Planning—Shoreline Structure

Summary: What different kinds of shorelines exist in Oregon? How do different types of shoreline react to flooding and sea level rise? In this topic guide, students learn about different kinds of natural and human-created shorelines, and map a coastal area to show where different types of shoreline are found. They also create a model that demonstrates how water interacts differently with “hard” and “soft” features.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Shoreline features vary in different places along coastlines
  2. “Soft” shorelines absorb wave energy and water, and “hard” shorelines reflect or redirect wave energy and water, often causing erosion nearby.
  3. Soft shorelines such as coastal wetlands can help protect communities from damaging sea level rise and storm surges.

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • 4-ESS2-1. Make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering or the rate of erosion by water, ice, wind, or vegetation.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Identify different types of shorelines on the Oregon coast
  2. Experiment with a model to show how different types of shoreline interact differently with waves.
  3. Understand that coastal wetlands can help control flooding and erosion.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Activity: Plan a visit to a coastal area that has a variety of shoreline features and provide students with a simple map of the shoreline. Ask the students to notes the types of shoreline they observe on the map and make a key to their notation so that others can understand their map.
    • Example: Hatfield Marine Science Center Nature Trail mapping worksheet—Walk the HMSC Estuary Nature Trail and draw on the map different symbols and colors to indicate shoreline features. Create a key to the symbols and colors.
    • Which types of shoreline will absorb water and wave energy? Which types will reflect water and waves? If possible, observe how waves come ashore in different areas. Is there evidence of erosion at the field site?
    • Using the map scale and a ruler, calculate the distance of the shoreline on the map (this is easier on a straight shoreline). Determine the proportion of shoreline that is “natural” vs. “human-made”, or “hard” vs. “soft”.
  • Activity: Experiment with a wave tank to see how different structures interact with waves.
    • Visit the wave tank in the HMSC Visitor Center
    • Create your own wave tank in a large pan or sink, and create model shorelines from sand, gravel, bricks, sponges, etc and generate a wave that travels toward the ‘shore’ and see what the water does
  • Review: How Do Trees Affect Erosion? topic guide from OCEP Module 2 which focuses on how vegetation helps stabilize shorelines.
  • Activity: Wetlands and their ecological services—in this Lesson 1.3 of the Bringing Wetlands to Market curriculum, students learn about the different types of wetlands and their ecological roles, and they identify one or more local wetlands.


  • Observe and map the hard and soft shoreline features of a coastal area
  • How does water interact with different shorelines in your model?