Rain, Ice, Steam: Using Reading to Support Inquiry About the Water Cycle

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Seven 60-minute sessions
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Rain, ice, and steam—water takes on all three forms as it moves between the land, the ocean, and the atmosphere. In this unit of study, first and second grade students discover the repetitive topic of water. Read-alouds of several books related to the theme are used to introduce the topic of rain, and several hands-on experiments and classroom centers teach students about the water cycle and how it functions. After exploring the different parts of the water cycle, students demonstrate the knowledge they have gained by working in groups to write and perform a play.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Although the study outlined in this article focused primarily on six low-literacy learners, the researchers concluded that literacy development is likely to occur when language arts and science are connected in the classroom. Students activated prior knowledge, developed their own lines of inquiry, used books to get information, and participated more eagerly in classroom discussion.

  • Integrating reading, writing, listening, and speaking is an effective way to improve content area learning in early-childhood classrooms.

  • Allowing inquiry to drive lesson planning helps link literacy to the learning of scientific concepts.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin and John Archambault (Henry Holt & Co, 1988)
  • Come On, Rain! By Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1999)
  • The Incredible Water Show by Debra Frasier (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2004)
  • Food coloring
  • Ice cube trays
  • White and blue paper
  • Plastic bottle
  • Gravel
  • Potting soil
  • Small plants
  • Bottle cap or shell
  • Plastic wrap
  • Rubber bands
  • Droppers
  • Measuring cups
  • Salt
  • Recording of water sounds
  • CD player
  • Student journals





1. Obtain and familiarize yourself with Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin and John Archambault, Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse, and The Incredible Water Show by Debra Frasier.

2. Learn about the water cycle using The Water Cycle: Water Storage in Ice and Snow and the Water Cycle Teachers Page. Cluster the information you gather into three categories: evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. You should also familiarize yourself with the student websites for this lesson — Drinking Water & Ground Water Kids' Stuff, The Water Cycle, Drinking Water, and Droplet and the Water Cycle — which contain valuable information about the water cycle as well. In addition, Activities for an Unforgettable Water Study Extravaganza has ideas for helping students write a play about the water cycle.

3. Familiarize yourself with the Water Cycle Boogie from the Water Cycle Teachers Page. You will use this song with your students (see Session 2, Step 2).

4. Create a chart of the water cycle to share with students. Draw a circle on a large sheet of paper or cardboard and create cutouts of the sun, clouds, rain, the ocean, the ground, and evaporation that you can place in appropriate spots. See a Diagram of the Water Cycle or The Water Cycle for sample charts.

5. Prepare materials for the water cycle experiment (see Session 2). You will need a one-liter bottle, potting soil, some small plants, a bottle cap or shell, gravel, plastic wrap, and a rubber band. This experiment will need a sunny corner, warm light, or hair dryer as well. Visit Thirstin's Water Cycle Activity for an explanation of how to conduct this experiment.

6. Assemble materials for the evaporation experiment (see Session 3). You will need to make trays of red, green, and yellow ice cubes, including enough so that each student gets one ice cube of each color. You will also need one sheet of white construction paper for each student.

7. Write the following list of words from Listen to the Rain on a sheet of chart paper:

  • Drip-drop tinkle

  • Singing of the rain

  • Pitter-patter

  • Splish and splash and splatter

  • Roaring pouring rain

  • Lightning-flashing; thunder-crashing

  • Mushy muddy puddle
8. Prepare the following centers for your students to use during this lesson:

  • Publishing Center – Provide various types of paper, writing implements, pictures of various parts of the water cycle, and bookmaking materials. Post charts of the water cycle for students to refer to.

  • Art Center – Provide art materials, including finger paints, paper, string, and buttons.

  • Technology Center – Set up computers with Internet access; bookmark Drinking Water & Ground Water Kids' Stuff, The Water Cycle, Drinking Water, and Droplet and the Water Cycle on these machines.

  • Math Center – Provide activities to help students learn about water information such as:
  • Various measuring cups and water so that students can measure ounces

  • Droppers, water, salt, a ruler, blue paper, and a timer so that students can count the number of water drops that can fall in a minute and can measure the size of both freshwater and saltwater drops
  • Science Center – Place the experiments you complete here for student observation and experimentation. You will also want to provide trays of red, green, and yellow ice cubes; paper; and a timer for student observation of evaporation times (see Session 1).

  • Reading Center – Assemble books about rain or the water cycle for students to read during center time. See Books About the Water Cycle for some suggestions.
9. Get a recording of water sounds including running water and rain.



Student Objectives

Students will

  • Practice activating prior knowledge by discussing evaporation, condensation, and precipitation

  • Gain knowledge of the water cycle by participating in individual and class experiments through self-directed activity at various classroom centers, and by listening to read-alouds of appropriate books

  • Demonstrate how water can be a liquid or a solid and can go back and forth between these two states through classroom experiments

  • Synthesize the new information they have learned by taking notes on it and using this information to write and present a play

Session 1: Introduction

1. Introduce the topic of rain to students with the goal of accessing their prior knowledge. Questions for discussion might include:

  • How does rain feel when it falls on your head?

  • Have you ever played in the rain?

  • When is rain usually warm? When is it cold?

  • Have you ever seen an icicle? When? Where?

  • What does the rain do to a yard?
Record students' responses on chart paper. Keep this poster visible for students to refer to later.

2. Explain to students that they will be learning a lot about why it rains, what rain does, and how water works in the environment. Then they will take what they have learned and use it to help them write a play that is designed to teach other students about the things they have learned. Therefore, as they read, listen, and discover information about the water cycle, they are to add this information to their journals. Their notes will help them write the play at the end of the study.

3. Ask students to close their eyes and listen for sounds in the classroom. Explain that different environments produce different sounds. Read Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin and John Archambault asking students to think about the different sounds they hear in the book.

4. Play the recording of water sounds, one sound at a time, and have the students discuss what they think made the sound and how they can tell.

5. Display the chart of words that you created (see Preparation, Step 7). Ask students what they notice about these words. Questions for discussion include:

  • Do the sounds these words make resemble the sounds on the recording I just played? Why or why not?

  • How does the author make you think of water and movement with these words?

  • When you are writing about water, how can you use words like these to help the audience "feel" the water?
6. Students should spend the remaining time during this session at the centers doing the following activities:

  • Publishing Center – Draw or write a paragraph about the sounds from Listen to the Rain.

  • Art Center – Illustrate one or more of the sounds from Listen to the Rain.

  • Technology Center – Play the Droplet and the Water Cycle Game.

  • Math Center – Measure the size of water drops on blue paper. Use salt water and fresh water in two separate jars. Drop three drops of each onto a sheet of blue paper. Next, measure the size of the drops. After measuring all of the drops, compare sizes and see if the drop size of one type of water is different from the other type. Record the results.

  • Science Center – Observe colored ice cubes on paper. Fold a piece of paper into four equal parts and label them Melt time, Color fades, Color stains paper, and Changes in size. List observations about each color of ice cube.

  • Reading Center – Read books about the water cycle. Record new information learned in your journal.

Session 2: Water cycle

1. Show students the water cycle chart you created (see Preparation, Step 3). Discuss the importance of each element on the chart.

2. Use the Water Cycle Boogie song to acquaint students with the vocabulary terms evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and saturation. Recite the song for students and define the terms as follows:

  • Evaporation is when water changes from liquid into vapor. Vapor is steam — what you see in the air when a teakettle boils.

  • Condensation is the opposite of evaporation. It is when vapor turns back into water and it is very important because it is what makes clouds happen and clouds cause precipitation.

  • Precipitation is water that comes from clouds.

  • Saturation is when something gets full of water.
Use the chart to show students where these different things occur. Then have students sing the song a few times until they are comfortable with the terms.

3. As a large group, create the water cycle using the clear plastic one-liter bottle with the top cut off. Place gravel, soil, plants, and water in it, discussing the importance of the balance of each ingredient and what each contributes to the cycle. Seal the bottle with clear plastic and a rubber band. Place in a warm sunny area if possible; if not, a hair dryer will speed the process.

4. Show students Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse. Do a picture walk where you ask students how they think watercolor pictures relate to the story, where it takes place and if this location affects the heat and wind levels, and what the hints are that rain is coming. Then read the text.

5. When you are done reading, talk about whether they think this book is fiction or nonfiction. Discuss the fact that fictional books can contain facts from nature.

6. If there is time, students can return to the following centers:

  • Writing Center – Using information collected from this session and from the other centers, create a page of what you know about the water cycle.

  • Technology Center – Continue to play the Droplet and the Water Cycle Game. Read the story about the water cycle from the same website, adding new information to your journal.

  • Reading Center – Classify books as fiction, nonfiction, or a combination of the two. Try to read one book from each category, taking notes in your journal.



Session 3: Evaporation

1. Review the definition of evaporation from the previous session. Have students discuss with a partner what they think happens to water after it evaporates.

2. If weather permits, take students outside to a protected location where they can leave a piece of construction paper until Session 4. If not, select the warmest area in the school, such as a room with windows, near the cafeteria, or in a courtyard, to complete this activity. Give each student a green, a yellow, and a red ice cube and a piece of white construction paper. Students should write their names on the papers, tape them down, and place one ice cube of each color on them so that the ice cubes are not touching.

3. Bring the class back together to discuss the experiment. Ask students what they think will happen to the ice cubes. What do they expect to find on the paper when they return? List students' responses on chart paper.

4. Students can spend the remaining time in the session at the centers. They can continue the work they started in the Reading or Writing Centers during the previous session or they can work at the Science Center as follows:

  • They can take notes on what is happening inside the plastic bottle.

  • They can begin another experiment. Place two dishes of water in the science center, one uncovered and one covered. Have students answer the following questions:

  • Where does the water go after it forms puddles on the pavement?

  • Where does the water go from the clothes you put in the dryer?

  • What will happen to the water if it is left out overnight in the uncovered dish?

  • What will happen to the water in the covered dish?
The next day, have students answer these questions:

  • Which dish had more water evaporate?

  • Where did the water go?

  • How did the water evaporate?

Session 4: Precipitation

1. Students should get their white construction paper from Session 3. Ask them what happened to the paper and the color. Questions for discussion include: Which color is the strongest? What happened when the ice melted? If the colors mixed, what happened? Write students' responses next to their predictions from the previous session and post in the classroom.

2. Talk about evaporation in relation to the ice cubes. Connect it to water in a swimming pool, lake, or puddle in the yard. Where do they think the water goes? What happens with it next? What happens when there is no water to evaporate?

3. Review the definition of precipitation. Ask students to list different kinds of precipitation. Questions for discussion include:

  • What happens when we don't get enough precipitation?

  • What happens when we get too much?

  • Why is precipitation important?

Session 5: Application

1. Review the definitions of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation and their role in the water cycle using the chart from Session 2. Ask students to share what they have learned about these terms during the previous sessions. They should refer to the notes they have taken in their journals. Write down students' contributions on chart paper.

2. After completing the above activity talk about students' findings. Questions to extend discussion include:

  • How does evaporation fit into the water cycle chart?

  • How does evaporation cause you to be so hot after a rain in the summer?

  • Do you have to experience precipitation to have evaporation?

  • Since a cycle has no beginning and ending, will these three activities continue in our environment?

Session 6: Play writing

Note: It will take longer than one session for students to complete their play; you can determine how best to give them time to research and write based on your classroom schedule.

1. Read The Incredible Water Show by Debra Frasier to students. Explain that they can create a play based upon the information they have already learned just like the students in this story.

2. Talk to students about the elements of a play (i.e., characters, script, and props). Explain how songs, visuals, and a story can all be parts of a play and that what sets a play apart is that it is performed. Tell them the class is going to produce a simple play to share the information they have learned about the water cycle with other classes.

3. Explain that you will be dividing them into four groups and that each group will write a script to act out. Each group will design their own props, setting, and costumes. At the end, all four groups will come together and determine the best order for all of the scripts to create a four-act play. Be sure to stress that the important part of the play is the information. All other items are to be kept simple.

4. Divide the class into four groups (a simple way to do this is to have students count off). There will be one group for each of the following four topics: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and water cycle.

5. Groups should begin work on their sections of the play. Each group will need to:

  • Collect all the information they have acquired from experiments, Internet searches, readings, read-alouds, and science experiments.

  • Have time to research additional information from the centers or the library.

  • Decide what information they want to include in their scene based on the topic they have been assigned. Questions to guide them include:
  • What do they know about their topic?

  • What simple facts would another student need to understand about their topic?
  • Write, edit, and revise the text of the scene.

  • Assign parts and practice saying their lines.

  • Choose a props and a costume manager who will collect items needed for their section of the play.
6. Support students in a variety of ways as they work. Make yourself available to answer questions. Make sure that students understand the writing process. Help students to get the props and costumes they need. Create an area of the classroom where students can perform the play and help them create any backdrops they might need to use.

Session 7: Performance

Invite another class to come and watch the play. When you are finished, conduct a question-and-answer session where students in the audience get to question your students about the water cycle.



Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Informally assess students' participation at the completion of each whole-group activity and discussion. Are students responding to questions and sharing their research findings?

  • Review students' journals for documentation of their research.

  • Ask each student to write or draw one point he or she remembers from each section of the play.

  • Ask students to explain the experiments you conducted. What were the results? What do these results explain about the water cycle?

  • Conduct a whole-class discussion where you ask each student to share something he or she did not know before studying this unit about the water cycle.

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K-12 Teacher
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jeniffer perez
K-12 Teacher
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jeniffer perez
K-12 Teacher
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