About AE   About NHM   Contact Us   Terms of Use   Copyright Info   Privacy Policy   Advertising Policies   Site Map
Custom Search of AE Site
spacer spacer

Water Walk

By Beth Isaacs

Acknowledgement: Adapted with permission from The Aspen Global Change Institute's Ground Truth Studies Teachers Handbook, River Walk, and Project Wet's "Stream Sense," and "The Save Our Streams Teacher's Manual" by the Izaak Walton League of America.

Type of Entry:

  • Lesson/class activity

Type of Activity:

  • Hands-on activity
  • Inquiry lab
  • Authentic assessment
  • Group/cooperative learninggroup/cooperative learning
  • Community outreach/off-site activity

Target Audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Environmental studies

Notes to Teacher:

Students take a field trip along a local body of water; conduct a visual survey to discover information about local land use and water quality; document their findings by mapping and profiling the water body; and use this initial investigation to raise questions about local land use and/or water quality issues that may require further study. Students need a well-developed understanding of the concept of watershed.

Many factors can affect the quality of the water in a river system, lake, or pond. What is high quality in one area may be low quality in another, while some factors, such as pollutants, are a hazard to any body of water. Cold water that is good for trout may be fatal for catfish or bass, and vice versa, but discharges of industrial or agricultural wastes will tend to be detrimental to all life in the water. Field observations increase the student's ability to conceptualize links between land use and water quality. Required of students Ask students about their knowledge of local bodies of water. Begin with questions such as:

  • Is there a lake, river, pond, or stream that you visit?
  • What is your favorite pastime at this place?
  • Why is this body of water important to you?

Preparation time needed

2 class periods to develop working knowledge of components of habitat.

Class time needed

Field trip time


Take your students to an outdoor setting where it is possible to walk along a body of water and survey a specific section. Ask each group to compile data about what they observe during their walk. Bordering lands should be noted: urban, agricultural, industrial, residential, wooded,swamp, etc. Record wildlife and plants that are seen in and around the water. Using narrative journals, ask students to write and illustrate a narrative about the area. Take The Water Walk Measurements and send via the Internet to a GLOBE scientist.

The Globe student data address- ��� http://globe.fsl.noaa.gov/

Online Water Science Database- ��� http://sciboard.Louisville.edu

Back in the classroom send results via the Internet. Students may also enter flow rate, dissolved oxygen, biological oxygen demand, and chloride, and iron concentrations. In addition, ask the students to discuss some of the following:

  • What type of water appearance was recorded most often and what might this indicate about the water quality?

  • Was there evidence of human uses of the water? Evidence of wildlife and other animals using the water?

  • What kinds of habitat were observed? What might happen if the most extensive habitat found were changed or eliminated?


What question does this activity help students to answer Students will be able to:

  1. Describe characteristics of their local environment
  2. Take standardized measurements of water characteristics
  3. Develop their appreciation of the importance of water quality.


Materials needed: Paper, pencil, maps and possible satellite images of your body of water, colored markers, worksheets, pH meters, thermometer, and a basic water test kit.


The Water Walk is best done by dividing students into groups. Using smaller groups will minimize harm to the local habitat.

After determining the section of water to study; have the students walk the water's edge and fill out the enclosed biological assessments:

  1. Hydrology and water studies
  2. Water Walk questionnaire
  3. Questions and discussion

Collect equipment needed for the walk and get first-aid kits. Give students permission forms to take home to parents. Discuss the Water Walk questionnaire and ask the students what kinds of observations they should make and record during their walk. Discuss the different features and land forms students should recognize during their walk.

Make sure students have proper clothes and foot wear, pencils and notebooks to record their observations. Review the purpose of the Water Walk and the questions from the watershed worksheet. Unique characteristics about each section of land should be noted. In addition to land uses, general water characteristics should be observed, such as eroding stream banks and lack of stream side vegetation.

Students should draw a cross-section of their water walk.

Another approach is to select an urban and a rural stream and contrast differences in land use, watershed patterns and pollution problems.

Water Walk Questionnaire - Activity

Answer these questions in your journal and on your stream map. Be sure to record your observations of different land uses or pollution problems and where they are located on the stream.

Describe the stream

  1. Does the stream flow in a straight line or does it curve?

  2. Is the stream channel natural or did it get changed by people?

  3. What is on the bottom of the stream? soil? rocks? sand? bedrock?

  4. Is the stream paved like a street, with concrete on the bottom?

    • Do you see sediment?
    • What sizes of sediment do you see?

    Watermelon size and larger = boulders
    Orange size= cobbles
    Grape size= gravel
    Smaller than grapes and gritty=sand
    Smaller than sand and silky=silt
    Do you see bedrock on the bottom?

  5. What color is the water? Is the stream the same color along your walk or does the color change? Can you see any pollution problems that might change the stream's color?

  6. Do you see trash in the stream? Describe the kinds of trash you see.

  7. Do you smell any unusual smells like oil, sewage or rotten eggs?

Describe the stream banks

  1. What kinds of stream banks (sides) do you see?
    • Concrete sides?
    • Soil sides?
    • Rock sides?

Are the stream banks natural or do they have structures built to hold them in place?

Is there vegetation growing on the sides of the banks?

Describe the vegetation. Do you see trees, shrubs, bushes and /or grass?

Describe the land uses

  1. Describe the land uses alongside the stream. Do you see pipes, houses, apartments,schools, shopping malls,park land, farms, golf courses, animal pastures, trash dumps, landfills, discharge pipes, storm water drains, sewer manholes, roads, etc.? Describe all the land uses you see and indicate their locations on your stream map.

  2. Is the land along the stream paved for parking lots or roads? Is the land made up of grass for lawns or parks? Is the land made up of trees and shrubs?

  3. Do you see metal people hole covers along the stream? What do they say on top of the lid-- sewer, water, power, telephone?

  4. Do you see any pipes along the stream bank that might discharge water into the stream?

    What are the pipes used for?
    Are the pipes made out of brick, metal or concrete? Is there water coming from the pipes? What color is the water from the pipes? Do the pipes come from a factory or do they look like rainfall runoff pipes?

Describe the wildlife

Stop and listen. Be quiet so you do not disturb wildlife.

  1. Do you see animal tracks? Draw pictures of animal of animal tracks in your journal.

  2. Do you see animal houses such as beaver dams or bird nests?

  3. Describe the animals, birds and other wildlife you see on your walk.

  4. Can you see fish in the stream?
    How large are the fish?
    How many fish can you see?
    Do you know what kinds of fish live in your stream?

  5. Do you see or hear insects? What kinds of insects do you see?

Student Activity Sheet

Hydrology and Water Studies (Weekly Missions)

Station Name _________________________
GPS _______________________
Address ______________________________
City/State ___________________


Analyst's Name _____________________________________
Measurement Date __________________________________
Measurement Time __________________________________
Water Temperature at 10 cm depth ______________ (degrees)


Collector's Name ___________________________________

Sample Collection: Date:_____ Time:_____

Analyst's Name ____________________________________

Sample Analysis: Date:_____ Time:_____

Water pH ________________

Addtional Notes ___________________________________________________

Data Recorded By _________________________

Data Recorded ____________________________ Time ___________________

Student Activity Sheet

Questions and Discussion

  1. What land use activities did you list and how do you think they would change the water characteristics?

  2. Are any of these evident here?

  3. How would we find out more about this watershed?

In addition to the factors we have collected information about today, list others that influence the way water is used.

FactorWho is InvolvedInfluence on Water

Select one or two of the above factors and describe what you might do to become involved in determining how water will be used in your home, community, country, etc.



Method of Assessment/Evaluation

Have the students create a visual display about what they know about their body of water. Share this with others at school and in the community.

Extension/Reinforcement/Additional Ideas

GLOBE's, "Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment," central computer can be accessed through the Internet. Data from observations for any region of the Earth for any date can be viewed. The World Wide Web addresses for the student data site and other sites of interest are as follows:

GLOBE Home Pagehttp://www.globe.gov/
GLOBE Student Datahttp://globe.fsl.noaa.gov/

Free online service is available for water quality studies. The University of Louisville developed the water walk quality database. The Louisville database is available 24 hours a day. To access it over the Internet:

telnet://sciboard.Louisville.edu or http://sciboard.Louisville.edu


Barnes, B.B. 1995. Design of a Water Quality Database. Master of Engineering Thesis. Louisville,Ky.; University of Louisville

Singletary, Ted 1995. Associate professor in the Department of Elementary Education at Boise State University. Globe e-mail : tsingletary@claven.idbsu.edu

Fellows Collection Index

1996 AE Collection Index

Activities Exchange Index

Custom Search on the AE Site