Above: The water cycle (image via iStock)

Setting the Stage

The water cycle (or hydrological cycle) describes the continuous movement of water on Earth. The warming of water from the Sun causes the evaporation of liquid water molecules into water vapour that moves up into the atmosphere. As water vapour moves higher in the atmosphere temperatures start to decrease, causing the vapour to condense and form liquid water droplets. When these droplets get heavy, they drop to Earth as a form of precipitation (rain, snow, sleet or hail).

The water cycle
(Image by Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons)

In conducting this inquiry students use their observation skills to note examples of the various states of water in their environment. The students use this information to help them design and create their own miniature model of the water cycle using simple materials, as a way to demonstrate their understanding of this natural process.

This inquiry could begin from:

  • Questions or comments initiated by the students about how water comes in different forms and how that affects life on Earth. Discuss using questions such as:
  • Walking in a puddle (Photo by Holeysocksart via Pixabay)

    • “Where do you think rain/snow come from?”
    • “If I wanted to find liquid water in our community/environment where would I look? Where might I find water in other forms?” (e.g., liquid water: puddle, river, lake, ocean, pond, streams, water table, dew, rain barrel, sprinkler, water fountain; solid water: snow, ice, skating rink, icicles, frost; gaseous water (water vapour): fog, mist, steam, breath on a cold day)
    • “How do different forms of water affect our daily lives?” (e.g., choice of clothing and footwear, outside activities, road conditions, safety considerations, water conservation issues)

    Icicles (Photo by KRiemer via Pixabay)

  • An exploration walk outside in the school yard, local neighbourhood or nearby park to identify evidence of water in the environment. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “Where could we look for water in this outside area?”
    • “If you wanted to find water in our community, where might you find it?” (e.g., natural: puddle, river, lake, ocean, pond, stream, water table; human-made: bird bath, water fountain, sprinkler, swimming pool, well, sewers, water-supply system, reservoir, water tower)
    • “At [this time of year], in what forms do we see water in the environment?” (e.g., solid – visible as ice, snow, sleet, hail, frost; liquid –
      visible as rain, mist and dew; gas – visible as fog and steam)

    Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul (cover image by Let’s Talk Science)

  • Reading a book such as Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul or The Snowflake: A Water Cycle Story by Neil Waldman. Discuss using questions such as:
    • "How does water in the environment change with the seasons?”
    • "I wonder what causes these changes?”
    • “Where can water travel when it becomes a liquid?”
    • “What forms of water are talked about in the story or shown in the pictures?”

Materials and Preparation (Click to Expand)


Water cycle model
(graphic by Let’s Talk Science)

  • Bucket or pitcher
  • Large elastic or string
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Mug
  • Plastic wrap
  • Water
  • Kettle (to heat water)
  • Ice cubes (to cool air)


  • Find a model of a water cycle that students could recreate easily with materials that are accessible. You may wish to use the water cycle model presented here or find a model that better suits your needs (see images of simple water cycle models).
  • For supporting background information, read the Water Cycle backgrounder.
  • Source and gather all materials required to build the model.

Example models of water cycles
(photos by Let’s Talk Science)

Example models of water cycles
(photos by Let’s Talk Science)

What To Do

Top view of water cycle in a bowl model
(Photo by Let's Talk Science)

Students develop the skills of observing and recording observations as they explore how the water cycle works.


  • work in collaborative groups to build a miniature water cycle with the materials provided.
  • place their model water cycle in a warm, sunny place to heat the water.
    • Optional – Use hot water to speed up the water cycle process.
    • Note: Educator should handle hot water if this option is chosen.
  • observe and record their observations of the water cycle model on an organizer of their choice, using words, pictures and/or photographs.
  • communicate, using their finished organizers and their water cycle model, how water moves through the water cycle.

Clouds forming over mountains
(Photo by carloyuen via Pixabay)


Observe and document, using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, student’s ability to:

  • Record - students determine an appropriate method to record their observations of their miniature water cycle
  • Collaborate - students work with others to complete a task (e.g., listen to the ideas and reasoning presented by other students)
  • Communicate - communicate orally in a clear, coherent manner, presenting information in a readily understandable form (e.g., share understanding of the water cycle using their model as support; use appropriate scientific language such as precipitation, condensation, evaporation, collection in discussions about the water cycle)

Co-constructing Learning

Saying, Doing, Representing

Responding, Challenging

Students demonstrate their ability to recognize water in the environment.
  • “What different forms (states) can water take?”
  • “What are some of the names that we give to the different forms (states) of water?” (e.g., ice, mist, fog, running water, rain, snow, hail, sleet, steam)
  • “How does water get from one state to another?”
  • “When and where have you seen water in the environment in a different state?” (e.g., in winter there is snow and ice; foggy mornings; dew on the grass in the evenings or early morning)
Students collaborate to assemble and explore a model water cycle.
  • “How can you help your group assemble the model?”
  • “What tasks can be shared and what tasks are better done by one person at a time?”
  • “Why is it important to work together when handling your model?”
Students record their observations of the model water cycle, using a recording method of their choice.
  • “How might you record your observations of the water cycle?”
  • “What forms of precipitation can be involved in the water cycle?”
  • “How will you organize and represent your observations of the water cycle so that it is very easy to understand?”
  • “What technology could you use to record your observations?”
Students use appropriate and accurate scientific language to communicate their understanding of the water cycle (use/apply prior knowledge and new learning) as a continuous process with unique stages.
  • “Why is the process you observed called a cycle?”
  • “How does the Sun activate the water cycle?”
  • “How would you summarize the steps of the water cycle using correct scientific terms?” (e.g., evaporation, condensation, precipitation, collection, runoff)
  • “What could you do to help someone understand the water cycle?”
  • “How do weather conditions impact the water cycle?”
  • “How does water move around once it is on the ground?”

Cross-Curricular Connections


  • Create a variety of media texts for different purposes (e.g., use their water cycle model to explain the water cycle)
  • Understand the criteria involved in successfully completing a task (e.g., take on a role in a group that helps the group to be successful in completing their model of the water cycle)

Mathematical Thinking

  • Measure and record measurements using appropriate standard units (e.g., measure in ml the amount of water added to the model and what is left at the end of the exploration; measure the temperature of the water in degrees Celsius at the beginning and at the end of the exploration; measure the time it takes for condensation to form inside the model)


  • Use the elements and conventions of drama to communicate feelings, ideas, and stories (e.g., role-play changes that occur to a molecule of water in the water cycle: molecules of water warm up from the Sun; as they warm up they move faster and faster until they change into a gas (water vapour); water vapour moves up in the atmosphere to form clouds, where it cools down and condenses to become liquid water (precipitation), which falls to the ground and flows into puddles, streams, rivers or lakes and collects)

Extending the Learning

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:

Cover image from Come on, Rain! by Karen Hess
(Image via Open Library)

  • Read a book such as Come on, Rain! by Karen Hess and explore extreme events that can occur in a water cycle. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “Can you predict why it has not rained for such a long time in “Come On, Rain?”
    • “How do weather forecasters know that rain is coming or not coming? What kinds of technology do meteorologists use to make forecasts?”
    • “What impacts of a lack of rain/too much rain can you see in the story?”
    • “How does the lack of rain/ flooding change the environment? How does it change the feelings and attitudes of the people?”
    • “How does rain usually make you feel? When might your feelings about the rain be different or change?”

  • The Water Cycle for Schools: Beginner ages (USGS)
    (Image via USGS)

  • Explore an interactive online water cycle, such as this one developed by the US Geological Survey. This page also includes an Intermediate level water cycle with added information. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “Where are some different places on Earth that water can collect? How does water move around on the ground?”
    • “What did you learn about the different forms of precipitation?”
    • “What causes condensation to happen in the water cycle?"