NOAA/National Weather Service
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Model
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.



What-a-Cycle is a kinesthetic activity developed as part of the JetStream Online School for Weather. In this activity, students take on the role of a water molecule and follow it through a portion of the water cycle. To start the activity, teachers will place students at stations representing the various reservoirs within the cycle. The greatest number of students will be assigned to the Ocean station.  Students will roll die and then follow instructions on a corresponding card. Each student is not expected to complete the entire cycle; teachers can decide how many iterations of the game are appropriate for each class. The game comes with station cards, labels and a student worksheet. Teachers may want to laminate the cards prior to the activity.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS2-4 Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth's systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the ways water changes its state as it moves through the multiple pathways of the hydrologic cycle. Examples of models can be conceptual or physical.

Assessment Boundary: A quantitative understanding of the latent heats of vaporization and fusion is not assessed.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The purpose of the What-a-Cycle activity is to provide students with information needed to understand the complexity of the water cycle. As written, the activity focuses on having students gather information on how a water molecule travels through the water cycle; however, the activity fails to have students use this information in a meaningful way. To bring this activity more in line with the Performance Expectation, teachers could set this game up as a cooperative learning activity. Students could obtain information individually but then develop a complete model of the water cycle in a group setting. The station cards, which form the backbone of the activity, use vocabulary such as melting, freezing, infiltrating, percolating without specifically mentioning the Sun or gravity. It is only when using the term evaporation, in relation to the Oceans, does the game specifically mention the Sun’s energy. Again, to bring this activity more in line with the Performance Expectation, teachers may wish to edit the cards to include information on the Sun’s energy and gravity.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The What-a-Cycle activity provides a kinesthetic mechanism for students to explore segments of the water cycle. During the activity, each student only experiences a small portion of the cycle; therefore, it would be impossible for an individual student to use just their own information to design a complete model of the system. In order to facilitate the development of models, teachers should form groups that allow students to share their personal data to create a complete representation of the cycle. Further sharing through class presentations can help each group refine their individual model. Depending on the data generated by individual students, teachers may be able to lead a discussion on how long individual water molecules may stay in a particular reservoir. For example, teachers may ask students how long students were forced to stay at a particular station; however, as noted in the instructions, providing an accurate representation for the number of water molecules and the time they spend in the ocean is a limitation of the model.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
All interconnected pathways of the water cycle are included in this activity. Teachers will not have to modify the activity to meet the Disciplinary Core Idea; however, as indicated above, teachers may wish to modify the cards to include the concepts of gravity and the Sun’s energy as driving forces in the water cycle.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The cards which accompany the activity suggest the role of the Sun’s energy in the water cycle but do not specifically address its importance. When referring to evaporation, the cards mention the Sun’s heat but then use terms such as “melt”and “sublimation” without any reference to energy transfer. Additionally, terms such as “percolate”, “flow” and “infiltrate” are used without any reference to gravity. To remedy this, teachers could edit the cards to include these concepts or review all vocabulary with the class prior to the activity.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: As presented, What-a-Cycle strongly integrates the Disciplinary Core Idea of Water’s Role in Earth’s Processes and the Crosscutting Concept of Energy and Matter. In this activity, students take on the role of water molecules, collecting information of their movement through the water cycle. Since each student only travels through a portion of the cycle, teachers would need to expand this activity in order for students to have enough data to develop water cycle models. To integrate the Practice of Developing Models to explain this phenomenon, teachers could form groups so that students share and combine individual data in order to formulate a more detailed model of the water cycle. Groups can then present their model to the class as a means of receiving and utilizing feedback. This would strengthen the connection between the Practice of Modeling and the Disciplinary Core Idea of Water’s Role. In addition, teachers might consider leading a discussion on the scale of the water cycle using the chart found on the Activity page. By doing so, teachers would be incorporating an additional Crosscutting Concept of Scale, Proportion and Quantity. The activity does use appropriate vocabulary to describe the interconnections of the cycle but does not put enough of an emphasis on the concepts of the Sun’s energy or gravity. Teachers could remedy this by editing the game cards to include these concepts

  • Instructional Supports: The cards included in the What-a-Cycle activity use scientifically accurate and grade appropriate terminology. As written, the activity provides students with limited opportunities to make sense of phenomena (water cycle); however, this can be easily fixed if students are placed in groups and tasked to create a more complete representation of the water cycle through data sharing. By having groups present their combined models, teacher can then provide feedback. The activity does not provide any guidance on differentiation.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: What-a-Cycle does not include any formative assessments or aligned rubrics; however, teachers can assess understanding by reviewing the models created by the individual groups.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: What-a-Cycle is a kinesthetic activity and, as such, lacks a technological component.