Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Ocean Patterns

Erin Cleveland


Students observe how waves and the tide affect the earth.


The student knows that scientists make the results of their investigations public, and they describe the investigations in ways that enable others to repeat the investigation.


-1 Pan per 4 students
-1 Water jug per 4 students
-1 Fan per 4 students
-1 Paper plate per 4 students
-1 Slinky
-6 Marbles per 4 students
-Review Sheet (See Associated File) for each student
-Journals or notebook paper for recording observations and reflections


1. Set up stations in classroom so that each group of 4 students can use a set of materials that are already prepared.
2. Read the background knowledge of ocean patterns before teaching so that you will be familiar with the concepts that students may have problems understanding.
3. Make one copy of the Review Sheet for each student. (See Associated File)


OPENING: Time allotment 10 minutes
1. Begin class with the wave-making activity. Before handing out materials for the activity, be sure to explain that they should be responsible with the materials. Also, explain to them that they will be working in groups today and remind students of good group work behavior. For example, use a whisper to communicate, do not talk when someone else is talking, be an active participant in your group, and listen to the ideas of others. Give each group a pan, a paper plate, and a jug of water. Fill the pans up with about 2-3 inches of water. Ask students, “What causes waves?” Write their responses on the board, and then begin the experiment.

2. Set up a fan and a pan of water in the front/back of room, about one foot from the pan. Have the students write a prediction in their journals about what will happen when the fan blows across the water’s surface. Have students gather around the table with the fan and turn the fan on low. Have the students observe what happens. Then have students return to their desks and take their paper plate to fan the water as the electric fan did. Have them discuss their observations. As students are experimenting with waving the plate slower and faster, ask them to notice how the water moves when you fan slower and faster. Make sure that students do not fan too quickly that water sloshes out of the pan.

3. Ask students, “Were there waves? Did the water bunch up at the far end of the pan?” Have students gather in the front/back again where the electric fan is. Turn on the fan again and have students observe what happens to the waves when the fan blows slower and then faster. Have students return to their seats and respond to their original prediction. Discuss the connection between wind and waves. Ask students, “Why didn’t the water bunch up at the far end of the pan?”

MAIN ACTIVITY: 25 minutes
1. Tell students, “Many people hold misconceptions about the nature of water waves. One common misconception is that waves are generated from within the water. Although that may appear to be true, most waves are actually generated by wind. As wind travels across the water’s surface, it pushes against the water and energy in the wind is absorbed by the water. Another misconception is that as a wave moves the water itself moves with the wave. In fact, a wave is the movement of energy through water.”

2. Give each group a set of 5 marbles. Have students place 4 of the marbles on a table, lined up in a row (preferably in the crack of the desks) with each marble touching its neighbors. Ask students, “What do you think will happen if the fifth marble is gently rolled at the marble at one end of the row?” Discuss their ideas. Have one student in each group roll the fifth marble. The marble at the far end of the row will roll away and the others will not move. Have students repeat the experiment several times. Discuss the idea that the energy in the rolling marble went into the marble it hit, and from that marble to the next, until the energy reached the last marble. The energy made that marble roll away. Wave energy moves through water the same way. Then, demonstrate the way that water moves by using a slinky. Have students experiment with the slinky. Next, I will introduce the generalization, “Water in the oceans is constantly moving in different patterns,” and the concepts, “waves and tides,” telling them what I expect them to understand at the end.

3. Ask students, “Do you think that waves can change the shoreline of a beach?” Have students discuss. Explain that waves can erode the land and also deposit sand on land. Show examples of what the shoreline looks like from erosion and deposition.

4. Next, I have students do a “pair and share” activity, where one person in the group shares one thing they know about tides. Explain that tides happen twice a day, every day, where the ocean gradually moves up the shore and back down again. “Tides are a result of the daily pull of the moon’s gravity on the ocean. This pull causes the ocean’s water to pile up in a bulge on the side of the earth that faces the moon. When the water covers the shore and waves crash against the rocks or cliffs, we then say that the tide is in.” Mention that spring tides are the highest and lowest tides, occurring about once every two weeks when there is a full moon and the gravitational pull becomes stronger.

CLOSING: 15 minutes
1. Return to the main concepts and review the facts that were learned and observed. (See Assessments)

2. Give students the Review Sheet (See Associated File) to quiz their understanding of the objectives.


As the students are experimenting with wind and waves, walk around the classroom to monitor individual comprehension. Also, have the students write in their journals to assess what they learned and give them the Review Sheet (See Associated File) to assess their understanding of the objectives. Expect each student to know that wind causes waves, that waves effect the shoreline through erosion and deposition, and that the tide happens twice a day, everyday, and is caused by the moon’s gravitational pull.


Use a fan or paper plates to demonstrate wave activity. If using paper plates, designate one student per group to wave the plate back and forth with a slow and then fast speed to see how the water forms waves.

Web Links

Web supplement for Ocean Patterns
Let's Make Waves

Attached Files

This file contains the Review Sheet for Ocean Patterns.      File Extension: pdf

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