The Water Cycle

Brief description

In this set of six activities, students will learn about the water cycle and, in particular, how water in the soil contributes to the cycle and responds to changes in it. A set of practical activities allow students to look more closely at the processes of evaporation and condensation from free water and water in the soil. By using real satellite data students explore changes in soil moisture across the world over recent years.

Subject Geography, Science, Earth Science

Learning Objectives
  • Describe how water changes state changes in the context of the water cycle
  • Apply knowledge about the water cycle to suggest how it might change as a result of global heating
  • Evaluate and carry out an experimental procedure
  • Record detailed observations
  • Recognise the role of soil and plants in the water cycle  
  • Relate the results of the experiment to the role of soils in the water cycle
  • Use the Climate from Space web application and real satellite date
  • Integrate information from a range of sources to present a concise summary of independent research
Age range
8 – 11 years old
approximately 45 minutes per activity
Resource available in:

Activity 1: The water cycle today and tomorrow

In this activity, pupils will learn to develop a diagram of the water cycle based on a reading assignment. The story of Stephan the snowflake illustrates the water cycle and the associated changes of state. Students consider the importance of water for life and explore ideas of the possible impact of climate change on the cycle. Confident readers could read the story independently in preparation for the lesson.
Activity 2: Investigating evaporation
This is the first of three linked practical activities that could be used, as shown here, to examine key processes in the water cycle. In this activity, pupils will monitor the evaporation of water over a period of time and evaluate the strength of their conclusions, considering alternative explanations in an experiment. 
  • Three cups or small trays or bowls for each group 
  • Three sticky labels or a marker
  • Water
  • Rulers – preferably ones with zero at the edge
  • Towels for wet hands and to deal with any spills
  • A copy of Student worksheet 2 (2 pages) for each student
  • Graph paper (optional)
Activity 3: Exploring condensation
In this activity, one of the three linked practical activities, pupils will collect observations of something that students are probably already aware of, but have not looked at in detail. The emphasis in this activity is on making detailed and careful observations on condensation and to built up the relation to the water cycle. 
  • A transparent bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid for each group
  • Sticky label or marker
  • Food colouring or ink
  • A jug or beaker for each group
  • A funnel for each group (not essential but reduces splashing)
  • Towels for wet hands and to deal with any spills
  • Student worksheet 3 – one copy per student 
  • Camera (e.g. smartphone) for each group
  • Presentation, image- or/and word-processing software with which students are familiar (if using cameras)
Activity 4: Plants, soil and the water cycle 
In this activity, one of the three linked practical activities, pupils will learn about the role plants play in moving water from soil to the atmosphere and these processes in the water cycle. Students will learn that soils hold water and will explain how plants are involved in the cycle. 
  • Two identical pots or paper cups for each group, one containing a plant and one just soil
  • Sticky labels or marker
  • Two clear plastic bags for each group
  • Elastic bands (depending on bags used)
  • Dustpan and brush to deal with spills
  • Student worksheet 4 – one copy per student
Activity 5: Water in the soil
In this activity, pupils will measure how much water soil can hold by carrying out an experiment. They will learn to relate the results of the experiment to the role of soils in the water cycle. 
  • A pot with holes in the bottom filled with soil for each group 
  • A small tray or dish for the pot to stand on 
  • Measuring cylinder or cup that can measure 25 cm3 and 50 cm3 for each group
  • A jug or large beaker of water for each group
  • A timer or stopwatch per group
  • A copy of Student worksheet 5 (2 pages) for each student 
  • Empty pots identical to those filled with soil (optional)
  • Towels for wet hands and to deal with any spills
Activity 6: Water in the soil from space
In this activity, students use the Climate from Space web application to explore satellite measurements of soil moisture across the globe over time and consider the causes and effects of variation in the amount of water in the soil. They use this as a springboard for carrying out research on their own, individually or in groups
  • Internet access
  • Climate from Space web application
  • Student worksheet 6 (2 pages)
  • Presentation software such as PowerPoint (optional)
  • Materials for making a poster (optional)

Did you know?

As the Sun heats the Earth, warm moist air rises from the surface of the land, the oceans and other bodies of water; the water vapour in the air condenses forming clouds; when the water droplets in the cloud are heavy enough, they fall back to Earth as rain or snow. Rainwater and melting snow and ice may flow back to the ocean or seep into the ground. Water that soaks into the earth may collect in underground aquifers or be taken up by the roots of plants that eventually send it
back out into the air. This water cycle is crucial to sustaining life on Earth and we depend on the freshwater that cycles through it for hygiene and industry as well as for drinking and growing our food.

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