By: Amanda Good & Emily Rogers

Dec 6, 2022 | 12 minute read

Detailed Lesson Plans About Water Pollution

Detailed Lesson Plans About Water Pollution

Protecting our water and finding solutions to prevent water pollution is a huge undertaking, but even small steps can make a big difference. Educating and inspiring our students to take action against water pollution will help protect this finite resource. SubjectToClimate has collected detailed lesson plans about water pollution that will inspire teachers and students to start green initiatives in their classrooms, schools, and communities. 

“Rivers have always been an important resource. They provide water for drinking, a means of transportation, a home for wildlife, and more. As human populations have increased, so has our impact on the water system and many rivers have become polluted as a result. Some pollutants enter rivers through the actions of individual people, like leaving trash on the ground. However, other pollutants come from larger problems like factory run-off or driving cars. It is important that we know where river pollution comes from so that we can work together toward cleaner rivers today and in the future. “  - Population education.org

Who Polluted the River?

Grades: K, 1st, 2nd

Subjects: Science, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, English Language Arts

Resource Types: Lesson Plan

In this innovative lesson from Population Education, teachers will lead students through an interactive story that illustrates how a river becomes polluted over time. As the teacher tells the story, students will act as different pollutants and add substances to a jar of water, offering a visual demonstration showing how the rivers are being polluted.  This well-structured lesson plan includes discussion questions, printable labels and name tags for the activity, and follow-up activities that will help students to take action in their communities.

Teachers will love this downloadable, step-by-step, easy-to-use lesson plan. The plan includes teaching objectives, a list of needed materials, instructions for the procedure, discussion questions, and a script for the interactive river story. Students will practice a variety of skills throughout this lesson, including critical thinking, observing, and understanding cause and effect. 

This lesson requires a little prep as teachers will need to print and cut out both the canister labels and the character name tags, and they will also need to gather materials for the activity before teaching the lesson.

After completing the river story activity and going through the discussion questions, have students journal about their experience and write down questions they have about the waterways in their own communities. The follow-up activities provide great ideas for organizing a field trip to a local wastewater treatment plant so that students can ask questions about local water pollution problems and discover what can be done to fix these issues. 

Additional Resources

Into the Dead Zone

Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Health

Resource Types: Lesson Plan

This unit from EarthEcho Academy teaches students about dead zones, which are low-oxygen bodies of water in which organisms cannot survive. Students will view a series of videos that explain how a dead zone developed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The unit also includes a variety of lesson plans on subjects such as oyster reef ecology and the urbanized water cycle, along with worksheets and activities. Inspiring videos of young activists working to improve conditions in the Chesapeake Bay will inspire students to think about ways they can take action to prevent or mitigate the development of dead zones in local bodies of water.

Teachers can pick and choose the videos, lessons, and activities that work best for their classes, or they can utilize the entire unit on water pollution. The flexibility of this resource and the well-organized lessons, videos, and activities are easy to follow.

The videos include closed captioning and playback speed control for students with learning differences or ELL students. Social studies classes could use the videos to understand the connection between human activities and sources of pollution that affect some communities more than others. Teachers can use the Youth in Action series and the You Have the Power guide to get students to take action to help prevent dead zones in their local watersheds. 

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Natural Gas: Water & Climate Impacts

Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th

Subjects: Science, Earth and Space Sciences, Health

Resource Types: Lesson Plan

In this Project Look Sharp activity, students decode an advertisement and a web page for messages about how natural gas extraction impacts freshwater resources. Students will use their critical thinking skills as they examine and decode information on natural gas extraction from Wikipedia, America's Natural Gas Alliance, and Food and Water Watch. 

This lesson plan includes a student handout that contains the three texts, a student worksheet, and a PowerPoint presentation. The main draw of this lesson is that it teaches students to evaluate the reliability of sources and helps them practice analyzing media messages.

The reading for this activity is a bit dense, so a structured reading process may help some students. There are different ways to use this resource, for example, students could compare the Wikipedia article from the resource with the current Wikipedia article and note the differences. Students can use their newfound skills to make public service announcements that teach their school or community about how to evaluate sources and look past media messaging to better understand the risks of natural gas extraction on freshwater sources.

Additional Resources

Regenerating for the Next Gen

Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Health

Resource Types: Lesson Plan

In this lesson plan by ACE, students will learn about factory farming, CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), and regenerative agriculture. Students discover that most industrial farming and ranching methods pollute nearby bodies of water and contribute to climate change. The lesson culminates with suggestions for how to empower students to partner with local organizations that are already taking action to promote regenerative agriculture and keep local waterways clean and healthy.

This lesson plan provides a student worksheet, a teacher guide, a slide presentation, a case study, and an informative video. This lesson challenges students to think critically about global food production, livestock production, and the role agriculture plays in water pollution and climate change. The case study focuses on solutions that improve carbon storage and reduce emissions.

This is a great resource to tie into science lessons about the carbon cycle, deforestation, ethics, ecology, and the nitrogen cycle. Economics and social studies classes could research current government subsidies going to the agricultural sector and discuss how they could be redirected to support regenerative or organic agriculture to achieve a reduction in emissions and address climate change. After the discussion, have the students write an email to government officials explaining how they think government subsidies should be redirected.

Additional Resources

Snack-Sized Science: Wading into Water Quality!

Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Chemistry, Biology

Resource Types: Experiment

Experiment time! This 25-minute interactive experiment video will show you how to perform several different types of water quality tests in your classroom. Students will explore water quality and better understand why it is important to monitor the health of surface water bodies such as streams, rivers, and lakes. 

Teachers will love this resource because the video is simple and the experiments are easy. The kits referenced in the video can be purchased here, or teachers can purchase the materials separately. 

Science classes could use these activities to discuss the importance of oxygen to all animals, including the importance of dissolved oxygen for aquatic and marine organisms. They can then connect this lesson with cellular respiration. After students complete the experiments, they can submit their results to EarthEcho’s Water Challenge at www.monitorwater.org and compare their results with others around the world!

How "Forever Chemicals" Polluted America's Water

Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Chemistry, Biology, Health

Resource Types: Video

In this video from VOX, students will learn about “forever chemicals” that pollute waterways and discover how widespread toxic pollutants are in America’s drinking water. The video also discusses the importance of adopting a precautionary principle that would make it mandatory for companies to review and seek approval for new products, chemicals, and chemical ingredients.  

Teachers can build a full lesson plan around this video. Start the lesson by asking students if they feel safe drinking water from the tap. Have them discuss their answers with a partner or small group before showing the first three chapters of the video. Ask students to reflect on the following questions and record their answers:

  • How does learning about forever chemicals in the Cape Fear River make you feel?
  • How did some of the citizens respond when they found out that their drinking water was contaminated? 
  • Do you think that forever chemicals are present in drinking water in other places? Why or why not?

Show the rest of the video and then ask students to make a list of possible solutions to the problem of forever chemicals in drinking water.  After the list is complete, ask students to consider how they could take action to stop forever chemicals from getting into drinking water. 

Students could investigate the companies that make forever chemicals. They could research the health risks of being exposed to those chemicals using information on the  FDA, CDC, OSHA, and NIH websites. Students could also research products that contain PFOA chemicals and look for types of water filters that might be able to filter them out of drinking water. After completing their research, have students think of a way to increase public awareness of the problem or contact government officials at the local or national level to demand the regulation of hazardous chemicals in drinking water.

Additional Resources

Essentials of Environmental Science: The Water Cycle and Water Pollution

Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Types: Video

This video from Hot Mess explores the impact of human activity on the water cycle. Students will learn about topics including the hydrologic cycle, watersheds, water pollution, keystone species, impermeable surfaces, overfishing, and the tragedy of the commons. Students can be inspired to take action by watching the successful examples of progress with the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and the recovery of Atlantic Cod fisheries. 

The video is broken into timestamped chapters, so teachers can skip around depending on their focus. Social studies and civics classes could use parts of this video for lessons about how to govern or protect freshwater and ocean ecosystems, and how to resources for the common good. After students watch the video, have them consider how legislation, collective buy in, and education can help to fix the problems of water pollution, overdrawing aquifers, and overfishing. Students can work in groups to come up with a plan to take action on one of the problems presented in the video.

Additional Resources

Hog Farming Has a Massive Poop Problem

Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Biology, Economics, Justice

Resource Types: Video

In this VOX video students will learn about the problem of animal waste caused by industrial hog farms and see how it impacts surface and groundwater in the surrounding communities. Students will learn that the pollution from industrial hog farms impacts aquatic ecosystems and human health.

Language arts classes could use this resource to debate about environmental regulations that should be required for businesses to operate, or to analyze different points of view around a common issue. This video can be used to think about and discuss how personal and household choices can impact larger, systemic problems.

As an extension to that discussion, teachers can have students make informational fliers that detail the high environmental cost of these hog farming practices and outline what individual consumers can do to influence large livestock corporations. Students will feel empowered by contributing to the solution as they educate others about the impacts of hog farming on the environment. Biology, ecology, environmental science, health, and Earth science classes could use this video to introduce topics such as water pollution, air pollution, environmental causes of human health conditions, the nitrogen cycle, buffer zones, organic farming, regenerative farming, or plant-based nutrition.

Additional Resources

Education is our best tool to inspire our students to take action against water pollution and help protect this finite resource. SubjectToClimate’s detailed lesson plans about water pollution represent a fantastic initial step towards a greener and bluer future. For more resources related to water pollution click here, or check out our other blogs on pollution

About the Author

Emily has a bachelor’s degree in English and French and a master’s degree in library and information science. She spent seven years teaching information evaluation and research skills as a school librarian in K-8 public schools. As a lifelong resident of Southern Louisiana, Emily has a particular interest in how climate change affects coastal regions. She hopes to connect educators with resources that will help them to teach their students about the disproportionately adverse effects of climate change on historically marginalized communities.

About the Author

Amanda is a stay-at-home Mom of two boys and two beagles. She has a diploma in Journalism from Sheridan College and certificates in Animal Care, Shelter Operations, and Wildlife Rehabilitation from Georgian College.