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Stream Erosion

Behind a fairly new housing development, there is a stream that runs behind the houses. One section of the stream is fairly small, and you are able to just walk from one bank across to the other. As you go further down, the bank becomes steeper, and some of the trees are beginning to bend toward the stream. You would have to climb down and back up to get from one side of the stream to the other. Each year the bank seems to become steeper. 

Des Moines, Iowa

Driving Question

  • What caused the banks of this stream to become so steep?

Probing Questions

  • What causes our land to change?
  • Have you seen any other streams or rivers that have banks that look like this?
  • How long do you think it took for this area to change?

Classroom Suggestions

Students could:

  • Read about various landforms and how they have formed. Students can then go on Google Maps and locate some landforms that they have read about. 
  • Go on a scavenger hunt outside and look for signs of erosion. 
  • Use a pan of sand to represent land. Move it all to one side of the tray. Have students use a spray bottle of water, a cup of water and a bottle of water. Spray the sand and write down the changes to the sand. Do again slowly with a cup of water, then again with the bottle of water. Record the changes. 

Relevant Related Resources

Works of Water: Lessons 3, 4 | Mystery Science: Lesson 3 talks about flash floods so it is more about more rapid changes to the environment. The activity consists of tracking rainfall and flooding to figure out what areas would be most likely to have flooding occur.
Lesson 4 discusses canyons, erosion and other landforms. This is more about changes that take place over time. Each lesson gives information followed by an activity. In the activity students create a canyon out of cornmeal and drip water on it to show how the landform can change over time.
Wind and Water Whoosh: Weathering and Erosion by Mighty Owl Science | YouTube: Animated video explaining how erosion and weathering can be caused by wind and water. The video also gives many photographic examples of real life erosion and weathering. 
Weathering and Erosion Stations | The First Grade Roundup: This site has a handful of experiments to show kids how erosion and weathering works. There are 3 chemical weathering stations, 2 physical weathering stations, and 3 erosion stations. There is also a crossword puzzle for kids and a recording sheet for the stations.  This could be used as stations or just as single whole group projects.

Iowa Core Alignment


Use information from several sources to provide evidence that Earth events can occur quickly or slowly

Credit Info

Phenomena submitted by Tiffany Christensen.

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