Earth’s Hydrosphere: Hands-on Activities for Upper Elementary Students
Are your upper elementary students looking to explore the wonders of Earth’s hydrosphere? Engage them in some hands-on activities about water and ice! From experiments with saltwater to exploring the water cycle, there is an array of fun and educational ways for your students to learn more about Earth’s hydrosphere. We’ve gathered our favorite activities here so you can spend less time researching how to engage learners and more time watching their learning take off.
Quick Links for Teaching Ideas about the Earth’s Hydrosphere
What is the Earth’s Hydrosphere?
The Earth’s hydrosphere is the layer of water on the planet. It consists of all the water on the surface, in the atmosphere, and underground. This includes rivers, lakes, oceans, and even the moisture in the air. The hydrosphere is important because it helps to keep our planet cool as well as provides us with a source of drinking water. It also influences storm systems, flooding, and other weather-related events. Without this layer of water surrounding us, life on Earth would not be possible.
Hands-on Activities that Teach Students about the Earth’s Hydrosphere’s Interaction with Other Spheres
Dive into explorations that highlight the vital role of water in shaping Earth’s systems. Students will explore water filtration experiments, watershed modeling, and simulations of the water cycle. By engaging in these activities, they will develop a deep appreciation for the Earth’s hydrosphere’s impact on the geosphere, the biosphere, and even the atmosphere.
Water Cycle in a Bag
Engaging in hands-on activities about the hydrosphere is a great way to help students understand the vital role of water in shaping Earth’s systems. One such activity is the Water Cycle in a Bag, which involves filling a zip-lock bag with water and observing condensation, evaporation, and precipitation as the water cycle occurs. Through this simple yet effective experiment, students will gain an appreciation for how the hydrosphere influences other spheres on Earth.
Fill a ziplock bag with water, hang it near a window, and observe condensation, evaporation, and precipitation as the water cycle occurs. Label the bag with the water cycle process.
Water Cycle Simulation
The water cycle simulation using heat is a great way to explore the importance of the hydrosphere, as it helps students understand how evaporation, condensation, and precipitation are connected within the Earth’s atmosphere. By providing a closed system and applying heat to the jar, students can observe the condensation and precipitation process.
Set up a water cycle simulation using a large jar, a heat source, and a plastic cover. Fill the jar with water and cover it with plastic wrap to create a closed system. Apply heat to the jar, causing evaporation, and observe the condensation on the plastic wrap and the precipitation that follows as the big drops fall from the plastic wrap back into the glass. Explain how the Earth’s hydrosphere undergoes constant processes of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation, which connect to the atmosphere (air) and form the water cycle.
This second-grade science activity is all about clouds! It’s a great way to investigate the water cycle by using ice and a glass jar. Students read about the water cycle. They observe the water cycle in action using a glass jar and ice cubes.
A watershed model is a great way to demonstrate how water interacts with the Earth’s geosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere. By creating a mini version of an actual watershed, students can observe how water flows through different land features such as mountains and valleys, and gain an understanding of how pollution affects water quality. This activity provides a hands-on experience that brings the concept of the hydrosphere to life for students and allows them to explore the interconnectedness between all three spheres.
Create a mini watershed model by using a large container, sand, rocks, and a water source to demonstrate how water flows through a landscape and the effects of pollution on water quality. Help students pour water into the model to observe how it flows through different land features like mountains, valleys, and rivers. Discuss how the hydrosphere (water) interacts with the geosphere (land) by shaping the landforms and creating erosion and deposition. Highlight how the biosphere (plants and animals) in and around the water is affected by the characteristics of the watershed.
In this fifth-grade science activity, students read about the watersheds and the water cycle. They make their own watershed and investigate how water moves through it. Students can then answer questions about the investigation.
Water Filtration Experiment
One of the most engaging activities to learn about the Earth’s hydrosphere is a water filtration experiment. This hands-on activity helps students understand how the hydrosphere interacts with the geosphere and biosphere and teaches them about processes like filtration and clean water sources. Students will be provided with dirty water samples and materials such as sand, gravel, activated charcoal, and filter paper to design their own systems for cleaning it. Through this experiment, they will gain an understanding for why clean water is essential for ecosystems and human consumption.
Provide students with dirty water samples (you can make them using non-toxic materials like soil and food coloring). Set up a filtration station with materials like sand, gravel, activated charcoal, and filter paper. Guide students to design and build their own water filtration systems to clean the dirty water. Discuss how the hydrosphere interacts with the geosphere (land) through processes like filtration and explain the importance of clean water for ecosystems and human consumption.
Ocean Acidification Experiment
The ocean acidification experiment is a great way to demonstrate how increased carbon dioxide levels can cause seashells, coral skeletons, or chalk to dissolve or weaken due to a decrease in pH levels. This activity provides students with an engaging and hands-on way to explore the effects of ocean acidification on marine life and ecosystems.
Prepare containers with water (representing the ocean) and add vinegar (representing increased carbon dioxide levels). Provide students with seashells, coral skeletons, or chalk, and place them in the containers. Observe and discuss how the shells or coral dissolve or weaken due to increased acidity, representing the impact of ocean acidification. Connect this activity to the biosphere (marine life) and discuss the effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms and ecosystems.
Science Stations about the Earth’s Hydrosphere
We have a variety of science activities that focus on the Hydrosphere. Students can learn about how water exists on Erath in different forms and how it impacts other systems. Each science center has a reading passage, hands-on activity, and differentiated questions to extend the learning.
In this science activity, students read about the negative impacts people have on Earth’s water and what is being done to solve the problems. They explore natural filters in a hands-on activity.
In this sorting activity, students read about water on Earth. They will sort several water systems into freshwater and saltwater categories.
In this exploration, students read about water distribution on Earth, water scarcity, and saltwater on Earth. They explore saltwater in a hands-on activity. Students answer questions about the exploration
With this DIAGRAM science station, students can get an in-depth understanding of the water cycle and how water is distributed around Earth. Students create graphs that diagram water distribution
Science Stations about the Earth’s Hydrosphere’s Effect on the Geosphere
While not specifically about the hydrosphere, the following science stations explore how water affects the land. They include explorations into flood waters, river systems, and water erosion.
In this EXPLORE science station, students explore floods and how to keep a house safe from flooding.
In this DIAGRAM science station, students read about river systems. They put together a diagram of a river.
In this INVESTIGATE science station, read about weathering and erosion that happen with water. They investigate this in a hands-on activity.
In this MODEL science station, read about problems that happen with weathering and erosion. Students draw models of solutions to erosion problems.
Science Stations about the Earth’s Hydrosphere’s Effect on the Biosphere
These science activities focus on how the Earth’s hydrosphere affects the biosphere by looking at water habitats.
Conduct a Water Quality Test
Have students conduct a water quality test to determine the presence of contaminants and pollutants in different sources of water. Through this activity, they will gain a better understanding of how pollution can affect the environment and its inhabitants. Additionally, it is important to discuss with students the importance of conserving our limited resources and reducing waste production. This is a great way for students to learn about the importance of clean water and the effects of pollution on our water supply.
These hands-on activities will help students understand the importance of the Earth’s hydrosphere and how it interacts with other spheres, fostering a deeper understanding of Earth’s interconnected systems.
Activities about the Cryosphere
Did you know that the icy part of the Earth’s hydrosphere has its own name? The cryosphere is the icy realm that encompasses glaciers, ice caps, and frozen bodies of water. Students will participate in activities such as glacier formation simulations and investigations into the effects of melting ice. Through these experiences, they will discover the cryosphere’s vital role in shaping landscapes, influencing sea levels, and impacting the broader Earth system.
Melting Ice Investigation
In this investigation, students will explore the cryosphere and its role in shaping landscapes, influencing sea levels, and impacting the broader Earth system. They will use different types of ice to observe and record the rate of melting under various conditions (temperature, exposure to sunlight, etc.). By doing so, they will gain a better understanding of how changes in the cryosphere can affect other Earth systems.
Provide students with different types of ice (cubes, crushed, or blocks) and ask them to observe and record the rate of melting under various conditions (temperature, exposure to sunlight, etc.). Have a discussion about the melting polar ice caps and how this investigation relates to climate change.
Water is one of the most important components of Earth’s spheres, and its icy form – known as the cryosphere – plays an essential role in shaping landscapes, influencing sea levels, and impacting other Earth systems. To help students understand these complex processes better, try this hands-on experiment about glacier formation! Using sand, ice, and a tray to simulate glacial movement, kids will learn how glaciers can push soil and rocks to create moraines and other glacial features. It’s a great way for them to explore how changes in the cryosphere affect our planet.
Use sand, ice, and a tray to demonstrate how glaciers form, move, and shape the land by pushing soil and rocks, creating moraines and other glacial features. Place the tray on a flat surface and spread the sand evenly over it. Place ice cubes on top of the sand and observe how they move and shape it as they melt. Use a magnifying glass to observe the surface of the tray in more detail (optional). Discuss what is happening with your students as they watch the glacier form,
Science Stations about the Cryosphere
We also have several science stations that focus specifically on the Earth’s Cryosphere. These stations focus on glaciers and erosion by glaciers.
More Activities about the Earth’s Hydrosphere
PBS Learning Media has a great site with videos and interactive lessons that are aligned with the NGSS. The Earth’s Hydrosphere section focuses on the role of water in Earth’s systems, components of the hydrosphere, the water cycle, and ocean systems. There are a variety of lessons for grades 3-12.
This lesson from NASA shows students how to use measurements and data to investigate freshwater sources.
A Complete Unit of 5th Grade Science Activities about Earth’s Spheres and Systems
We have a set of science centers that focus on the Earth’s Spheres’ interactions with each other and ecosystems. These Earth’s Spheres and Systems Next Generation Science Stations include eight different science stations in which students deepen their understanding of the Earth’s Spheres, the five layers of the atmosphere, the kingdoms in the biosphere, and the systems in the geosphere. The focus is on 5-ESS2-1.
Key Concepts of the Earth’s Spheres and Systems Science Stations
- General overview of the four spheres on Earth and how they affect each other
- How the spheres interact and create landforms in the geosphere and how that affects coastal erosion and deposition
- How the Earth’s hydrosphere interacts with eight major ecosystems (changes in ecosystems)
- How the geosphere affects the hydrosphere
- Five layers of the atmosphere
- Kingdoms in the biosphere
For more information about the 5th grade Earth’s Spheres and Systems Science Stations, see this blog post. It goes into detail about each of the stations.
Fourth grade is a magical time for reading growth. With more profound themes and complex topics, chapter books for…