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Activity I-3: Water Cycle Relay Race
This youth activity is one in a series of four activities that can be used to introduce water resouce concepts.  It is a good introductory activity and can be adapted for grades K-8.

To reinforce the concepts of the water (hydrologic) cycle.
(Taken from STOP, LOOK, and LEARN About Our Natural World, Volume 2 by the Nebraska Natural Resource Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska. November 1988.)
Water doesn't disappear with our use of it in irrigation, manufacturing or consumption.  The water we have now is the water we had at the beginning of time.  Water forms, dissipates, and forms again in a cycle called the hydrologic or water cycle.

The water cycle is a gigantic circulation system operating over the earth's land and oceans in the atmosphere surrounding the earth.  Being a cycle, there is no beginning or ending but for illustration, let's begin with the waters of the oceans, which cover about three-fourths of the earth.

Water from the surface of the ocean evaporates into the atmosphere.  That moisture in turn is lifted, eventually is condensed, and falls back to the earth's surface as precipitation.

Precipitation that falls as rain, hail, dew, snow, or sleet is important to people and agriculture.  After wetting the foliage and ground, some of the precipitation runs off into streams and other waterways.  This is the water that often causes erosion and is the main contributor to floods.  Not all of the precipitation runs off.V Some soaks into the ground (infiltration) and is available for evaporation.  Some of it reaches the deeper zones and slowly percolates through to springs and seeps to maintain and replenish them during dry periods.  The streams eventually lead back to the oceans, where the water is again evaporated into the atmosphere.

* 1 tray of cubed ice per team
* 1 set of vocabulary words per team (see cards at end of activity)
* 1 spoon per team
* 1 set of riddle cards (see cards at end of activity)
* large poster of the water cycle with vocabulary words covered
* bucket
* tape
  1. Review the water cycle paying particular attention to the following nine vocabulary words:  evaporation, condensation, cloud, precipitation, river, percolation, groundwater, evapotranspiration, and water cycle.

  2. Divide the class into teams of ~9 students.  Show the class a water cycle poster, pointing out that the identifying words have been hidden.  Explain that they will identify the blanks with the missing words in the course of the water cycle relay race.

  3. Have the students line up in a single line.  Pass out a spoon and a tray of ice cubes to each team and have each team place them at the end of the line.  As part of the relay, each team will place an ice cube on the spoon and pass both from the back of the line to the front of the line.

  4. Give each team a set of the nine vocabulary words written on slips of paper.  Have the teams attach a piece of tape to each slip of paper.  Ask the teams to discuss the words, review their meanings, and decide where they are located on the water cycle poster.

  5. Read a water cycle riddle to the class.  The students must quietly decide among their team which word best fits the riddle.  The last person in line tapes the slip of paper with the matching word to the bottom of the spoon and places the ice cube in the spoon.  He or she then passes the spoon with the ice cube to the person in front of them, and so on down the line.  The person at the head of the line walks quickly to the poster at the front of the room with the spoon and ice cube, places the ice cube in a bucket under the water cycle poster, tapes the word to the correct spot on the poster, and returns to the end of the line.  The race continues with another riddle, until all the riddles have been read.

  6. Before beginning the race, review the rules for the relay:  1) No one may touch the ice cube after it has been placed on the spoon until it reaches the bucket.  2) If the ice cube falls off the spoon, the back person must put the ice cube back on the spoon, and the process starts again.

  7. Invite the students to help decide how points should be awarded and keep track of the scores.  Ask them to decide the number of points to be given to the team that finishes first, the team(s) that selects the correct vocabulary word, and the team(s) that correctly places the word on the poster.

  8. The team with the most points wins.

This activity was adapted by Dr. Kitt Farrell-Poe from Project Seasons by Deborah Parrella published by Shelburne Farms, Sheburne, VT. 1995.

wavy blue line

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, James A. Christenson, Director, Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona. The University of Arizona College of Agriculture is an Equal Opportunity employer, authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to sex, race, religion, color, national origin, age, Viet Nam Era Veteran's status, or disability.

For problems or questions regarding this web contact Dr. Kitt Farrell-Poe.
This document was last modified: 31-Aug-2005 .

Water Cycle Relay Race Vocabulary Words
Water Cycle

Water Cycle Relay Race Riddles

Below the surface of the Earth
In between particles of dirt
That's where this water is found
Saturating everything deep underground.

In between and all around
Through the soil without a sound
Water seeping down, down, down
Slowly moving underground.

Heat from the sun makes water rise
Up as vapor to the skies.

Cumulus, stratus, cirrus, too
Water vapor visible in skies of blue.

Down is the direction this water falls
As crystal, drips, or even balls.

Once a gas but then it's changed
Into a liquid to be seen again.

From the pores of plants
Water vapor escapes
Into the air without a trace.


I start as a trickle and then I grow
Picking up speed as down I go
Over the surface of the land to the sea
Obeying the laws of gravity.

Water going round and round
Changing form but not the amount.

Water Cycle