Pollution Is Not a Solution (5th Grade)

3, 4, 5

What are watersheds and why are they important? Students recognize that wise usage and protection of their local watershed is an example of environmental stewardship.

PrintOne 60 minute class period plus time to set up demonstration

The learner will:

  • define watershed and identify their local watershed.
  • name local pollutants that may get into the watershed and affect groundwater.
  • brainstorm ways to protect the local watershed.
  • Self-sticking notes and pencils
  • (Optional) a recording of the song "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid
  • Projection of Handout One: Water Usage Table


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    While the music “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid is playing, have the students write five specific ways that they use water. They should use one self-sticking note for each response. When the music stops, tell the students to put their responses on a prepared chart under the category in which it fits best. The chart should have different categories of water use, such as recreation, health, and household. If someone else has the same response, have them put the sticky notes on top of each other. Read over their responses and discuss why water is important to us. Share the information found on Handout One: Water Usage Table to raise awareness about the quantity of water we use for some common actions.

  2. Ask the students where they think their water comes from. (They may indicate a well or nearby lake.) Ask them if they think the water they use is clean. If so, how does it get clean? Listen to their ideas to determine their prior knowledge about the water cycle and water treatment. Make sure students understand that water is a resource we share with everyone in the whole world and with everyone over time. The water we have on our Earth is the same water the dinosaurs had on their Earth.

  3. Tell them there is an important word related to water that they have probably never heard of. In fact, many adults don't even understand this important concept. Ask if anyone has heard of the term watershed. Provide a simple definition for a watershed. (See https://www.epa.gov/environmental-topics/water-topics for an illustration and definition.) A watershed is an area in which all the water drains into the same place. The people, animals, and natural resources within a watershed are bound by their shared water. The Earth is made up of numerous watersheds, and the water in each watershed tends to stay in that watershed.

  4. Tell the class they are going to make a quick model of a watershed. Give each student or group of students a sheet of (recycled) paper. Tell the students to crumple their papers and then open them again, but not to flatten. This paper represents the land within the boundaries of a watershed. The paper should still be crumpled enough to have portions that resemble mountain ridges or hills and valleys.

    • Tell the students to use a blue marker to mark streams or rivers on their papers, and also have them mark where they think the water will collect as it runs downhill. (This could represent a lake.).
    • Have them color with brown marker some areas that represent soil and farmland.
    • Using red markers, have students draw in some pollutants that may be found in their watershed, such as soap from washing cars, pesticides from lawns, and animal waste from a nearby farm.
    • Tell the students you are going to add water to their system and you want them to observe what happens. Walk around with a sprayer and spray a very light mist of water over each paper watershed model. (In a real watershed, all the water runs into the same place.)
    • Questions to consider:
    1. Why does water flow down into the creases?
    2. What happened to the ink from the markers as the water flowed? Where did it end up?
    3. How is this a problem if the inks represent pollutants?
  5. Use the following website to find the boundaries and water resources in your watershed: http://cfpub.epa.gov/surf/locate/index.cfm. As you look at this map, explain that the health of a watershed is determined by many factors, including the use of land throughout the watershed and what pollutants these uses may put into the watershed.

  6. Ask the students to name some of the land uses within your community and your overall watershed. Think of factories, farms, and small businesses within the area. Ask the students, “Do you think these uses could affect the water quality of our watershed?”

  7. Tell the students that any pollutants that get into the water system of your watershed stay in the watershed as they are recycled through the water cycle. Discuss how each of the land uses within your watershed could lead to pollution going directly into the drainage areas and also indirectly into streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater. Runoff from crop and forest land, failing septic systems, construction sites, irrigation drainage systems, lawn chemicals, and automobile exhaust can all contribute to polluting the watershed.

  8. Explain to learners that the responsible use of the watershed is an example of environmental stewardship. We share the Earth, and we need to take care of it for ourselves and for those who come after us. Ask the students to explain why it is for our common good to take care of the water in our watershed.

  9. Brainstorm project ideas that the class might do to help conserve and take care of the Earth's water resources.


Have students write at least one way their watershed could become polluted and three reasons why it is important to protect their watershed.

Cross Curriculum 

Brainstorm project ideas that the class might do to help conserve and take care of the Earth's water resources.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. 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>.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.