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1. To demonstrate the hydrologic cycle:

Make a Terrarium

  • Objective:
    To create a closed ecosystem that demonstrates how water evaporates, tanspirers, precipitates, infiltrates back into the soil, and then begins the process again.
  • Materials needed:
    • a glass container with a solid lid
    • a small plastic container (a cream cheese container works well)
    • small size gravel
    • potting soil
    • plants
    • water 
  1. Get a glass container.  You can use anything from a fish tank, to a peanut butter jar.  You will need a solid lid.  If you are using a fish tank, a piece of Plexiglas cut to fit works well.  This demonstration works best when the lid fits tightly so the water doesn’t escape through evaporation out of the terrarium.
  2. Cover the bottom of the container with a layer of small size gravel.
  3. Cover the bottom of the container with potting soil. It helps if you first mix the potting soil with water so that it is evenly moist throughout.   Make sure you add enough soil to plant your plants and also to come up to the lip of the small plastic container.
  4. Place your small plastic container in a hole you create in the soil. 
  5. Plant your plants in the soil and water them (but not too much).
  6. Add water to the small plastic container.
  7. Place the lid tightly on the top and place your terrarium near a window.

In a few days you will notice water droplets on the lid of the terrarium.  As they get bigger they will fall back to the soil to water the plants. If your terrarium lid is tightly sealed, and your system had enough water in it to begin with, you will never have to water your plants again.  Why?  Can you explain what is happening?

For more information on terrariums, visit:

2. To demonstrate infiltration:

  • Objective:
    To demonstrate that water percolates through soils with different grain sizes at different rates.
  • Materials needed:
    • 6 clear plastic cups
    • small sized gravel
    • potting soil
    • clay
    • water 
  1. Poke a few holes in the bottom of 3 of the plastic cups
  2. fill one of those cups to within an inch of the top with small sized gravel
  3. fill the second cup to within an inch of the top with potting soil
  4. fill the third cup to within an inch of the top with clay
  5. hold one of the plastic cups without holes in the bottom under the cup with the small sized gravel. 
  6. gently pour 2 oz. of water over the small gravel
  7. repeat steps 5 & 6 for each of the other two soil types


  • Make sure the second cup is directly underneath the first cup to catch the water as it comes out through the holes.
  • Be sure to hold the second plastic cup without the holes far enough way from the cup containing the soil material so that you can see the water infiltrating the soil material and coming out the bottom. 
  • Guess which soil material the water is going to infiltrate the fastest.  Why did you choose the one you chose?  If you were a farmer or a gardener, which soil would you want for your farm or garden?  Why?

3) To demonstrate our use of water - Comparison of Family water use

  • Objective:
    To make students (or family members) aware of the large amounts of water used in individual households.
  • Materials needed:
    • Graph paper
    • pencil 

Have each person record the amount of water used in their home over the period of a day.  This figure can be obtained by reading the home water meter first thing on two consecutive mornings or by estimating toilet flushes (average, 5 gallons), showers (average 40 gallons), washing clothes (average 40 gallons) and using the dishwasher (average 10 gallons).  

  • Make a list of each activity during the day that involved water
  • Graph the water use of each family

Was there a lot of variation in water use?  Did you fall within the average use of 80-100 gallons per person per day? What are some of the possible reasons for using either more or less?  What are some of the ways that water consumption could be cut?

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