Topic: Acid Rain Grades: 4-5 Allocated Time: Two sessions/20-35 minutes Student Population: students/ boy girls Standards

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National Science Teachers Association
Discovering Science: Lessons Plans and Experiments for the Classroom

Topic: Acid Rain Grades: 4-5
Allocated Time: Two sessions/20-35 minutes Student Population: __students/_boy_ girls

Next Generation Science Standards:
4. From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes, LS1.A, Earth and Human Activity, ESS3-1.
5. From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes, LS1-1, LS1.C; Sciences, Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics, LS2-1.
Common Core State Standards:
English Language Arts, Literature, Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, RL.4.1, RL.4.3;
Writing, Text Types and Purposes, W.4.1; Purposes and Distribution of Writing, W.5.4

Goals for Understanding

Students will learn about acid rain and its effect on the environment.


Students will

  • test water for its acidity level.

  • conduct an experiment to observe how acid rain affects bean plants.

  • analyze and respond to an environmental story.

Materials Needed (See science activity attached for additional materials.)

  • photos, books about different kinds of pollution and environment

  • rainwater and tap water samples

  • tweezers

  • small jars

  • pH paper

Anticipatory Set

Display photos of factories spewing smoke and fumes, buses and trucks emitting exhausts, and factories depositing runoff in rivers etc. Ask: What environmental problems do you see in this

these pictures? (many pollutants) What parts of our environment are being polluted? (air, water, soil) Why? (Pollutants seep into these things.)

Instruction (I/Teacher’s role)

Discuss key content words (acid rain, pollutants, pH value, acidity, clouds).

Help students understand that air pollutants are directly related to acid rain.

  • Factories and industries that emit smoke into the air, release pollutants. The pollutants gather together in thick clouds. When it rains, those pollutants fall back to Earth as acid rain.

  • Rain that falls at the beginning of a storm is usually more acidic than rain falling at the end
    of a storm. The pollutants are acidic. They are absorbed by soil and fall into rivers.

  • The amount of acid rain in materials is measured on a pH scale.

  • A pH scale has measurements from 0 to 14. Pure water has a pH value of 7, which is neutral. Substances with values lower than 7 are acids. Those with values higher than 7 are called bases. Acid rain has a pH value of 5.6 or less, which harms the environment.

  • Each year liquid waste is dumped into U.S. coastal waters.

  • Experts estimate that acid rain causes farmers billions of dollars a year.

Guided Practice (We/Students with Teacher’s guidance)
Reinforce understanding of water acidity. Help students gather rainwater and tap water samples
in small, clean, dry jars. Label the samples, keeping them separate. Explain that students will be testing water acidity. Ask for predictions: Which water might be most acidic and least acidic?

Use tweezers to dip a pH strip into each jar of water. What color does it become? Compare each color against the color chart. Record results. Let students compare predictions to findings.

Review and Summary

Guide students to write cause and effect sentences to demonstrate how acid rain is a cause of certain effects on the environment. Mention some possible effects: how it harms plants, animals, and people. Example: Acid rain pollutes the air. That can harm peoples’ lungs and their breathing.

Independent Learning (You/Student)
Encourage each student to write a paragraph about the water tested. Have students state predictions, procedures, and results. They should also include conclusions. Ask: What can you conclude about the water in our area? Ask students to include drawings with labels for clarity.

Checking for Understanding (Assessing)

Review students’ paragraphs and illustrations for accuracy and use of text features.

Cross Curriculum Extension: Language Arts/Literature

Read to children Just a Dream, by Chris Van Allsburg. Discuss the story, and have students

write about it. Ask them to state the main idea and details. Ask: What was the author’s purpose? Discuss the author’s voice. Ask: How do you think the author feels about the topic? What text supports your opinion? Discuss character. Ask: In the beginning of the story, what sort of person was Walter? Did his character change? How? Discuss setting. Ask: Where did most of the story take place? Draw conclusions. Ask: How might the story affect readers? How might readers feel about environmental problems? What might they want to do?
Adaptation (Gifted and Talented or English Language Learners)

Ask students to research problems facing the environment and efforts being made to combat those problems. Invite students to write persuasive essays taking a position on an issue and defend that position. Encourage the use of content vocabulary and graphic displays of information.

Additional Reading

  • Everything Kids” Environment Book, by Sheri Amsel

  • Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet,
    by Harriet Rohmer

  • Just a Dream, by Chris Van Allsburg

  • Project for a Healthy Planet, by Shar Levine

Additional Resources

  • National Science Teachers Association

Science and Children, “Understanding Acid Rain,” November/December 2004, pages 53-54.

Science Scope, “Lichens as Bioindicators,” October 2003, pages 16-19.

  • See an animated lesson about acid rain at

NSTA Discovering Science
Grades: 4-5

Title: Acid Rain

Demonstration: How Does Acid Rain Affect Plants?

Standards: Next Generation Science Standards
Life Sciences: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics; LS.2

What you need

  • three small jars with lids (such as baby food jars)

  • masking tape

  • markers

  • lemon juice

  • three growing bean plants

  • tablespoon

  • chalk

30-40 minutes to set up
3-10 days to observe plants

What you do

  1. Label the three jars and 1, 2, and 3.

  2. Label the three bean plant containers 1, 2, and 3.

  3. Add lemon juice to each jar as follows: Jar 1: Add ½ cup lemon juice; Jar 2: Add ¼ cup lemon juice; Jar 3: Add no lemon juice.

  4. Add ½ cup of water to all three jar—jars 1, 2, and 3.

  5. Place the bean plants in their labeled containers in a sunny spot.

  6. Water each plant with 4 tablespoons of the solution that is marked for it.
    (Example: Water plant 1 with solution 1, plant 2 with solution 2, and plant 3 with solution 3.)

What you found

Plant 1 will show the effects of the “acid rain/lemon juice” solution first. Its leaves will yellow and begin to dry. In time, plant 2 will start to show the “acid rain” effects but at a slower pace. Plant 3 should have normal growth. Ask: What happened? What caused the different results?

The results are based on the different amounts of acid (lemon juice) in the watering solution. The plant that yellowed most quickly was watered with a solution that contained the most lemon juice.

Explore More!

Let students predict how acid rain affects soil/rocks. Then try this.

Place one piece of chalk in three separate jars. Submerge ¾ of one piece of chalk in lemon juice. Submerge ¾ of another piece in vinegar. Submerge ¾ of the last piece in water. Allow the chalk to sit in the jars for a few days. Chalk is made of a limestone, which is a type of rock. Lemon juice and vinegar are acids. Ask: What happened to the chalk placed in those liquids? (It broke apart.) Why? (Acids react quickly with limestone.) Record results and conclusions.

Name ____________________________________________________________________


Be a Scientist: Ask, Answer, and Discover!

Draw a plant watered with tap water. Draw a plant watered with acid rain.

  1. What is acid rain? What causes acid rain?



  2. How does acid rain affect most plants after a period of time?



  1. What problems are caused by acid rain?



  2. Draw conclusions. Acid rain costs farmers billions of dollars each year.
    What might you conclude from that statement?



  1. Solve problems. How would you solve the problem of acid rain?



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