Source to Mouth Documentary

Essential Question

How can we encourage young students to appreciate rivers for their economic, environmental and cultural significance? 

Lesson Objectives

  • SWBAT discuss the roles of water in Earth’s surface processes.
  • SWBAT explain human impacts on Earth systems by creating a documentary on a specific river

Lesson Context / Summary

Rivers and their tributaries are the veins of the planet, pumping fresh water to wetlands and lakes and out to sea. They flush nutrients through aquatic ecosystems, keeping thousands of species alive, and help sustain fisheries worth billions of dollars. Rivers are also the lifeblood of human civilizations. They supply water to cities, farms, and factories. Rivers carve shipping routes around the globe and provide us with food, recreation, and energy.

However, students seldom think of rivers as anything more than a source of entertainment, or perhaps food. By participating in this project, students will create a model of a river of their choosing and explain its cultural, economic and environmental significance in a documentary.


1:1 devices with internet access - for research purposes and to access the project page

A variety of materials to build a model of a river.

Lesson Opener

To launch the project, I present this "Introduction to Rivers" video


We discuss the images presented in the video, and explain the "River Challenge" project

Direct Instruction

In order to avoid the jumping directly to "making a video" without doing the pre-work, I show students the Source to Mouth timeline and explain its use (i.e. what has to be done before you even consider taking out a camera?)


 We proceed to the selection of rivers to study and I show students how the Thinglink map embedded in the project page can be a starting place for their research.


Guided Practice

I explain that students must budget their time, and suggest about 3-4 class periods for research and 3-4 class periods for building models so they can then start thinking about their documentaries.

As students are working on their research and models, I circulate the room offering research and building tips and checking in on student progress.

About a week after the project launch, I reconvene the class for instruction on storytelling for their documentaries using the resources available on KQED teach:

  1. Developing your story
  2. The Shooting Script
  3. Camera Basics
  4. Video Editing
  5. Titles and Text


Independent Practice

Armed with this sequence of instruction, I tell students that before anyone is allowed to shoot any video, they must include their script on the Source to Mouth timeline. Once scripts are submitted, students can proceed to shooting and editing their documentaries.


Assessment / Reflection

Student documentaries are assessed using this rubric.

Student samples:



Students in my class also reflect on their work in their blogs using this Project Blog prompt.



Develop a model to describe Developing and Using Models Modeling in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to developing, using, and revising models to describe, test, and predict more abstract phenomena and design systems. Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms. the cycling of water through Earth's systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.


Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.


Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.


Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.


Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.