Human Impacts—Effects of Erosion

Summary: Students explore their schoolyard or other local site to determine how human activity may have impacts on animal habitats, animal populations, and/or plant populations.

Concepts to teach: Habitat, adaptation, erosion, impervious surfaces, invasive species, turbidity

Goals: Students will apply their knowledge about land use to their local outdoor site, and assess the impact of human land use and erosion on native species.

H.3S.1, H.3S.2, H.3S.3

Specific Objectives:

  1. Locate an example of erosion at a local outdoor site.
  2. Identify human impacts that may contribute to erosion.
  3. Determine the potential impacts of erosion on water quality.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • The Streams Project from Vermont has lesson plans in which students use Google Earth or ArcMap software.
    • Erosion Potential—Students will look at the causes and effects of erosion on water quality. They will be able to pinpoint areas that present a hazard to the watersheds where their school’s stream sites are located.
  • Erosion Inquiry—Students conduct a simple experiment that explores the types of conditions under which erosion occurs in the school yard.
  • How Do Trees Affect Erosion?
    • This lesson plan from outlines the classroom experiment and includes a worksheet and answer key.
    • Have high school students teach this lesson to younger students. Lincoln County teachers in the Oregon Coast Aquatic and Marine Science Partnership (OCAMP) used this experiment for a peer-to-peer teaching activity among 6th and 3rd graders. See their presentation that includes teaching objectives, techniques and student assessments.
  • Resources concerning the potential effects of changing turbidity, stream flow and temperature on aquatic species


  • Use or develop formative assessment probes to gauge student understanding about the water cycle. The following probes from Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, vol. 2 could be applied or modified (to obtain Uncovering Student Ideas in Science publications or access sample chapters, visit the NSTA website):
    • Habitat Change (vol. 2)—explores student understanding of how animal populations are affected when habitats are changed.
    • Beach sand (vol. 1)—the purpose of this probe is to elicit students’ ideas about weathering, erosion, deposition, and landforms. It may be used as is, or modified to better relate to a similar concept found in the schoolyard habitat (pebble size in streams, for example).
  • Probe: Rain on the Parking Lot—the purpose of this OCEP probe is to elicit students’ ideas about how rainwater interacts with impervious surfaces.
  • Students teach the How Do Trees Affect Erosion? activity to younger students.