4. San Francisco Bay Watershed - Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan

  1. Have students look at the shaded relief map of California. Have a volunteer locate:
    • Their school
    • The tallest mountains, the Sierra Nevadas (Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states at 14,491 feet tall)
    • The San Francisco Bay
    • The state capital (Sacramento)
    • Los Angeles
    • The Pacific Ocean
    • Any other important landmarks they know from history and geography
  2. Next lead the students through the watershed by following the journey of water through the seasons, similar to what they’ve already done in Water Cycle Stories. Focus on how water gets to the Bay and the differences in water flow through the seasons. The way I did this in my classes was a “Finish My Sentences” lecture. I walked students through the watershed, pausing and holding my hand out to invite students to fill in my silences at specific times. For instance I might begin, “Ok, we all know that water can’t run uphill, it only runs __(downhill)__. So water in California will start up high in the __(mountains)__ and make its way downhill towards the __(ocean)__. Look up here at the tops of the tall Sierra Nevada Mountains. Throughout the winter they become covered in __(snow)__. When spring comes, the snow __(melts)__, and the water runs through these __(valleys)__ as rivers.”
  3. Next, have students decide whether or not a drop of rain that falls in a certain place will eventually find its way to the Bay (if it doesn’t evaporate first). Label those drops that make it to the Bay in one color and those that don’t make it in another color. For instance, have students raise their hand if the think a drop that falls in the Delta will end up in the Bay. Place a blue dot in the Delta since it will make it to the Bay. Next, ask them about a drop that falls in Los Angeles. Place a red dot there since it won’t make it to the Bay. Continue asking about various places around California until a pattern develops – any drops in or around the Central Valley will make it while any drops outside this area won’t.
  4. Point out how students have just identified the San Francisco Bay Watershed. Review the definition of a watershed and highlight the borders of the watershed with your finger on the map. Stress the idea that the watershed is land, many of my students focused exclusively on the rivers and water features. If you choose to discuss the importance of the watershed to people, the economy, and wildlife, this is a good time to do so.
  5. Show students how their hands can be turned into a model of the watershed that they can take with them wherever they go. Have students cup their hands together. Their hands should form a bowl with the pinkie-side of the palms touching and their fingers cupped outward and upward. This bowl represents the watershed. The tallest points, the fingertips, are the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The white ends of your fingernails are the snow-capped peaks. The left thumb represents the Siskiyou Mountains in the north. The right thumb represents the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. The heels your palms below your thumbs are the Coast Range Mountains. As the snow melts off your fingertips, the water runs along the valleys between your fingers as rivers. As they reach your palms, the Central Valley, they collect into 2 large rivers. The crease in your left hand is the Sacramento River while the crease in your left hand is the San Joaquin. The 2 rivers meet at the Delta and run out of the Central Valley down the place where your hands meet into the San Francisco Bay.
  6. Ask the students whether this model can be used for other watersheds besides the San Francisco Bay watershed? Do all watersheds have high places? Do all watershed collect water into rivers? Explore the possibilities of using this model to represent your local watershed with its landmarks and special features.