Students explore their local watershed and learn about local environmental issues and stewardship opportunities.

What is a watershed?

"A watershed is a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually to outflow points such as reservoirs, bays, and the ocean.
- NOAA National Ocean Service

Watersheds! a short animated video introduction from CoCoRaHS

Mid Coast Water Partners has created a story map that explains in detail the watersheds along the Lincoln County coastline.

Oregon Explorer

We live, learn, work, and play in watersheds. Visit Oregon Explorer and use the Search bar to find your watershed address. The "Explore This Place" panel identifies the County, Basin, Sub-Basin, Watershed, and Sub-Watershed of your selected latitude/longitude. The site provides highlights of each watershed scale, including the number of square land miles, the human population, and the percent area of land classified as wetlands. Check out the many features of the Oregon Explorer map view by visiting the tutorial page.

Find Your Watershed


Formative Assessment Probes

Even if you believe your students are already familiar with watersheds and watershed processes, you can learn more about their thinking and potentially uncover misconceptions using a formative assessment probe that leads to discussion and common understanding. MWEEs by the Sea educator professional development workshops often begin with a formative assessment probe designed to elicit thinking about watersheds or watershed processes.

Page Keeley has authored dozens of books containing collections of formative assessment probes. For example, the probe What is a Watershed? 1 presents a scenario of five friends who each share different ideas about what a watershed is. The student is asked which friend they agree with most, and why. Their explanations can help the teacher understand what students know about watersheds, where they may have misconceptions, and where further exploration may be necessary.

More Watershed Formative Assessment Probes

1Keeley, P. and L. Tucker. "What is a Watershed?" Uncovering Ideas in Earth and Environmental Science, 2016, pp.155-159.

Commit and Toss

Teachers engage in a Commit and Toss activityTo help promote discussion without students fearing that they have the 'wrong' answer, a teacher may use the an assessment probe in combination with the Commit and Toss technique. In this activity, students complete a written response to an assessment probe individually but do not write their names on their papers. After responding to the prompt, they crumple up their papers. Standing in a circle, they toss the papers around gently, picking those that land near their feet and tossing them again until all the crumpled paper balls are mixed up. Next, each student selects a ball and opens it up to read the response inside. From that point on, each student shares the ideas found in the paper they have picked up, working first in small groups to discuss the answers, and then in increasingly larger groups until all perspectives have been discussed. At the end, the teacher guides the students in a discussion to determine what the best answer is, and why.

Watershed Quest

student created watershed mapThe pre-assessment activity from the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures Watershed Quest lesson is designed to from determine what students know about the water cycle, watersheds, and their own watershed. In the 45-60 minute class period, students create a community watershed map, a diagram or narrative explaining how water moves through the watershed, and describe how human settlements are connected to watershed resources.



Students at Winter Lakes School in Coquille, Oregon created maps of their watershed.

Classroom Activities

Crumple a Watershed

Students demonstrate their crumpled paper watershed modelIn this classic activity, students create a model to visualize how the physical aspects of watersheds influence the movement of water. To create a topographic relief map of a fictional watershed, students loosely crumple a 8.5" x 11" piece of paper, and then uncrumple the paper to reveal the raised 'hills' and 'valleys' created by the creases in the paper. Using water soluble markers, the students trace the ridgetops and the low areas where they expect water to collect in rivers and lakes. After anchoring the watershed to the table in its three dimensional form, students "make it rain" by spraying the model with water and they notice observe the movement of the water and ink across the model landscape.

The Watershed Game

The Watershed GameCreated by Minnesota Sea Grant,The Watershed Game helps players understand connections between land use, clean water, and communities. Originally designed to promote tabletop discussions among adults, the game was soon converted for classroom use.

"Working in teams, students apply practices, plans, and policies to decrease water pollution while juggling financial resources. Successful teams reduce water pollution without going broke."

The Classroom Version is designed for middle school students and provides roles for 24 players. MWEEs by the Sea teachers have discovered that the game works well with high school students and adults, and the parts can be modified for scaffolded use with younger grade levels as well. Oregon Coast educators can borrow The Watershed Game at no cost for up to two weeks from any of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub resource trailers.

Where Did the Water Go?

NGSS Middle School Sample Classroom Task
Watershed activity station at SSNERRDescription: In the task, Where Did the Water Go?

"In this task, students will demonstrate their understanding of the water cycle by considering the inputs and outputs of water as it moves through a watershed in New York state. The students start with a simple model dominated by one input and one output. Students begin by calculating the volume of water entering a small watershed as precipitation over the course of one year and the amount of water that exited from that watershed via the outflow stream over the same amount of time. Through their calculations, students find that some of the water has gone “missing”, and reconsider their model throughout the task to account for the missing water by including outputs not initially included in the starting model, such as loss of water to evapotranspiration."

Field Experiences

Watershed WalkS

OCEP Watershed Walk
The Watershed Walks by developed by the NOAA B-WET funded Oregon Coast Education Program (OCEP) were designed to help students assess develop a Sense of Plance and identify characteristics of watersheds while walking around their schoolyard.

For more lessons, visit the OCEP website. See a PDF list of all the topics that are included.

Schoolyard Report Card
For a more detailed analysis of the schoolyard watershed, student can use the Schoolyard Report Card worksheet from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Students collect information about runoff/erosion, transportation, vegetation, and biodiversity to produce a "grade" for their schoolyard.


Quests are clue-directed hunts that get people outside exploring the treasures in their communities. All that is needed to go on a Quest is a pencil, a set of written directions, and a sense of adventure. Learn more on Oregon Sea Grant's Oregon Coast Quests website.

Quests provide experiential opportunities to learn about a place and topic. Teachers use Quests as field activities, and students can engage in making their own Quests to share their learning with others. Here are some examples:

  • Watershed Quest - This integrated curriculum unit from Jean-Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures culminates with the creation of a watershed quest, a treasure hunt centered on a watershed in the local community. Students learn information about watersheds in general and about the watershed in the region where they live, and share their findings by creating a Quest for others.
  • Taft Stormwater Quest - This Quest was created in 2012 by 4-6th grade students at Taft Elementary School in Lincoln City, Oregon. The students wanted to know what happens to the rain that falls on their school, so they followed the path of the water through gutters, storm drains, streams, and rivers.
  • Kilchis Point Reserve Quest - This Quest was created in 2018 by students at Tillamook Junior High School as a stewardship action project for their MWEE unit. The Quest shares what they learned about the flora and fauna of Kilchis Point Reserve.

Taking students on a Quest? Download Tips for Questing with School Groups from Oregon Coast Quests.

More Watershed Resources

NOAA Estuary Education

  • NOAA logoNOAA Estuary Education - Discover specially developed activities, animations, videos, teacher training workshops, real-time data, and opportunities to volunteer at a local reserve.

Oregon Watershed Councils

Oregon Coast Education Program (OCEP)

OCEP logoThe OCEP Modules were developed with funding from NOAA B-WET and are housed on the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators (NAME) website. Designed for use with students in grades 3-12, the curriculum provides educators with tools to prepare and engage students in hands-on learning about Oregon’s coastal ecosystems and their connections to Oregonians living throughout the state.

Module One includes a Focus Area specifically called Watersheds.

Visit the OCEP website, and see a PDF list of all the topics that are included.

Student Stewardship and Action Projects

SPOTLIGHT: Spruce Up the Garden with Plants from GO NATIVE