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The Shape of the Land:
Erosion and the World We See

  A lesson that demonstrates the power of erosion through live-action modeling


Lesson Background



Subject - Geography

Topic - Erosion

Grade Level - Third Grade

Duration – One 60-minute session 


Note: This activity stimulates the imagination of children. Can they actually re-create a natural process in just fifteen minutes that in nature takes hundreds of thousands of years?


Lesson Length - One and one quarter hours


"Knowledge of the perishable and imperishable aspects of life broadens the vision and makes a man see beyond the ... limited sphere of daily life. " - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in "Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Chapters 1-6"


Discipline Wholeness of the Lesson:

  Rivers and deltas around the world were created by the wearing-away effect of flowing water which is known of as "erosion" 


"Science of Creative Intelligence" Wholeness Point:

" Every action has a reaction. "

The effect of water flowing by and "rubbing up against" stone for thousands of years breaks away the stones surface, eventually causing riverbeds.



Essential Questions:

  What would the creation of a riverbed by erosion look like?   


  What determines the shape of a delta?


 Main Points:

  The world's surface is undergoing a process of breaking down into smaller pieces by weathering and erosion.


  The smaller pieces are swept into rivers and carried to the edge of the sea where they are "deposited" as deltas.


  Farmers must protect their soil from being eroded away, through proper planting and tilling across the face of hills.


 Objectives of the Lesson:

  Children will understand by simulation one of the basic geographic formative processes of the world we inhabit -- erosion   


 Children will be able to detect the dynamics of "silting" in the creation of their model river delta


  Children will gain a perspective on land-use and protection of soil by this demonstration of the problem of erosion  of our natural soil resources




Group model-making and observation by an experiment about erosion



Teaching Stategies:


Collabortive science experiment 



Multiple intelligences and differences:


This activity uses minimal manipulative skills and therefore is accessible to physically handi-capped  children. The excitement of "river" watching unites all children in the suspense of the river channel formation process.


Special Application of Vedic Knowledge:


Protection from natural disasters of drought and soil depletion can be achieved by management of farming, and also by performances of the music of nature - Ghandarva Ved Music - around the world.



Lesson Beginning





"We have been discussing the different kinds of land forms we may see in our world. Today, we will experiment with the process of erosion that carves the face of the Earth into riverbeds, and even wears down mountains over thousands of years."



Introductory Focus:


"How would you like to make a mountain today in the playground?"



Motivation Step:


"We can all help by carrying sand for our mountain, pouring rain on our mountain and watching our mountain-side turn into a riverbed. We can even name our mountain when we are done!"


Lesson Development




  One blue tarp (approx 6 ft. x 8 ft.) and several five gallon pales 


  Five bags of sand (50 lb. each), moisturized but not wet (as is standard with most play sand)


  Container of pea gravel to cover 3 ft. x 5 ft. area (1/2 inch deep)


  Small rocks – large gravel pieces, lava rocks, etc.


  Small evergreen bough ends, cut to 1 to 3 inches


  One gallon plastic milk jugs (as many as there are students)



Strip needles from a short section of the downward end of evergreen boughs, for later insertion into sand as “trees”


Cut a large oval hole across top of milk jugs, leaving handle support in tact


Use a pointed steak knife to poke/twist twenty-five 1/4 inch rough (not precise) holes in bottom of each jug


Fill five gallon pales with water (important - seperate from and cover containers away from small children.)


Position all building materials strategically around future construction area


Cut open bags of sand; stow away bag separately as extra sand


Set up video camera, if desired 



Lesson Beginning



Student Procedures and Activities:


Children may briefly decorate their jugs with magic marker drawings of rain and with cotton ball clouds. (These will wash off to some extent during the activity).


Note – All “mountain construction” is done spontaneously, energetically, and without concern for small detail.


Lay blue plastic tarp down as base for mountain, and as an “ocean” where the tarp protrudes from under the foot of the mountain. Spread a layer of pea gravel under the entire projected area of the mountain base, up to and forming the projected beach outline at the oceans edge.


Have stronger children help to pour four bags of sand in a rough mountain shape on top of the pea gravel (“earth crust”). Do not pack sand; its coarse scattered texture is perfect as it is. Extend the future river side of the mountain (only) outward in a long slope toward the edge of the sea. (Mountain base - approx 3ft. x 5 ft.)


Hollow out sand on entire top of mountain to create an “underground lake” reservoir which, when covered with plastic, will collect water inside the mountain. Shape one rim of the lake with a specific dip in it which will direct all the water to issue from one location high up on the mountain side – the "source" of the river. See Figure One


Important: The bottom of the dip must be at least as low as the bottom of the lake. Cover the lake bottom, rim and dip with a large cut-open tan-colored plastic bag -- for example, a standard grocery bag. Cover all outward traces of the bag with sand and loose rock.


Pour the last bag of sand into a “mountain peak”, directly on top of the bag and the lake bottom, filling the lake; cover this mountain peak completely with small rocks, to later demonstrate the shifting of topography as land erodes and to slow down the erosion of the peak during the experiment. Place similar “boulders” on the mountain sides (each child could place one rock, “their” rock) and plant “evergreen trees” randomly, as well. Bury the outlet (dip) from the underground lake using sand and small stones.


Children now begin the erosion experiment by filling their “rain clouds” (jugs) with water from the five-gallon pails, by dunking them quickly in and out. Each child brings one rain cloud swiftly to the top of the mountain, letting their rain pour onto the rocks on top of the mountain. This has the effect of a "rainstorm" in the mountains. Children should follow immediately after each other to create a continuous flow of water, representing “thousands of years” of precipitation.


Note: Children finished their rain-pouring should gather at the foot of the mountain, watching from close to eye-level as the creation of the river proceeds. Expect joyful noise!


The process: The water builds up in the underground lake and spills out of the mountain side (via the dip), eroding away its sand covering. The water pours down the mountain, carrying sand and rearranging the small rocks. The water creates a “riverbed” as the children watch on in excitement.


The teacher should supervise and verbalize energetically from behind the mountain while yet redirecting the water if necessary. The process of erosion is natural and authentic in this experiment but may need quick assistance occasionally to form one main channel of flowing water that will reach the sea. Smaller channels that do not use up too much flow are also appealing and are a source of great enjoyment to the children as well.


Important: Do not stop the process of river creation once it has begun.


When all children have created their own rain storm, extra five-gallon pales of water may then be carefully poured by the teacher or assistant on top of the mountain rocks to continue the flow begun by the children.


Children should now take a step backward: the river will extend itself to the very edge of the mountain and ocean shore. The water joins the sea and the sand will form faint delta-like patterns as the water crosses the tarp. 


Note: A delta will form to the extent of the quantity of eroded sand in the water. Extra sand ("due to the weathering of rocks”) may be fed into the rain channel at the top of the mountain by an assistant, to augment delta formation at the shoreline. Cover any structural elements (such as the edge of the underground lake) with loose sand when the project is done, in order to improve the naturalness of the scene.


Events may be video-taped in close-up detail with many eye-level and/or slow motion shots, etc. for later classroom study of the process and power of erosion.





Fulfilment and Closure:


Today we have discovered two things about the surface of our earth -

  The power of erosion of the Earth's land and soil carved all of her riverbeds.


  The action of silting creates fertile deltas on major river systems, such as the Mississippi River Delta in New Orleans





Associated Activities for Extended Assessment:

   In the classroom before the experiment children may find on a world map or globe seven rivers of the world, large or small / and three river deltas.


  As the students venture out to the playground to create their very  own mountain and river, discuss the sense of kinship that Native Americans have for the mountains, lakes and prairies that they share with nature


  Afterward, children may name the mountain and river which they have created and discuss what life would be like living by or in a river delta


  Children could show the video of “The Power of Erosion” to other classes, with a guided tour of their “mountain in a playground” to follow.




“Pet rocks” may be created by the children. These are created from pieces of rigid pink foam insulation board and the use of tongue depressors that are glued to sandpaper (halfway in length) and then trimmed, creating an easy tool for small hands to work with to mimic the steady force of wind-borne sand and of water in eroding rock surfaces.