  • 100 mL graduated cylinders (one for each group; at least 5 total)
  • salt
  • Book: One Well: The Story of Water on Earth
  • Optional: calculators, books included in Extension section

Technology Resources Needed:

Computer with Internet access and projector for showing videos, photos, and websites



Engage (15 minutes):

Divide the class into groups of 4-5 students.  Each group needs a piece of chart paper and markers.  Give each group five minutes to list all the places water is found on Earth.  Tell students to circle the source on their list that they think contains the most water, and have groups discuss what type of water is found in this location and why they think it has the most water.  

Have students create a pie chart that shows what they think is on the earth’s surface in terms of land and water.  (If students are not familiar with pie charts, explain that the entire circle is the whole pie or 100%.  Put a dot in the center of the circle and divide the circle in half.  Each half represents 50%.  Divide each half into five equal slices.  Each slice then represents 10% of the total pie.  Have students color the slices that represent land green and the slices that represent the water blue.)  Students should label the pie chart and write the percentages of their predictions in a key.  Hang charts around the room. Discuss the similarities and differences in groups’ predictions.

Explore (30 minutes):

Show students pictures of Earth (p. 3-5 of NASA Mission Geography handouts)  Discuss why Earth is often called “the blue planet.”  Identify what the different colors in the pictures represent. 

Give each group of students an inflatable globe and a copy of p. 1 of NASA Mission Geography handouts.  Have students find the oceans and continents on the globe.  Have students roll or toss the inflatable globe 100 times and tally where the student’s pointer finger touches on each catch. (Have students rotate the recording job every 10 tosses so each student in the groups has a turn to record and toss.) 

After 100 tosses, have students find the total number of water catches by adding up the ocean tallies.  Find the total number of land catches by adding up the continent tallies.  Convert these totals into percentages of the entire Earth’s surface.  Discuss: Did every group get the same percentages?  Why or why not?  Were the groups’ results close?  What does this tell us about Earth’s surface?

Give each student p.2 of NASA Mission Geography handouts.  Have students answer the questions and make a pie chart of their data.  Compare it to the groups’ original graphs to determine whether their predictions were accurate.  A full description of this activity can be found at  

Explain (30 minutes):

Explain that even though most of Earth is covered by water, only a small part of it is freshwater. We know saw that most of Earth’s water is in oceans, which is saltwater.  Pour 100 ML water into a graduated cylinder.  This represents all Earth’s water (100%).  Pour 3 ML of that water into a second graduated cylinder.  This represents Earth’s freshwater.  The remaining 97% (97 ML) is saltwater.  (Add a pinch of salt to that water.)  Have students discuss the implications of such as small percentage of water available for drinking, farming, washing, and all other human uses.  Have students make a bar graph representing this distribution on the handout in the attachments section.

Use Wiki How tutorial to explain how to create a pie chart of the same information or use this procedure: Draw a radius in the circle.  Ask students how many degrees are in a full circle (360).  Tell them to multiply the percentage (expressed as a decimal) by the number of degrees in a circle (360) using the calculators to see how many degrees of the circle represent fresh and salt water.  Model how to measure the number of degrees for each slice of the pie.  Have students color in and label sections for freshwater and saltwater.

Watch NASA “Show Me the Water” video.

Use a gallon of colored water to represent all the water in the world.  Divide the class into 6 groups with each group representing one source of water: ice, groundwater, lakes, swamps, rivers, and oceans.  Divide water among groups based on each source (ice: 20.6 mL, groundwater: 9.0 mL, lakes: 0.08 mL, swamps: 0.01 mL - roughly 5 drops, rivers: 0.002 mL - roughly 1 drop, and the rest stays in the jug to represent oceans).  For a full description of this activity, see “A Drop of Water in Your Cup” from the California Academy of Sciences.  Have students discuss anything that is surprising about the distribution.

Elaborate (30 minutes):

Read One Well: The Story of Water on Earth.  Discuss how the percentage of freshwater on Earth is so small that water is a scarce resource in some areas.  Have students create a model of where Earth’s freshwater is using colored water graduated cylinders. Explain that the lakes, swamps, and rivers are all surface water, so pour the liquid from those cups in the previous demonstration into one cup.  Explain that the students will use 100 ML of water to show where all this freshwater is on Earth.

Each group needs a 100 mL graduated cylinder, three clear plastic cups, colored water, three index cards, and a graphing sheet (from the Attachments section). 

  • Measure 12 mL water into a clear plastic cup.  This will represent the amount of available surface water.  Write “Surface Water” on an index card and place it next to this cup.
  • Measure 27 mL water into a second cup and label it “Ground Water.”
  • The remaining water (61 mL) represents water in glaciers and ice caps.

Have students graph data (bar graph and pie chart form) and use their graphs as evidence to construct an argument that water should be conserved.

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Assessment Strategies


During the activity, the teacher will assess if students:

  • used water to model the distribution of freshwater and saltwater on Earth.
  • created pie charts to show the percentages of water found in different reservoirs.
  • used data regarding the distribution and amount of freshwater on Earth to support water conservation.

Evaluate students’ graphs and arguments for water conservation using this rubric.


Students can participate in a service-learning project by conducting research on the global water crisis using the following books or websites:

Following their research, have students plan a fundraiser to help provide clean water to communities lacking access, or they can create a poster, digital presentation, or website to promote water conservation in their school, home, and neighborhood.

Students can extend their vocabulary and ability to communicate about water by playing the “Stay Out of Hot Water” game described on p. 12 of this lesson from


Group students strategically so struggling students will have peer tutors.

Interactive website for preview or review of concepts:

Read about drinking water and play a game to review percentages of types and locations of water on Earth:

Additional videos for preview or review of concepts:

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.