Stepping into the River—In Service to Our Rivers

6, 7, 8

This lesson explores the roles of government, nonprofits, businesses/farms and households in responding to water quality issues. Students will review why water is a scarce natural resource, human causes of water pollution, and possible agents of change in water quality. Students will then identify what it is that each sector can do to be an agent of change. Finally, students will investigate nonprofit organizations involved in safeguarding waterways and become proactive in efforts to act as stewards.

Lesson Rating 
PrintSix Forty-Five Minute Class Periods, Five Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods and Four Block Periods

The learners will:

  • define "scarcity" and demonstrate water as a scarce natural resource.
  • identify ways that water meets a basic need in all sectors.
  • identify causes of water pollution, its effects, and how the four sectors (households, government, nonprofits, business/farms) act as agents of change.
  • relate solutions to water pollution.
  • complete a portfolio titled "Healthy Water."
  • design a presentation which summarizes findings.
  • identify a nonprofit public interest group in the community or nearby communities involved in environmental improvement.
  • compose a grammatical and structurally correct letter to an individual in government or industry, who can act as an agent for change, seeking support of improving water quality.
  • design and participate in a service-learning activity demonstrating effective service, reflection and evaluation.
  • Student copies of 
  1. Quick Quiz on Water Facts
  2. A Common Natural Resource—Improving Our Water Quality
  3. Problems Facing Our Rivers
  • Computer lab or access to library or media center
  • Presentation software
  • Pledge card
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: Students will bring the "River Keeper's Pledge Card" home to inform parents of the commitment students have made.


Pre- service: Draw a picture of what they believe a river looks like before cleaning it up and a picture after it is cleaned up. Write captions for each.

During the service: Write how they chose the group or individual they selected to write a letter of support.

After the service: Tape their feelings about becoming involved in public nonprofit environmental groups. Did they change their attitudes after becoming active participants?
Make pledge cards of support to display in school or classroom.


Alexander, Jeff (ed). "The Muskegon River: An Unnatural Wonder." Muskegon Chronicle: 1999, Sept. 15-19.

Muskegon River Watershed Assembly.   

River Network Partner List by State. 


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Assign students to teams of two. Hand out "Quick Quiz on Water Facts." Read the introduction to the students. Then, have them use what they already know to guess which statements are true or false in the quiz. Review the answers, using the quiz as a teaching tool about scarcity and opportunity cost.

  2. Day One:

    On the board, project a picture of the water basin in which you live. Tell students that each team will receive a symbol that represents a problem our rivers face. Students should try to identify the symbol, and then look on the back for its name, as well as a question they must answer about the symbol.

    Then, hand out a symbol to each student and read the directions on the back. Teacher instructions for the cutouts are found on Problems Facing Our Rivers. Allow 25 minutes for partner discussion/research, during which teams will need access to "The Muskegon River: Unnatural Wonder" (see Bibliographical References) and the Internet. If you are not in the Muskegon River area, guide learners to research a river watershed closest to them.

  3. Ask each team to come forward and place their symbol on the river's edge. Before presenting, remind students that they will be asked to recall one of these presentations in front of the class tomorrow. 

    Student One will explain what the symbol represents and one impact this symbol has on waterways; Student Two will explain a second impact on our waterways. 

    Five minutes before the end of the class session, have the learners reflect in writing or drawing with caption what they learned and what they felt this day. 

  4. Day Two

    To review, teams are assigned a symbol other than their own to reflect on and report back to the class. Allow the original team to critique their review. Teams who recall well receive appropriately-themed Lifesaver© candies or another such award of your choice.

    Read about the Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis in 2015 in which an entire city was affected by a policy decision that polluted the community's water. Discuss the impact on health and trust. Discuss how important it is to have clean water. Discuss how the sectors responded before, during, and after the crisis.

    Then, hand out A Common Natural Resource—Improving Our Water Quality. Discuss the four sectors of society and generate examples of each. Assign each team a category; tell them they have 15 minutes to scan, "The Muskegon River: Unnatural Wonder" (see Bibliographical References) and find any examples of how each sector of society has or might influence waterway quality. 

  5. When 15 minutes are up, allow five more minutes for students to prepare to explain their findings to the class. Post four charts on which each presenter will write.

    Instruct students to have one student present while the other writes notes that the class will copy.

    Allow five minutes of reflection for this session. Add it to Day One reflection.

  6. Days Three and Four

    Give each student a 5" x 8" paper as they enter class. Tell them to draw one thing that a sector from yesterday (government, business & farms, nonprofits and families) can do to improve waterway quality. Have them then post their picture next to one sector name and explain to begin class.

    Afterward, hand out "The Muskegon River: Unnatural Wonder" and tell students to turn to pages 18 & 19. Read and discuss any possible actions missed in your initial activity. List those on the appropriate charts.

  7. Form peer groups of three to four learners. Explain that each peer group will now be designing a computer-generated presentation, which will convince peers to pledge to do one or more of these positive actions toward improved water quality.

    They must identify one public interest nonprofit or grassroots organization that works to preserve the environment.

    Encourage them to emphasize water quality.

    Explain criteria for the slides. Have students save their presentations to the network.

  8. Day Five

    Explain criteria for evaluating student presentations. Present the criteria for assessing their presentation. Have teams practice delivering a three-minute presentation of their findings. Then, allow each team to present their findings. Evaluate them and select the best one for class presentation to their peers.

  9. Day Six

  10. Select a nonprofit environmental foundation or grassroots organization based on visiting the site: . Write a formal letter praising them for their efforts and encourage further actions. Mail them after peer editing.

  11. Post letters along with the pledge cards and when responses from the nonprofit groups arrive, post them. This will be a growing and on-going activity.



Maximum 4 points:

  • Identified specific nonprofit public interest group and its programs for improving environment, is grammatically and structurally sound with 90% accuracy, and content specific to water quality, sedimentation, erosion.
  • Identified public interest group that impacts local community or river/lake.
  • Relates opportunity costs and scarcity.
  • Demonstrates competencies in scientific concepts and processes from Lessons One to Three.
  • The presentation is attractive and creative.
  • Student uses active voice and communication.
  • Asks for pledge support and demonstrates personal commitment and stewardship to improving waterways. 
Cross Curriculum 

Students will present their findings to a school audience, requesting student pledges toward change. Learners will write letters to individuals in government, business and industry, and nonprofits to encourage supporting clean ways actions.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Compare and contrast the roles of business, government, civil society sector, and family.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Give political and historic reasons why civil society groups have formed in the nation and world.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark MS.5 Define <i>stewardship</i> as a trust of common resources held by a community for citizens.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.6 Describe how the founding documents and fundamental democratic principles encourage citizens to act philanthropically.
      2. Benchmark MS.9 Describe the role of public interest groups in a democratic government.
    4. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Discuss a public policy issue affecting the common good and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 04. Raising Private Resources
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Develop a project budget.
      2. Benchmark MS.3 Develop a service plan.