Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8

In this multi-day lesson plan which is adaptable for grades 5-12, students use BrainPOP resources to practice crafting reasoned arguments and explore water ecology and the effect of humans on the environment. Through an online game, students will learn about the causes of water pollution in a lake and pose a question about the local water supply to community residents. Students then compile the residents’ opinions during game play and compose a persuasive letter to their congressional representative asking for his or her support in improving water conditions.

Students will:

  1. Identify the causes of water pollution and what humans can do to combat the problem.
  2. Pose a question about the local water supply to community residents during game play and compile their opinions.
  3. Craft reasoned, evidence-based arguments to persuade others using established facts.
  4. Compose a persuasive letter to their congressional representative asking for his or her support in improving water conditions.


This lesson plan utilizes Citizen Science, an online flash-based computer adventure game developed by Filament Games. In Citizen Science, the player takes on the role of a young adult who becomes concerned about the health of a local lake threatened by eutrophication. Based at Lake Mendota in Madison, WI, the player's goal is to restore the lake. By focusing on the ecological needs of Lake Mendota as well as the surrounding community, the game is able to bring together real-world issues and scientific practices. It takes approximately 90 minutes to complete the game, and students can save their work as they play over multiple days.

In preparation for the lesson, preview the game and the BrainPOP movies associated with this topic. You want to familiarize students with the Water Supply and Humans and the Environment topic in order to build background knowledge. You should also preview the Citizen Science Curriculum PDF which has been prepared by Jim Matthews, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the Citizen Science project. This lesson uses pages 11-14, but you may decide to use additional activities from the PDF. Be sure to make photocopies of pages 11-12 of the PDF and also the Graphic Organizer. You should allot approximately 5 days for students to complete all the activities in this lesson.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Ask students what they know about water pollution. Encourage students to brainstorm how water becomes polluted. You may want to record their ideas on the board.
  2. Play the Water Pollution Movie for the class.
  3. Invite students to revisit the notes from their brainstorming session and make changes based on what they learned in the movie. Ask students who they think is responsible for the various methods of pollution. Is there anything that students are doing as an average citizen to contribute to the problem? Is there anything they can do to help?
  4. Tell students they will use an online game to explore the ways young people can help restore polluted bodies of water to health. Pair students up and provide 15-20 minutes for them to explore the Citizen Science game with their partners. They will not have a chance to finish the game, but can save their progress.
  5. Talk with students about what they learned during game play. Guide students to make connections between what they learned in the movie and what they experienced through the game.
  6. During the next day's lesson, give students approximately 60 minutes to continue playing the Citizen Science game. A total of 90 minutes is typically needed for students to finish the game. Debrief as a class at the end of the period and allow students who have not finished to save their progress.
  7. Provide 10-30 minutes for students to finish the Citizen Science game and discuss the major themes and strategies as a class.
  8. Pass out page 11 ("Carla's Story: Read All About It") and page 12 ("In the News: Ripped From the Headlines") from the Citizen Science Curriculum and give students time to read it independently or collaboratively.
  9. Ask a volunteer to summarize what they read. Discuss the news articles that Carla found and their relevance.
  10. Project page 13 ("In the News: Local Opinions") so the class can see it. Discuss how the local opinions were gathered. Then show page 14 ("Dear Senator Randall...") and talk about the letter Carla wrote.
  11. Explain that students will have the chance to research a question that is important for their local water supply, ask community members their opinions on it, and then write their congressional representatives to persuade them to improve the water supply condition. You may want to brainstorm some appropriate questions as a class and record them.
  12. Divide students into small groups and provide time for them to select or compose a question and plan which community members they will poll and how.
  13. After students have had time to interview community members, provide time in class for them to report back to their groups and compile the responses. Students should then compose the letter to their congressional representatives.
  14. Assist students in proofreading their poll results and letters, and send them to congressional representatives. You might also want to publish students' letters on a class or school blog, or submit them to the editor of your local paper.
  15. Revisit the Citizen Science game as a review, this time allowing students to explore the game independently.
  16. Assess student learning by having the class complete the Graphic Organizer independently. Afterward, invite students to share their responses with the class. You may want students to use the back of their papers to reflect on the different ways they can combat water pollution. Encourage students to use information they learned through the movie and the game.

Extension Activities:

Explore the other activities in the Citizen Science curriculum packet and have students conduct the experiments related to water supply. Encourage students to research ways they can continue making a difference in their communities.
Filed as:  3-5, 6-8, Algae, Blended Learning, BrainPOP, Context Clues, Critical Reasoning, Debate, Earth System, Ecology