Let’s Learn about Rivers!
Learning about rivers (among other water sources) is a common elementary school social studies and science topic. Here’s how teachers can take some of the frequent learning objectives when teaching kids about rivers, and add a global twist!
Rivers and the Water Cycle
Rivers are vital to the water cycle. They collect run-off from precipitation and move it back toward the oceans. Learn about the water cycle from the perspective of the Amazon River. Rain melting from the South American Andes flows down the mountains, forming streams and even impressive waterfalls. In the lowlands, rainfall from the Amazon rainforest contributes to the flow of water, making the river grow wider.
Just like a drop of water that falls on your grass can one day make it to the ocean, so can a piece of litter! Garbage on the street can be swept into storm drains, and travel from the storm drains to small streams, to rivers, and finally to the ocean. Remember: we are all connected! Litter from a picnic, or a runaway plastic bag can (and does!) make its way to pollute the oceans. Always take care to pick up your trash, and leave the environment cleaner than you found it.
The 10 Longest Rivers in the World
Print a blank world map here, and then try to locate on a globe or on-line, and then fill in the 10 longest rivers in the world with a blue marker. You can click on their names here to display their locations on a world map.
1. Nile, (hint: it’s in NE Africa)
2. Amazon, (hint: South America)
3. Yangtze, (hint: China)
4. Mississippi/Missouri/Jefferson, (hint: North America)
5. Yenisei/Angara/Selenge, (hint: Russia)
6. Huang He (Yellow River), (hint: China)
7. Ob-Irtysh, (hint: Russia)
8. Congo, (hint: Central Africa)
9. Amur, (hint Northeast Asia)
10. Lena, (hint: Russia)
Rivers are so important to our society! They providing us with drinking water and irrigation water, sometimes they produce electricity, and of course we use rivers to transport material and food by water. Because of this, most major cities in the world were founded on the banks of a major river – Rome is on the Tiber, Paris on the Seine, London on the Thames, Cairo on the Nile, and New York City on the Hudson.
The Parts of a River: Vocabulary
Rivers are part of a large water system, from collecting the draining precipitation to flowing out to sea. Though every river is different, there are common attributes found in river systems.
This is the beginning of a river, often found in the mountains where melting snow or rain begins to flow down pulled by gravity. Sometimes the source is an underground spring, as in the Mississippi River source.
Small rivers or streams that join and flow into a larger river. The Amazon River has more than 1000 tributaries!
Notice in the picture above of the Amazon watershed. The main river- the primary channel- is the Amazon, highlighted in purple.
The flat area stretching out from each side of the river, which may flood during springtime with heavy rains or snow melting. The soil is often rich (as seen in these pictures of the Nile River floodplain) because the flooding of the river deposits minerals and nutrients into the soil, making the land idea for planting food.
A meander is a loop or bend in the river, as the water winds back and forth instead of in a straight line. Rivers often change courses.
Upstream vs Downstream:
Upstream is nearer to the source of the river, while downstream is nearer to the mouth of the river.
Low-lying areas on both sides of a river that is so saturated with water, special vegetation has adapted to the wet conditions. The largest wetland in the world is the Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe wetland in the heart of the Congo Basin, on the east side of the Congo River. The flooded forests and swamps (wetlands) are part of the 2nd largest rainforest in the world (after the Amazon).
The mouth of the river is the place where a river flows into a larger body of water, such as another river, lake, or ocean. When the river is flowing into an ocean, lake, or sea, the river often breaks into small channels as it deposits sediment. This often fan-shaped river mouth is called a delta.
Games & Resources to Learn about Rivers
Play the on-line Watershed Game! from the Bell Museum
Learn all about rivers from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s educational site.
Brain Pop Rivers Lessons (you must have a subscription- ask your school if they’ve bought one for students)
View how they made “Street View” (River view!) in the Amazon, and then view the actual street view.
Have you ever seen one of the major rivers of the world? Or do you live by a river? How do you teach your kids about rivers?