Water Pollution Activity: An Earth Day Investigation

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Earth Day is a great time to review with your class the importance of caring for the environment. Hands-on investigations can help your students explore the human impact on the world around us. In this post, I’m going to share a water pollution activity that you can use to make Earth Day more meaningful for your early elementary students this year.

Water Pollution Activity

Earth Day in the Classroom

Even thought it falls on the busiest time of the school year, Earth Day is a worthwhile holiday to observe when April 22nd rolls around. 

First, it’s a holiday that most early elementary students aren’t as familiar with, especially compared to holidays like Christmas! They are always so excited to learn that we have a special holiday for our planet. 

The other reason why Earth Day is such a great holiday to celebrate in the early elementary classroom is that it aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards. For example, in the Earth and Human Activity standards for kindergarten, students are expected to communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the local environment. Earth Day celebrations are the perfect opportunity to address this standard!

There are many different ways that you can teach your students about the importance of caring for the environment. I have alway found that hands-on activities are the best for early elementary students! The water pollution investigation I’m sharing in this post can spark important discussions about the human impact on the environment.

Water Pollution Activity

This water pollution activity is simple to prep but is a very effective Earth Day investigation for the young learners in your class. In this activity, your students will create an oil spill model to explore the concept of water pollution in a kid-friendly way. 

Polluted water with boat

Here are some suggestions to help this Earth Day investigation go smoothly in your classroom: 

Step One: Gather Materials

The first step is to gather everything you’re going to need to create the oil spill model:

  • Clear Container of Water: Having a clear container to hold the water will make it easier for students to observe what happens during the investigation.
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Food Coloring: To make the model more eye-catching for the students, you can dye the water blue.
  • Extra Additions: You can add anything else to this activity that will help to create a meaningful model for the investigation. This could be small boats, plastic sea animals, or even feathers.
  • Clear Cup
  • Small Measuring Cup

Students can fill their clear containers halfway with water and then add 1 to 2 drops of blue food coloring to create the ocean.

Adding cocoa powder to vegetable oil

Then, they can add some vegetable oil to a clear cup and stir in a teaspoon of cocoa powder to create the oil.

Step Two: Pollute the Water

Once you have everything ready, it’s time for the students to add the oil to the water. You can encourage them to swirl the oil around in the water and observe what happens.

Adding brown oil to blue water

This is also a good time to have the students introduce any additional items into the water. They can dip a feather into the polluted water or have the plastic ocean animals “swim” through the water.

Step Three: Make Observations

Now it’s time for students to make observations about what is happening in the oil spill model. What happens to the oil when it’s in the water? If your students have placed objects in the water, give them a chance to explore and observe what happens to those objects. Does the oil cling to them? 

Scooping oil from water with measuring cup

If you had your students dip a feather into the oil-polluted water, ask them to observe what happens to the feather. Is it heavier? Does it look different?

You can also have them try to clean up the oil by scooping it out with a measuring cup. What happens to the water when they do that? Students can document their observations on a printable recording sheet.

Step Four: Discuss Environmental Impact

Once students have had a chance to discuss what happened in the pollution model, it’s time to talk about the real-world impact that an oil spill has on the environment.

Turtle pulled from water

You can talk about what oil does to the animals that live in and around the polluted water. How does that impact the health of the ocean life? Can birds fly when their feathers are coated with oil? What can happen to our food supply if the oceans are polluted with oil? If we never cleaned up our oil spills, what would happen to our planet?

You can try this Water Pollution Investigation with your K-2 class! Click HERE to sign up for the free download.

Step Five: Brainstorm Solutions

This is one of the most important parts of this investigation! Give your class plenty of time to brainstorm solutions to the problems they discovered during this water pollution activity. 

Some of these solutions might be preventive measures that we can take to avoid oil spills, inventions for cleaning up water pollution, or ideas for helping animals from polluted areas. It’s always so encouraging to hear the creative and thoughtful solutions that students come up with!

More Earth Day Activities

Would you like even more Earth Day activities to use in your early elementary classroom? I have put together a low-prep resource that’s full of meaningful, standards-based activities that you can use in your Earth Day celebration. 

In addition to the water pollution investigation, this printable resource includes informative text passages, hands-on activities, and engaging crafts. You can use these activities to put together an entire Earth Day mini-unit for your students. They’ll be able to expand their knowledge of meaningful vocabulary as they practice academic skills and learn more about caring for the planet.

If you’d like to take a closer look at everything included in this resource, you can check it out in my TPT store.

Save This Water Pollution Activity Idea

Be sure to save this water pollution activity idea so you can find it later! Just add the pin below to your favorite teaching board on Pinterest. You’ll be able to quickly find this investigation when you’re looking for Earth Day activities to use in your early elementary classroom.

Water pollution activity for Earth Day

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Stephanie Stewart

Stephanie Stewart

Hi, I' Stephanie! I’m always looking for new ways to put a creative twist on the standards and I love helping primary teachers do the same in their classroom. Think of me as your virtual teaching partner right down the hall. I can’t wait to share new lesson ideas, teaching tips, and engaging K-2 resources with you!

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Hi, I’ Stephanie! I’m always looking for new ways to put a creative twist on the standards and I love helping primary teachers do the same in their classroom. Think of me as your virtual teaching partner right down the hall. I can’t wait to share new lesson ideas, teaching tips, and engaging K-2 resources with you!



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