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Lesson Plans

Grade Level: 6-8, although it could be adapted for other grade levels
Subject: Environmental Science
Time Allotment: Six to seven 45-minute class periods

(1 class period)

Step 1STEP 1

Teacher explains that pollution can be in many forms: toxic substances, organic substances, thermal, and ecological. It comes from primarily three sources: businesses, homes, and farming.

Students brainstorm and share ways the three sources cause water pollution. Students take notes on these causes in their science journals.

Sample answers might include:


    • Farms often use large amounts of herbicides and pesticides, both of which are toxic pollutants. These substances seep into rivers, streams and lakes, and toxic substances can build up over a period of time.

    • Farms also frequently use large amounts of chemical fertilizers that are washed into the waterways and damage the water supply and the life within it.

    • Allowing livestock to graze near water sources often results in organic waste products being washed into the waterways.

    • Runoff from the exposed soil of agricultural fields can contaminate groundwater.


    • Clearing of land can lead to erosion of soil into the river.

    • Waste and sewage generated by industry can get into the water supply.

    • Many industrial and power plants use rivers, streams and lakes to dispose of waste heat. The resulting hot water can cause thermal pollution. Thermal pollution can have a disastrous effect on life in an aquatic ecosystem because increasing temperature decreases the amount of oxygen in the water, thereby reducing the number of animals that can survive there.

    • Toxic or radioactive materials from industry, mine sites and abandoned hazardous waste sites can seep into groundwater.

    • Burning fuels causes acid rain that falls into lakes, streams, and ponds. Because of this, air pollution is potentially one of the most threatening forms of pollution to aquatic ecosystems.


    • Sewage generated by houses or runoff from septic tanks can get into nearby waterways.

    • Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides used for lawn care can run off and contaminate the waterway.

    • Improper disposal of hazardous chemicals down the drain put toxic materials in the ecosystem.

    • Leaks of oil and antifreeze from a car on a driveway can be washed off by the rain into nearby waterways.

Step 2STEP 2

Students go to the Environmental Protection Agency's web page about drinking water standards ( where they access the list of contaminants and their Maximum Contaminant Level (MCLs).

Teacher explains that contaminants are anything that is found in water, air, or soil, which may be harmful to human or animal health.

Students fill in the Water Contaminants Chart using information from the EPA website and a dictionary.

In small groups of 4-5, students discuss the Water Contaminants Chart, then a spokesperson from each group shares with the whole class.

Research and Investigation (2 class periods)

Step 1STEP 1

Divide the class into 7 groups. Assign each group a location from the list of the world's pollution hot-spots:

  • Gulf of Mexico, USA

  • The Arctic

  • Northern Spain

  • Chernobyl, Ukraine

  • Aral Sea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

  • Japan, Whales and Dolphins

  • River Tisza and Baia Mare, Romania

Student groups use the Internet and other sources to research their assigned pollution hot-spot.

Students complete the Water Pollution Hot-Spot Investigation worksheet.

Step 2STEP 2

Small research groups prepare a 5-minute presentation of their pollution hot-spot.

Step 3STEP 3

Groups present research to the class. The class takes notes on all pollution hot-spot locations using the Pollution Hot-Spot Notes handout.

Pollution Prevention Posters (2-3 class periods)

Step 1STEP 1

In their science journals, students brainstorm the ways people can help prevent water pollution.

Students share their ideas with their research group. Then the teacher facilitates a class discussion about the different ways people can help prevent water pollution. Use specific examples from the pollution hot-spots. List the ideas on the board.

Step 2STEP 2

In the 7 small research groups, students create a poster showing at least one way to prevent water pollution. Teacher encourages students to think about the source of the pollution and ways to prevent or dispose of pollutants.

Gallery Walk (1 class period)

Step 1STEP 1

Teacher places the pollution prevention posters around the room and instructs the students to walk around the room and appreciate all the posters.

Step 2STEP 2

Teacher places pads of sticky notes next to each poster and instructs the students to view all the posters again, but this time writing at least one positive and/or constructive comment and sticking the comment(s) to the edge of the poster. Students are instructed to place at least one comment on every poster.

Hang the posters on the walls of the classroom.


  • Build an aquifer using 2 plastic cups, sand, gravel, and water.

  • Visit a local wastewater treatment plant or wetland area.

  • Investigate the Exxon/Valdez Oil Spill.

Next: Organizers for Students

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