Lesson 5: Make Your Own Water Pollution

Grade 5-8 (Science and Social studies)
Grade 9-12 (Science and Social studies)

Topic: water pollution and cleaning up polluted water.

Time: 60 minutes

Space Requirement: Regular classroom or lab set up

Methodology: Group lab, cooperative learning

Materials: 1 2L  clear pop bottle per group, 1 500-mL pop bottle (with lid) per group, 1 cup of fine sand per group, 1 cup coarse sand per group, 1 cup fine gravel per group, 1 cup coarse gravel per group, 1 cup activated carbon (charcoal) per group, 1 cotton ball per group, 1 clear cup per group, 1 small piece (about 10 cm3 ) of cheese cloth per group, 1 rubber band per group, 1 funnel per group, TDS meter, pH meter, pollutants as brought by students, 1 designated waste container for the water rinsed from the pop bottles, 1 permanent marker, blank paper (1 per group).

Objectives: Students will experiment with different types of water pollution to see first hand how pollution affects water. Students will begin to develop an understanding of the economic impact of water pollution. Students will develop a water filter diagram to demonstrate the difficulties associated with cleaning polluted water.


  1. Stir up the container of dirty water from the previous lesson and remind the students about the types of pollution discussed the day before. (2 min)
  2. Explain the activity for the day using Exercise in creating water pollution sheet (see Resources) and explain the following duties then divide the class into groups of five. (5 min)
    a. Reader: reads the procedure for the whole group
    b. Materials: gets what is needed from the materials list
    c. Chemist: mix the pollutants together one at a time
    d. Recorder: records all observations
    e. Banker: look useful for now
    f. Remind students that all questions must be answered by the end of class time.
  3. Divide students into groups and begin the activity. (25 min)
    a. While the groups are working on their pollutants, set up the filter materials on a separate table.
  4. Hand out Exercise in filtering water pollution (see Resources) to each group.
  5. After 25 minutes bring the class together and explain the second part of the activity. (5 min)
    a. Point out the table with the filter materials. Remind the groups that ONLY the material gatherer and the recorder are to go to the table and make a note of what is on the table to build a water filter. The groups are NOT to begin building the filters today.
    b. The task is to design a filter that will remove as many or all the pollutants your group has using the materials on the table.
  6. Groups work together to design a water filter. They must draw the filter in a fully labelled diagram on a separate sheet of paper to be handed in at the end of the class. (20 min)
  7. Remind the students to fill in their water bottle charts.

Evaluation: Students must hand in one completed question sheet and one filter diagram per group.

For the Teacher: This lesson is adapted from two sources: Carmen Hood from the SEER water Project and Tracy Webb, a teacher from Nova Scotia and a Board member for the Safe Drinking Water Foundation.

The goal for this lesson is to have students begin to think more deeply about pollution and the effect it has on the environment and the economy. It is advisable to have some assistance during this lesson either from an EA or another teacher to assist the younger grades with filtering their samples.

There are a number of materials needed for the lesson. Most materials can be gathered at little or no cost (for example: pop bottles, cotton balls and cheese cloth from home, sand and gravel from play ground). The sand and gravel should be cleaned prior to use. It is easily cleaned by putting the sand in a colander or strainer and running water through the sand until the water runs clear. The activated carbon is the same material that is used in filters for aquariums; your local pet store will stock it.

A water filter diagram is available through a link in the resources section. This diagram can be used as a template for assessing how effective the students’ filters will be.

Related Links:

Water Pollution
Emerging Contaminants
Oil Fields

Resources: The Procedure sheets and Question sheet for this activity can be found at the following links: Exercise in creating water pollution, Exercise in filtering water pollution, Questions. Also, be sure to look at the Sample water filter.

Extension Activity: The Safe Drinking Water Foundation has other educational programs that can be taught with this set of lessons. Operation Water Drop looks at what chemical contaminants there are in water and is designed for a science class. Operation Water Flow looks at how water is used and where it comes from and is designed for a Social studies and Math collaboration. Operation Water Spirit presents a First Nations perspective of water and water issues and is designed for a Native Studies class. Operation Water Health looks at common health issues surrounding drinking water in Canada and around the world and is designed for a Health, Science and Social Studies collaboration. To access more information on these and other educational activities visit the Safe Drinking Water Foundation website at www.safewater.org.