Global Water Distribution

Teacher's Domain
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Data , Curriculum
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



In this lesson sequence, students predict and model the availability of water on Earth and discuss methods that can be used to purify and conserve this critical resource. They also assess how much water they and their families typically use, and think about ways to reduce their water usage. Finally, students explore different techniques being employed for water management around the world, including the use of dams to create reservoirs.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

5-ESS2-2 Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to oceans, lakes, rivers, glaciers, ground water, and polar ice caps, and does not include the atmosphere.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
For this activity to address the full performance expectation, teachers should provide time and instruction to students for graphing the % of water in the various reservoirs. The website itself graphs the reservoir volumes which can serve as a useful model for distribution graphs as well.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
An interactive graphical display of global water distribution breaks down the percentages of fresh water to salt water in various reservoirs and also demonstrates to students how data from a table on global water distribution was analyzed and used to create the display. A suggested way to use this practice is to provide the students with only the data table and allow them to come up with graphical displays first or alternative graphical displays after sharing an exemplar such as the one provided.

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
While the lesson plan suggests the teacher demonstrate the appropriate breakdown of water in various reservoirs, it would be in the educator’s world of possibility to provide small groups of students each with a bottle of water that students could then measure out for themselves, developing skills in volume measurement with the help of beakers and or graduated cylinders.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The lesson plans’ primary focus is to prompt students around the scarcity of usable water and the various methods of water conservation. Emphasizing the “tiny fraction” in liquid fresh water reservoirs can likely be emphasized with the help of tools like eye-droppers that emphasize the small quantities of water available in the vast total water reservoir.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The use of two liter bottles of water in this activity bring the overwhelmingly large numerical quantities of water in our earth’s reservoirs down to scales of manageable proportions for students to observe and measure. Using words like volume when working with the model and sticking to metric units will help bolster students association between liters and milliliters.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: While the entire curriculum is written in the context of a unit focused on water conservation, treatment, and recycling, part 1 of the curriculum directly correlates with the DCI surrounding Earth's hydrosystem and the proportion of water across the globe in specific kinds of reservoirs. For fifth grade students this lesson should be the one that is given the greatest attention, with the potential to follow through on the conservation portion of the curriculum should the teacher deem it appropriate to hitch this lesson to an instructional sequence that explores human impact and the potential for technology to improve the environment and standard of living.

  • Instructional Supports: - none -

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Some suggestions for monitoring student progress but no exemplars, rubrics, guides associated with the resource.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The interactive infographic demonstrating the correct quantities of water spread across the earth is linear and does not provide much opportunity for interaction or inquiry beyond clicking forward to the next proportional breakdown of water.