Watershed Champions

Environmental Teaching Strategies

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Engage Students in Learning Outdoors

Your schoolyard and your local neighbourhood, along with any nearby ravines, ponds, wetlands or parks, offer a stimulating learning environment. So get outside! We encourage classes to learn about water by interacting with their local watershed.

Let Your Questions Lead the Way for Your Learning

Pay attention to your questions. This is the foundation of inquiry-based learning. What questions do you have about watersheds and water issues? Check out our Questions about Watersheds to get your ideas flowing.

As you decide what you want to learn about watersheds, plan activities in, about and for the environment in order to foster learning.*

  • In the environment
    • Plan outdoor investigations on your school ground and in your community, or organize field trips to explore the local watershed first-hand and make a personal connection.
    • Before you head outside, read our tips on Preparing for Your Outdoor Visit
  • About the environment
    • Include investigations, activities and books that explore the watershed as a system, linking water and watersheds to your area of focus.
  • For the environment
    • As a class, take action to care for the local watershed (e.g. reducing your impact on your watershed, raising awareness about the importance of your watershed, participating in conservation efforts)

Looking for ideas? Or ready to dive right in? Check out our Activities and Helpful Publications lists.

Inquiry-based learning is a collaborative learning process in which students actively build their knowledge through questioning, authentic investigations, discussion and reflection. When we are inspired to ask questions, we are motivated to explore the answers.

What do You Know About Your Watershed?

Each watershed has a unique natural and cultural history. What do you know about the local watershed? How is the watershed important to your community? How are you connected to the water supply? What challenges does your watershed face? How can you use creativity to spread awareness about the local water supply? How can you actively care for the local watershed?

Ask Questions First!

Form questions about your watershed and design a learning plan to investigate these questions:

  • What do you want to learn about the local watershed?
  • What questions might you have?

For example:

  • Where does rain go when it falls in our schoolyard?

How does water cycle through our watershed? Are we connected to the water cycle? How?

  • Where does my water at home come from? Where does it go?

Where does our tap water come from? How do they make the water drinkable? What happens to the water that goes down my sink or flows through the toilet? Do all Canadians have access to clean drinking water? Why or why not?

  • Why is water sometimes diverted by dams and underground pipes?

How does that affect the local waterway? What are the impacts?

  • How does our community use water?

How does this impact the local water supply?

  • What types of habitats are found in our local watershed?

What types of insects, animals, birds and plants live here? How might they be impacted by humans?

  • Are there any introduced species in our watershed?

What is their impact? How do they affect the food chains in your watershed?

  • How were our waterways formed?

How might the forces that formed our waterways continue to affect our waterways today?

  • How did my local waterway influence the history of my region?

Of my province or territory? Of Canada?

  • How might climate change influence our fresh water sources?

Plan Activities to Investigate Your Questions

What ideas do you have to explore answers to your questions? How might you explore your questions in the outdoor learning environment?

Get your hands dirty! Find ideas for hands-on activities that explore learning about watersheds in the Activities section of our website.

Helpful Tools

You may find it helpful to use a KWL (Know, Want to Know, Learned) chart, or a question matrix to help you and your class develop questions and investigations.

For example:

More About Inquiry

To learn more about inquiry-based learning, try the following resources:


  • Natural Curiosity: Resource for Teachers and its companion resource, A Companion Guide for Natural Curiosity. Both of these guides are available to download for free from naturalcuriosity.ca
  • Refer to your school's and school board’s guidelines about outdoor excursions.
  • Contact the landowner if you are visiting a location that requires permission or an entrance fee to visit.
  • Visit the site in advance:
    • Plan your route or site for exploration.
    • Plan the activities to be conducted during your outdoor visit.
  • Get permission forms signed and returned.
  • Gather any required materials and arrange any special equipment for your activities.
  • Ensure that students are dressed for the weather (sunscreen, hats, rain boots, etc).
  • Prepare the students for the field trip:
    • Outline the trip’s objectives and expectations.
    • Consider pre-trip activities (such as introducing observation skills, or doing lessons that will provide a context for the trip).
  • Bring water, a first aid kit, sunscreen and a mobile phone.
  • Be aware of flood risks. If there has been heavy rain leading up to your trip, you should consider postponing any activities near water because of the risk of flooding.
  • Plan post-trip activities, including follow-up questions and lessons, so that student learning extends beyond the field trip.

These tips were adapted from Before You Go Outside from Evergreen’s Teacher’s Corner and The Watershed Connection guide.

* Education about, for and in the environment are included in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s definition of environmental education in Shaping our Schools, Shaping Our Future (2007) and have been adopted as recommended practice by the TDSB EcoSchools and Ontario EcoSchools programs.