Clean Rivers Education – Classroom Lessons

Photo shows students at a table using test tubes and equipment to conduct water quality analysis
Through Clean Rivers Education classroom activities, students define problems, carry out investigations, make arguments from evidence, and communicate their solutions. Lessons are 60-90 minutes depending on lesson and age group. Many can be adapted in complexity across grade levels.
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Environmental Storytelling

Grades K-3

Photo shows a storybook box with an Itsy Bitsy Spider cover

Educators use a Japanese storytelling box to share an illustrated story about watersheds. After the story, students draw pictures about what they learned and present their artwork to the class.

Choose from four stories:

  • Itsy Bitsy Spider and the Macroinvertebrate Café (watersheds, stormwater pollution, water quality indicators
  • Medio Pollito (water quality, stewardship)
  • Why Crawdad Has Eyes on Stalks (trees/plant identification, floods)
  • Land of Bog (function/value of wetlands)

Riparian Habitats

Grades 1-3

Animals need all five elements of a habitat to survive: food, water, shelter, space and oxygen. Students learn about Pacific Northwest animals that live in and near rivers and streams. Educators share pelts and skulls of local animals and ask students to make observations about how they obtain their needs in a riparian habitat.

Water Cycle

Grades 2-5

Photo shows two students at a desk working on a science activity

Project Wet’s Incredible Journey allows students to incorporate water cycle vocabulary to describe the possible path of a water molecule. This lesson uses a systems based approach where students can see that water doesn’t always follow the same route.  Students look for patterns as they create a visual map with pipe cleaners and beads to track their course.

Watershed Awareness

Grades 2-6

Student sprays water on a small model of land to test how water flows across the landscape
Using an Enviroscape watershed model, students brainstorm common sources of pollution.

A watershed is an area of land that drains into a specific body of water, like a stream, river or slough. Educators use an EnviroScape® watershed model to demonstrate how water moves over land and how pollution can drain into rivers and streams. As students identify pollution sources, they discuss possible solutions to keep our rivers healthy.

Riparian Plants

Grades 4-12

A riparian zone is the land next to a river or stream. Learn the value of native plants in enhancing water quality and wildlife habitat, and the negative effects of invasive plants in a riparian zone. Students make observations, sketch plant samples and learn basic plant identification skills. A follow up field trip allows students to practice their plant identification skills and is paired with a natural area stewardship project in partnership with Portland Parks.

Water Chemistry Lab

Grades 4-12

Two students use test tubes and pipette to perform water quality analysis in a classroom

Students test a water sample for temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH. Students provide evidence to support claims about the quality of the water. A follow up field trip allows students to conduct investigations and analyze data to assess the health of local water bodies.

Aquatic Macroinvertebrates (Water Bugs)

Grades 1-12

Macroinvertebrates (water bugs) are small animals that can be seen without a microscope and do not have a backbone. They are excellent indicators of water quality. Explore life cycles, identify adaptations, and note the pollution tolerances for these interesting organisms. Using preserved specimens, images and field guides, students learn identification skills and create scientific sketches of macroinvertebrates.

As one of our most flexible lesson topics, educators will adapt content to be age appropriate for your class and meet your specific learning goals. Contact a Clean Rivers Educator to discuss options.

Salmon Survival

Grades 2-5

Learn about Portland’s threatened coho, steelhead and Chinook salmon. Explore salmon life cycles with preserved specimens and learn salmon-specific vocabulary. An interactive board game packed with science content helps students explore the journey of salmon and threats to their survival.

After the Flush – The Wastewater Story

Grades 3-12

Where does the water in your home, school or workplace go after it is used? Students learn about Portland’s sewer system and create simulated wastewater. Students model the steps taken at the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant. Gain an appreciation for the city’s sewer infrastructure that helps protect public health, water quality, and the environment. Students learn how they can help at home, like preventing fats, oils and grease from clogging sewer pipes.

Soak It Up – Green Infrastructure

Grades 4 and up

Photo shows students at tables working together planning a grided space

Water traveling over streets, parking lots, sidewalks and roofs can carry pollution to streams and rivers. A great introduction to solving an engineering design challenge, students work with aerial maps of a model neighborhood to calculate area and determine quantities of stormwater runoff. Students propose solutions and redesign their neighborhoods with green infrastructure that will soak up water and filter pollution. This lesson integrates math, science and engineering topics.

Educators can adapt the technical content to be age appropriate for your class.

Biomagnification and Bioaccumulation

Grades 5-12

Explore the history of the Willamette River and how the Portland Harbor became a Superfund site. Learn how certain contaminants trapped in the sediment for decades remain in the river today. Students calculate percentages and averages of pollutants as they build up in the fatty tissues of organisms and travel through trophic levels. A class discussion focuses on sediment clean up options while trying to balance community concerns and ways to reduce health risks from these pollutants.


Environmental Services Clean Rivers Educator – North

Megan Hanson
phone number503-823-8225Contact Megan for schools north of Burnside Street.

Environmental Services Clean Rivers Educator – South

Christa Shier
phone number503-823-8859Contact Christa for schools south of Burnside Street