A River's Journey Lesson Plan

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A Rivers Journey Lesson Plan

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A River's Journey Lesson Plan


This activity is designed to raise students' awareness of how the various activities carried out along a river's path affects it.  It achieves this in a fun, hands-on manner.


A copy of  "A RIVER'S JOURNEY" story. 

An area that won't matter if it gets a bit wet- an outdoor area would be ideal.

A large receptacle for water, such as a plastic "clam shell" sand pit, small blow up toddlers pool, or a large plastic tub if nothing bigger can be obtained.  Ideally it should be large enough for your students to sit around, no more than two deep, so that they can see well and take part.  A large clear aquarium, raised up for better view, could also be used for smaller groups.

"Fish" - either make them yourself, or have your students make them.  You can cut fish shapes out ice cream containers and their lids, or other waterproof material.  Attach these to sticks, by cutting 2 small holes in the fish to pass the stick through, or with a strong water resistant adhesive tape.  These fish are given to students close to the water to act as swimming fish that stir the water.  You can swap which students have control of the fish throughout the activity, but there are other things for students to do also.

You could also make waves on sticks to symbolise the current and wind action on mixing water, or even boats.

A collection of "pollutants" in small containers or zip bags.  You can have more than one container of each to allow extra students to take part, or even add some of your own along with additions to the story.  If you want to add even more to the experience, locate some nasty smelling (safe) substances to add to the sewage and manure containers, and unpleasant chemical smells for various chemical additives.


  • Litter (can be the same basic composition for each lot)- lolly wrappers, can ring pulls, paper scraps, ice cream sticks etc.

  • Mud- make real mud or gravy.

  • Cow Manure- formed brown playdoh or sultanas.

  • Sawdust- if possible, obtain real sawdust.  Alternatively you could use bran or similar.

  • Soil- use real soil.

  • Tannery Chemicals- vinegar or water with red food colouring.

  • Boat oil- car sump oil, or used (brownish) vegetable oil.

  • Barrel Chemicals- bicarbonate of soda and vinegar, mixed immediately before adding.  (Warning: this will foam up, so should be mixed over the water.)

  • Piggery Sludge- thin gravy with a little green colouring

  • Fertiliser and Pesticide (can be same for each time)- bicarbonate of soda, or cornflour, or flour.

  • Sink Scraps- find coleslaw mix or other fine food scraps.

  • Shampoo- shampoo mixed with water and shaken up.

  • Sewage- water with yellow food colouring, sultanas and toilet paper scraps.

  • Sheep Manure- same as cow manure.

  • Factory Effluent- water with dish detergent and green food colouring, shaken up.

  • Dog Droppings- same as other manures.

  • Quarry Sand and Gravel- sand and gravel.

  • Soil and Rubble- soil and rubble.

  • Supermarket Litter- plastic bags, packaging, cigarette butts etc.

  • Lawn Clippings- lawn clippings or finely chopped green paper.

  • Fishing Line- fishing line scraps, also hooks and sinkers if desired.

  • Algae- dark green powder paint or spirulina/wheatgrass powder.

  • Salt- salt

Allocate "pollutants" and fish to students and explain that they need to add the contents of their container, or swim their fish, at the appropriate times.  It may be easiest to also number the containers, so that order is more easily recognised.

Read out the story  "A RIVERS JOURNEY" to your students.  Alternatively, you can write your own variation of the story to specifically relate to a river in your area.

Stop at the appropriate spots for students to carry out the required action of adding a "pollutant" to the water.  The students with the "fish" swim as each pollutant is added, mixing it into the water.  As the activity progresses you may draw the students attention to how murky the water is getting- or you may find they comment on this themselves. 

At the end of the activity ask your students:

  • Would they find the end product agreeable to drink?  To swim or wash in?

  • Do they think any of the things that happened are illegal?  If not, should they be?

  • What other ways could we help protect the health of our rivers?

  • How do they feel about what is happening to the world's rivers?

  • Can they think of some way that they, as a group or individually, could get involved with helping protect a river and those creatures that live in and near it?

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