Great Lakes at Stake

3, 4, 5

Participants identify the impact of humans on lakes and rivers and their respective ecosystems, and citizen responsibility to protect the waterways.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session
  • Identify major causes of pollution related to human interaction in the Great Lakes and its tributaries.
  • Assess the effects of industry and settlement on the Great Lakes.
Home Connection 

Complete the handout below What Can I Do? as homework.


Kaye, Cathryn Berger. Make a Splash! A Kid's Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, and Wetlands. Free Spirit Publishing, 2012.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Allow no more than seven minutes for this activity. Have the learners divide themselves in peer groups of three to four per group. Give each learning group a large sheet of paper with the following acronym on the top, "H.O.M.E.S." Have each group answer the following:

    1. Name the Great Lakes using the letters as clues.
    2. How do you get drinking water into your houses?
    3. If you were spending the day at a lake in your state, and the family had forgotten to bring drinks, would you drink the water in the lake if you were very thirsty? Give a reason for this answer.
    4. Name a river or lake that is the closest to the school.
    5. What is a way you can give your time to keep the water clean?

    Bring the class together and have each group designate one member to report to the class. The instructor takes notes to see the range and most often given responses.

  2. Note: When looking at the map, students may think that Lake St. Clair is one of the Great Lakes. Explain that it is not because it is an "alluvial flood plain." Simply define it as a waterway made as a shallow flooded area left by the glaciers.)

  3. Day Two

    If it is available, show the video entitled "The Great Lakes: Fragile Seas" by National Geographic Society Educational Services. See Teacher Note and Bibliographical References. If it isn't available, share internet resources (print and video) about the history of the Lakes, conservation efforts, and what issues remain for the health of the Great Lakes.

  4. Ask the learners to write a reflection paragraph on what they have learned from the videos and resources. Instructor's Notes. Prompt students to include the issues identified, how they feel about the issues identified, and what they hope to learn in order to be of help to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

  5. Read aloud a picture book about water pollution. One option is Make a Splash! A Kid's Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, and Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye. Have learners discuss what they learned from the book that could relate to keeping the Great Lakes and nearby waterways clean.

  6. Days Three through Five

    Have learners form five cooperative groups according to which lake they want to research. You can make the groups random by having students draw a name of a Great Lake from a bag. Note: Sometimes it is helpful to allow two minutes to trade and bargain with other groups to finalize the lake each one researches. The final product includes a labeled map and a class presentation by each group.

  7. Each group is to keep a journal of daily activities and summary of findings.

  8. Using the internet, have learners research their Great Lake and produce a final product of a map of the Great Lakes, giving special attention to the features of their designated lake.

  9. Have them gather, discuss, and include in the final product information relating to their lake on the five themes of geography:

    1. Location: Absolute or relative
    2. Place: Includes culture, ecosystems, communities, natural characteristics and human characteristics
    3. Human-Environment interaction: Positive and negative impact of humans on the environment
    4. Movement: Includes elements of industry, trade, transportation, and urbanization
    5. Region: How the area is divided, which may be official, functional, or societal
  10. Students identify through their research programs of stewardship that protect the Great Lakes for the future.

  11. Students brainstorm ideas of things they can do to help protect a local river or lake that fit their interests and for which they can access resources and learn the needed skills.

  12. As a group, they come up with an outline for a plan to act philanthropically and impact a local river or lake.

  13. Each group produces a graphic and oral presentation to share with their classmates on their lake and service plan.

  14. Schedule presentations of their projects to the class.

  15. Wrap-up Activity:

    Facilitate a discussion on what it means to be a steward. Guide students to define stewardship as "the responsible caring for something, in this case, our natural resources." Read Attachment Three, Situation Cards, together and discuss which situation/person demonstrated the concept of stewardship. Tell the learners that when they act philanthropically, they are also acting as stewards. Reflect on the various experiences they have had over the past week and decide, as a class, what philanthropy project proposed by a group that they would like to undertake for the next few weeks to impact the closest lake or river.


Journal entries; Completion of Handout Two: What Can I Do?; Reflection paragraph or drawings with caption, depending on grade level; Participation Instructor observation; Map Quiz or test on content developed by instructor; Evaluate group presentations and individual portions in the group

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize the wise use of resources as <i>stewardship</i>.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.5 Give examples of actions students can take to improve the common good and list or describe responsibilities that go with those actions.