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STEM and education

Lesson plan
Water pollution — Don’t trust your eyes

Grade Level: 6–12
Duration: 4 weeks
Subject: Water pollution
Setting: Indoors


  1. Students will develop a list of student actions that would protect our water resources from pollution.
  2. Students will formulate hypotheses and conclusions through observation of pollutants.


  • Tap water
  • Bleach
  • Fertilizer
  • Detergent
  • Motor oil
  • Vinegar
  • Soil
  • Leaves
  • Twigs
  • Dead insects
  • 42 baby food jars
  • Wide-range pH paper
  • Student worksheet


Water pollution is pollution that occurs when unwanted wastes (such as sewage, industrial wastes, and agricultural wastes) are released into water sources. This is the result of human activities.


  1. Gather contaminants (leaf, twig, insect, and soil) and pollutants in advance of class. Fertilizer represents agricultural, garden, or lawn waste; detergent and motor oil represents domestic and road wastes; and bleach and vinegar represent industrial wastes.
  2. Divide students into teams. Each team will need eight baby food jars. The teams will use the following directions to make their experiment samples:
    1. Into the first jar, pour ¼ cup (60 milliliters [mL]) of tap water. Do not add pollutants to this jar; it will be the control.
    2. Into the second jar, mix ½ teaspoon (2–3 mL) of bleach and ¼ cup of tap water.
    3. Into the third jar, mix ½ teaspoon fertilizer and ¼ cup of tap water.
    4. Into the fourth jar, mix ½ teaspoon detergent and ¼ cup of tap water.
    5. Into the fifth jar, mix ½ teaspoon of motor oil and ¼ cup of tap water.
    6. Into the sixth jar, mix ½ teaspoon of vinegar and ¼ cup of tap water.
    7. Into the seventh jar, mix leaves and twigs with ¼ cup of tap water.
    8. Into the eighth jar, mix dead insects and ¼ cup of tap water.
  3. (Items b–e represent pollution caused by humans. Item f represents pollution caused by either humans or nature. Items g – h represent pollution caused by nature.)
  4. Seal and label the jars. Place in a bright location, but not in direct sunlight.
  5. Give each group eight copies of the student worksheet and have them complete Sections 1 and 2 for each jar.
  6. Each week for the next 4 weeks, allow the groups time to write their observations on the worksheets. Have students test the water in each jar with pH paper and note any changes. Have students discuss how the changes they are observing would affect a natural water system.
  7. At the end of the fourth observation, allow time for the groups to draw a conclusion and record it on the worksheets. Then have the groups share their conclusions and observations with each other.
  8. As a wrap-up, give each group 10 minutes to brainstorm an answer to the question, “What can you do to prevent water pollution?” When doing this, tell students to think about prevention as well as a solution to the problem after it has already occurred.
  9. Make sure all pollutants are properly disposed of after their use. Liquid mixtures, except for the motor oil, can be flushed down the sink.


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St. Johns River Water Management District
4049 Reid Street, Palatka, FL 32177
(800) 725-5922