Fifth Grade

Creating a Model Aquifer


Fifth graders have been exploring Earth’s most important natural resource, water! They have learned that fresh water requires surprising ingenuity to find and maintain and discovered the surprising difference in the amounts of fresh and salt water on Earth.  Fresh water makes up only 3% of our Earth’s water! In this lesson, students learn about the existence of underground water and create a model aquifer to understand the inner workings of ground water and wells.

Question to Explore

How do people who do not live near a fresh water source (like a lake or stream) get their water?


  • Scissors
  • Spoon
  • Table covering (trash bag or plastic tablecloth)
  • Paper towels (for clean-up)
  • Water, colored blue or green with food coloring
  • A bottle of colored water and a paper cup
  • A large clear box or bowl
  • Gravel (enough to fill the box)
  • A straw and a stick that will slide into it easily (Can use a thick boba straw and pencil)
  • A pump from a soap dispenser


Create the Aquifer:

  1. Cover your table with plastic to protect it from splashing water.
  2. Pour enough gravel into your plastic box to make a mountain at one end and a flat area that’s at least 1-½” deep at the other.
  3. Pour water into the gravel. Watch from the side, adding water until the water level is about ½” under the surface when you look from the side.
  4. Cut the straw so it’s just a little shorter than the tube on your soap dispenser pump.
  5. Use scissors to cut four vertical slits in the end of the straw. The straw is your well shaft and the slits will let water flow in.
  6. Your Aquifer Station is ready.


Test out the Aquifer:

  1. Make a mountain at one side of the box and a flat area at the other.
  2. Look at the side of your box. Can you see water about an inch under the surface of the flat area. If not, add water and watch it trickle through the gravel. What happens to the water level underground?
  3. Use the spoon to dig a pond. What’s the best place to dig: on the mountain or on the plain?
  4. Decide where you will drill a well. Then slide the stick into the straw. Figure out which end of the straw has slits cut in it. Put that end down on your chosen spot and push the straw with the pencil inside down into the gravel. The pencil keeps the gravel from clogging your straw.
  5. Take the pencil out of the straw. The straw acts as the sides of your well. The slits in the straw let water seep into your well.
  6. Put the soap dispenser pump into the straw well. Pump out water and catch it in a cup. As you pump, watch what happens to the water in your pond. How many pumps does it take until your pond is empty?