River and Us (A)

3, 4, 5

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the concept of the life of a river and pollution through the story A River Ran Wild.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Forty-Five to Fifty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • define and demonstrate proper use of the vocabulary terms below.
  • use scientific method to
  1. determine the effects of actions on the common good.
  2. determine basic effects of water pollution on the quality of life.
  3. identify and relate the causes of water pollution.
  4. make decisions relating to solving water pollution problems.

read-aloud copy of A River Ran Wild (see Bibliographical References)​

Teacher Preparation 
  • Consider a field trip to a local water treatment plant.
  • Refer to current Social Studies topics to establish historical context (such as the Industrial Revolution and the technological advances and their impact upon the environment.)
  • Prepare to facilitate student investigation of the history of local waterways, especially the role Human Environment Interaction plays in the pollution of local rivers and lakes. 
  • Core Democratic Values
  • common good
  • preservation
  • public good (applicable to clean water)
Home Connection 

The learners draw a picture of two ways they can better conserve water in their homes.


Cherry, Lynne. A River Ran Wild. Harcourt Brace and Company, 1992. ISBN 0-15-200542-6


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Hold up two bottles of water, one containing clean and one containing dirty water with sediment. Ask the learners which they would rather swim in, bathe in, or drink. Have them "turn and talk" to discuss why. Have them share their discussions with the whole class, and make sure they come to the conclusion that what makes water fit may not be visible. Explain to learners that water that appears clean to them may indeed be very unsafe for bathing and drinking.

    In this lesson, students will examine water pollution and ways to clean up water. They will hear a story about one river through a book that tells a true story.  

  2. Ask class members how the water they drink is made safe to drink. They may have some prior knowledge, and they may conduct a Google search. Lead students to think about different toxins and clean-up methods. Note: This may lead to a planning a trip to the water treatment facility.

  3. On the board or chart paper write down their answers to the question, "What we know about how water gets polluted?

  4. Make another column headed "How to clean it up." The suggestions may include personal methods, such as using a personal water filter, as well as community and global methods. 

  5. Discuss why we should clean the river. Introduce the concepts of Stewardship and Common Good. Discuss why we as individuals have a responsibility to clean up and take care of water in our community. 

  6. Introduce the book, A River Ran Wild. Read aloud and discuss what happened to the river. Discuss stewardship and individual responsibility for the environment.

    • How does a polluted river impact the community?
    • How does it impact economics?
    • What is the role of science?
    • What is the role of government or nonprofits?
  7. Conduct a water quality investigation in your area that focuses on microorganisms inhabiting high- and low-quality water. Review “indicator species” and classify microorganisms as “pollution sensitive.”  https://kidsinthecreek.com/teachers/invert-investigator/

  8. Extension; Use GIS technology to explore different influences on the water. 
    The identification of land features (i.e., manufacturing plants, roads) provides insight during the investigative process. Use the ESRI web app to identify land features and facilitate Socratic questioning to further engage students in the inquiry process.
    • Visit esri.com > Click “Maps We Love!” > Select “Madagascar Conservation” map
    • First, identify the watershed. Then, address the following questions: What do you see? (Answers: a building, a road, a structure, a park a field with equipment) Which of these feature impact the water quality? What make you say that? What role will the watershed play?
    • Web-based map activities through ESRI further engage students in science, social studies and technology: Use Five Themes of Geography and ESRI web-based activities to further science discussions about the water cycle and the role of watersheds.
    1. Human Environment-Interaction
    2. Location
    3. Region 
    4. Place
    5. Movement
Cross Curriculum 

Science: Discuss the history of polluted waterways, such as the Rouge River in Michigan and the Nashua River in Massachusetts (Compare/ Contrast). Discuss the role Human Environment Interaction plays in the pollution of both rivers. Research and create a double-timeline to chronicle the events contributing to the pollution of both rivers. 

Social Studies: Discuss how the industrial revolution advanced technology and impacted the environment. How do we find a balance today?

Economics: Help learners develop the definition of economy as a way the nation produces, distributes, and consumes goods and services. Emphasize the effects of the actions in the book on the economy and the Common Good.

STEM: Invasive species may be introduced into the waterways because of technology and economic choices. For example, a Japanese fish hitched a ride because of the design of the ship. Explore innovations for solving problems related to pollution and invasive species.


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. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.4 Demonstrate listening skills.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.13 Describe limited resources and scarcity.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define community as the degree that people come together for the common good.
      2. Benchmark E.7 Describe why the classroom, school, or neighborhood is a community governed by fundamental democratic principles.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe one reason why a person might give or volunteer.