Educational Resources for Teachers and Parents

RiversEdge West created this compilation of teaching resources for educators and parents across the Southwest to connect elementary-aged students to their local rivers and influence the next generation of river stewards.
This guide contains free lesson plans and activities created by RiversEdge West and partner organizations that provide hands-on activities to help students interact with rivers and give students an appreciation for and knowledge of the importance of riparian habitats and healthy rivers in their lives. Many thanks to the organizations that contributed lesson plans and activities to this guide!
Habitat: the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or organism. Habitat has 4 essential components: food, water, shelter, and space.
  • What’s your Habitat? (grades K-4, 5-8) - The National Wildlife Federation. Students explore the basic survival needs of humans and wildlife by drawing their own homes and neighborhoods
  • Habitat Hunt (grades 3-6) - The National Wildlife Federation. Participants conduct a search for important habitat elements for several animals
  • Habitat Web (grades K-6) - The National Wildlife Federation. Students explore the web of connections between living and non-living things and what happens to an ecosystem if organisms die out or if an invasive plant is introduced.
Riparian habitat is a type of wildlife habitat found along the banks of a river, stream, or other, actively moving source of water such as a spring or wetland. Ecologically intact riparian areas naturally retain and recycle nutrients, modify local microclimates, and sustain broadly based food webs that help support a diverse assemblage of fish and wildlife.1 
  • Background of Riparian Areas and Invasive Species - RiversEdge West - Coming Soon!
  • Riparian Metaphors (grades 2-6) - Adapted from Project WILD's Wetland Metaphors. Students learn the value of riparian habitat by making comparisons between unrelated objects through metaphors.
  • Creature Feature (grades 2-6) - Bureau of Land Management. Students work in small groups to design a creature adapted to living in a riparian area. 
  • Riparian Sponge Activity (grades 2-6) - Bureau of Land Management. This activity lets students demonstrate the greater water retention capacity of a healthy riparian system. 
Invasive, non-native plants, often referred to as noxious weeds, are plants that are not native and are able to establish, grow quickly, and spread to the point of damaging native plant communities or ecosystems. In the activities below, students explore the impacts that non-native, invasive riparian plants like tamarisk (also referred to as saltcedar) and Russian olive have on riparian ecosystems. 
  • Musical (Plant) Chairs (grades 2-8) - RiversEdge West. Students learn about a few of the advantages invasive species have that allow them to outcompete native plants.
  • The Water Relay (grades 2-6) - RiversEdge West. This game demonstrates the concept of plants (cottonwoods and tamarisk) competing for a resource (water). It also introduces the effects of a predator (beaver) and asks students to figure out how to change the scenario to favor one species over the other. 
  • Cottonwoods vs. Tamarisk (grades K-8) - RiversEdge West. Students will review and test their memory on concepts they learned during RiversEdge West's in-class visit.
  • Alien Invasion! (grades 6-12) - National Ocean Service. Students prepare a written case study on an invasive aquatic species. 
  • Invasive Species Multimedia (all ages) - NASA. 
  • Invasive Species Battleships (all ages) - Scottish Invasive Species Initiative. Can you locate the invasive species on your opponent's river and remove them first?
  • Riparian Reflections (grades 2-6) - RiversEdge West. While out on a riparian (riverside) exploration near their home or school, students will observe common riparian plant species and record their findings.
  • River Scavenger Hunt (grades K-6) - RiversEdge West. Students will discover and observe components of the riparian habitat by searching for items listed on the scavenger hunt and help focus a discovery walk. Draw your findings version.
  • Sensory Discovery Walk (grades K-6) - The National Wildlife Federation. Students “open their eyes” to nature by exploring their surroundings without sight. Then they map and retrace the path they traveled.
  • Riparian Retreat (grades 6-8) – National Park Service. Through listening, imagery and a site visit, the main purpose of this activity is to familiarize students with the characteristics of riparian habitats and ecosystems.
  • Finding Aquatic Insects (Pre-K - grade 3) - Roaring Fork Conservancy
  • River Word Search (All Ages) - Roaring Fork Conservancy
  • Environmental Sensory Activities (Pre-K) - Project Learning Tree. These simple and creative approaches will get preschoolers exploring the outdoors, using all their senses!
  • Native Flower Seed Paper (All Ages) - Scottish Invasive Species Initiative. Make native flower seed samples using recycled paper-making and plant them out to help areas recover!
  • Lesson Plans and Webinars - The National Wildlife Federation. A collection of more than 1,000 lesson plans designed to introduce students to life science, ecology, wildlife biology, scientific identification, and observation.
  • Exploring WatershedsTarrant Regional Water District. Using a simulation tool, the Stream Trailer, students can visualize the elements that make up a watershed and the natural forces, like erosion and deposition, that create them. 
  • Teacher Toolkit - American Rivers
  • Utah Stream Team Water Education and Water Quality Monitoring Program - The Utah Stream Team is a flexible educational tool able to meet a wide range of instructional goals and settings. An earth science class may spend 2 weeks investigating water quality and work through the manual from start to finish. A social studies class may simply want to look at Water Laws for a day and use only that section. This manual also accommodates educators with a wide range of experience and knowledge levels. Those familiar with water quality monitoring may wish to skip over some sections. Less experienced teachers may actually desire more information (if so, consult the “resources for further investigation”). To decide which units will be most helpful for you take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the manual.
  • Holding onto the GREEN ZONE (grades 5,6,7,8) - Bureau of Land Management. A 76-page youth curriculum for the study and stewardship of community riparian areas. 
  • Organize a River CleanupAmerican Rivers. Resource dedicated to making your cleanup a success. 
  • River Watch is a statewide volunteer water quality-monitoring program.
  • Project WILD is an award-winning wildlife education resource for teachers. For Project WILD Facilitators there are Workshop Planning Tools, and educators interested in leading these fun and interactive professional development workshops can Become a Volunteer Facilitator.
  • CPW Teacher Institutes Colorado Parks and Wildlife. ​Called Teaching Environmental Science Naturally (T.E.N.) or Outdoor Understanding for Teachers (OUT), these are interagency, site-based, outdoor institute programs​​ for teachers. The training program utilizes the curriculum guides from Project WILD, Project Learning Tree, and local resources.
  • Watershed and Water Cycle Activities - ProjectWet
  • Virtual and At-Home Watershed ActivitiesRoaring Fork Conservancy
  • Science and environmental learning programs - Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES). ACES teaches in Colorado schools from Aspen to Rifle, provides kids camps, adult classes, guided hikes, and field programs for all ages, with 70 partner organizations. ACES also hosts public lectures and events.  
  • Budburst is a citizen science program focused on understanding plant phenophase timing and its response to environmental change - a project of the Chicago Botanic Garden. View activities for the entire family or visit their page for educators
  • Texas Aquatic Science is a comprehensive aquatic science curriculum, from molecules to ecosystems, and headwaters to ocean, for middle school and high school students.


1National Research Council. 2002. Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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