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5 Ways to Make The Water Cycle an Interactive Topic for Students

Sana Shujat
Earth Science
High School
Teaching with Labster

The water cycle, called a hydrological cycle (hydro, meaning water), is one of the biogeochemical cycles. Life on the earth is highly dependent on regulating the water cycle. Water continuously moves from the land (soil, water bodies, glaciers, mountains, plants) to the atmosphere and back to the ground. 

Did you know the water you’re drinking may have once been part of a glacier in the Antarctic? The heat from the sun converts surface water into water vapors that move into the atmosphere to form clouds. When the clouds become heavy, they start pouring these water vapors back on the earth in the form of precipitation. Plants also play an essential role in either intercepting the falling water or giving back the water from solid to the atmosphere through transpiration. 

The paragraph above summarizes the water cycle, but it gets more detailed and challenging at the high school level. Introducing new aspects of the hydrological cycle often makes students interested in the subject. Likewise, some educators struggle to make it a comprehensive and approachable topic.

Labster identifies these challenges in this article and proposes five practical solutions to overcome this issue. Keep reading to find out the ways you could implement in your classroom to make the water cycle a more approachable topic for  students. 

Why is the water cycle a tricky topic?

College/university students are already familiar with the basic concept of the water cycle. However, they were only taught a summary of the subject in school. They learn about the intricate details of the water cycle in school. This change confuses some students who thought it would be a simple subject. The top three reasons making the water cycle a tricky topic for educators and students are as follows:

1. Hydrological cycle is rich in content

Water in any form and from any place is destined to go back and forth into the ecosystem regulating the water cycle. It seems like there is no beginning or end to the water cycle. Some students might find it challenging to keep up with the water cycle's small details. Similarly, many educators get lost in the heap of information and fail to share the important stuff.  

2. Water cycle is related to the geology and biology of Earth

It plays an essential role in the ecosystem's cycling sediments, solar energy, and chemical elements. The geological evolution over time has somewhat influenced the water cycle. Scientists are still trying to figure out delicate linkages impacting the natural circulating water process on earth. Human activities have sufficiently tampered with regulating some operations in the water cycle, like evaporation, precipitation, etc. Many students consider it a complex topic when they learn intricate details like the water cycle's relationship with life and the earth's geology.

3. Different phases or stages of the water cycle 

There are eight essential processes primarily responsible for governing the water cycle. Some students could confuse evaporation, transpiration, infiltration, and interception. It challenges educators to develop effective strategies to help students easily comprehend these terms. Some educators might underestimate these terms' significance before teaching the water cycle details. 

5 ways to make water cycle a more approachable topic for students

The water cycle is a fascinating topic if approached in a systemized manner. Here are a few suggestions you could implement in the classroom to increase student engagement and participation rate. 

1. Familiarize students with the basic concepts

The water in the water cycle revolves from one reservoir to another through a series of processes. Start your lesson by defining/introducing these processes to make students feel relatable to the phenomenon. Following are some essential terms that students should be familiar with before diving into the water cycle. 

  • The conversion of water vapors into water is termed condensation. The clouds in the water cycle are formed through the process of condensation.

  • The atmospheric water reaches the land through the process of precipitation. Rain, snow, hail, or sleet falling from the sky are all examples of precipitation. 

  • The heat from sunlight warms the surface water, increasing the water molecules' kinetic energy. These molecules keep gaining speed until they can escape as gas or vapors. This phenomenon sends groundwater into the atmosphere and is known as evaporation

  • The water from a plant's surface or soil surface is evaporated in the form of water vapors through the process of transpiration. It shows that plants play a significant role in the water cycle. 

  • The water collected on the land surface through any source, like excess irrigation, rain, meltwater, etc., is pulled by gravity to percolate into an aquifer or replenish groundwater. This water is known as surface runoff which either evaporates or becomes part of water bodies like rivers/lakes. 

  • Significant quantities of water move underground due to gravity and pressure, termed groundwater flow. This water eventually emerges back to the land surface to participate in the water cycle. 

  • The water soaks into the soil moving between soil and rocks through infiltration. Plants are essential in pulling this water back up and into the water cycle. At the same time, interception is the process in which precipitates (snow or rain) are interrupted by the leaves of plants and do not reach the soil.

Students show more interest and understanding of the revised water cycle and become familiar with these terms.

water cycle process

Image from Labster.

2. Examples from daily life would make the water cycle unambiguous

The examples of water cycles could easily be observed in our surroundings. It would make students realize the significance of the water cycle. For instance, condensation is observed around us in the form of morning dew or fogged mirrors. The liquid drops on a soda can appear when water vapors in the surrounding air hit the surface of the can, changing water vapor into water. The boiling process is an ideal example of evaporation as the volume of water decreases due to molecules evaporating in the form of gas from the surface. 

Motivate students to think and share examples where they could observe water moving from one form/place to another. It would make the water cycle topic fun and exciting for students at all levels.

3. Working model of the water cycle

The working water cycle model is an interactive learning activity that would help clarify concepts and understand the intricate details. Teachers should encourage students to do some research and independently make a unique model. This activity could also be done in groups, developing team spirit and harmony among students. 

The college/university-level model should include in-depth concepts like how pollution or global warming impacts the water cycle. This would help students grasp the advanced and latest aspects making learning a valuable experience. Such activities help educators explain scientific concepts easily while keeping students engaged and hooked. 

4. Share exciting facts about the water cycle

Spark students’ interest in learning more about the water cycle through a tried and tested method - sharing fun facts in the classroom. Look for the most awe-inspiring facts that would motivate students to uncover further details about the intertwined hydrological cycle. Some of the things that you could share with your class are as follows:

  • About 97% of water is present in oceanic stores, but it is not drinkable (salty water). Only 1% of water present in freshwater stores is available for drinking. 

  • The earth has retained its amount of water since its creation. However, the amount of drinkable water is getting scarce. 

  • The average water molecule spends 98 years in the ocean, 20 months as ice, around two weeks in lakes and rivers, and less than a week in the atmosphere during a century. For thousands of years, most of the Earth's water has been trapped in glaciers and polar ice.

  • The water cycle is regulated by several factors like solar influx, sea level, topography, earth’s rotation, and general atmospheric circulation pattern.

  • The rise in the earth’s temperature due to global warming increases the evaporation rate, thus speeding up the water cycle. 

  • Extreme weather conditions negatively impact the water cycle leading to the melting of polar ice caps, floods, etc. The warm air holds more water vapors which explain the intensified rainfall leading to floods. 

5. Use virtual lab simulations

A virtual laboratory simulation is a great way to teach the water cycle. At Labster, we're dedicated to delivering fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that utilize gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems inside an immersive and engaging 3D universe.

Check out Labster's Principles of the Water Cycle Virtual Lab. In this simulation, you will learn how water moves around the Earth in a continuous process.

principles of the water cycle GIF

Please take a look at the following snippets taken from the Labster simulations or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.