Watershed Modeling

Introduction—Watershed Modeling

Summary: Students will create and explore small scale models of watersheds made from either paper or in a large group using a shower curtain. Students work to identify various living and nonliving features within their model and look at how they function within a watershed. Run-off, erosion, and sources of pollution are explored using water bottles and props.

Concepts to teach: Watershed features, watershed health, runoff & erosion, point & non-point source pollution.

Goals: Students will explore the features of a watershed and understand how various natural processes might be impacted by human activity.

Science—3.3s.2, 4.2L.1, 4.2E.1, 5.2L.1, 5.3S.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Identify nonliving and living features found in a watershed and describe how water interacts with those features.
  2. Understand and describe how human activities can affect watersheds.
  3. Name at least two actions they can take to keep a watershed healthy

Activity Links and Resources:

  • A Watershed Model in Your Hands—This activity was written by the Oregon Coast Education Program. Students work individually to create a watershed model using paper.
  • Crumple a Watershed – This similar lesson developed by OMSI includes student instructions, worksheets, and extensions.
  • Shower Curtain Watershed was developed by Monterey Bay Aquarium as a part of their K-12 inquiry based curriculum series. Students work in small groups using a plastic shower curtain or tarp and various common props to model the local watershed.


  • Students create diagrams and descriptions to predict what will happen when water is added to the model. After the experiment, students compare their predictions to what actually happened when the model was used and explain why the model performed the way it did.
  • Create a Venn diagram comparing the model watershed and natural watershed.
  • Journal reflection: Describe how the model demonstrates watershed processes.