Learn with Hanford Mills

The Water Cycle Experiment




Learn about the water cycle.


Students will read about the water cycle and conduct an activity to explore how the water cycle works.


  • Computer access
  • Copies of water cycle diagram for each student
  • Copies of completed water cycle diagram for teacher reference
  • A clear plastic container
  • Two rocks in the container (taller than one inch)
  • An ice cube*
  • A small, clear plastic cup filled with soil
  • Enough water to fill the container about one inch
  • Enough plastic wrap to cover the container
  • Access to a window with direct sunlight
  • Materials required to build one model. For more models, increase the materials.


  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes
  • Class Time: 30 minutes
  • Wait Time: 1 – 2 days


  • Review the water cycle diagram with the class.
  • Obtain a copy of a modern birth announcement to use in the activity.
    • Conduct the water cycle model experiment in class. You may opt to make one model as a class, or you may choose to break the class into groups that make their own models. Follow these steps to create the model:

    • How may the weather have affected travel?
    • Place the two rocks in the plastic container.
    • Place a cup of soil in the container.
    • Fill container with water, but be sure that the rocks and soil are not entirely submerged in the water (river)
    • Place an ice cube on one rock (ice and snow melt)
    • Cover container with plastic wrap (clouds)
    • Place in front of a window that gets sunlight (sun)
    • Leave the experiment for a couple of days
    • Tap the plastic wrap, and watch it rain
    • Look at the “run-off” on the rock
    • Ask the following questions after finishing the experiment:

    • Where did the rain come from?
    • Where did the rain go?
    • Is the dirt damp?
    • What happened to the ice? Where is it now?
    • Can you identify all of the parts of the water cycle in this experiment? The parts of the water cycle are noted in parenthesis above.
  • Explain that the water cycle helps people in many ways. Water was an important form of power to mills like that at Hanford Mills Museum.
  • Review the Pre-visit Orientation Activity with the class, available on the Museum website.
  • Ask the students to pay attention to the role of the water cycle at Hanford Mills during their visit.


  • Participation in experiment
  • Class participation in answering questions (listening and speaking)

NYS Learning Standards:

  • ELA Standard 1
  • ELA Standard 3
  • Math, Science and Tech. Standard 1
  • Math, Science and Tech. Standard 4

Vocabulary & Spelling Words:

    Evaporation – v. to turn from liquid into vapor.

    Runoff – n. anything that drains away, such as extra rainwater that is not absorbed by the earth.

    Precipitation – v. the act of water falling in the form of rain, snow, sleet, or hail.

    Transpiration – v. to give off wastes from the surface in the form of vapor, as plants.

    Vapor – n. tiny particles of a liquid (like water) that become a gas.

    Water cycle – n. the route of water movement from the oceans to the air, to the Earth, and return to the air.