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Build a stormwater model

About this lesson

In this lesson students will get creative by making models of their school that incorporates the stormwater drainage system.

Year level: 3, 4

Theme: Stormwater and waterways

Learning objectives

Students can:
  • predict the stormwater path and describe the relationship between stormwater structures
  • examine the stormwater drainage system at school and represent their findings through the construction of a model
  • describe the stormwater path and name its parts.

Curriculum links


  • Science involves making predictions and describing patterns and relationships ACSHE050 ACSHE061
  • Science knowledge helps people to understand the effect of their actions ACSHE051 ACSHE062
  • Represent and communicate ideas and findings in a variety of ways such as diagrams, physical representations and simple reports  ACSIS060 ACSIS071

Things you will need

  • Search Google for images of structures associated with carrying or catching stormwater (use terms such as gutters, storm drain, downpipes, grates, soak wells, rain tanks, pipes, flood basin etc.)
  • Computer with internet access
  • Large sheets of construction card to place models on
  • Cardboard (old cereal boxes work well)
  • Other recycled materials may also be useful such as yoghurt pots, straws etc

Lesson description

Note: If the end point for the stormwater at school is not obvious your local authority may be able to provide details or a map showing where stormwater flows to after it leaves the school grounds. Mapping of stormwater drainage is sometimes available on the local council’s website using IntraMaps.


  • Explain to students that the drainage system carries stormwater from roofs, roads and buildings through gutters, drains and channels and discharges into creeks, rivers, lakes, wetlands or the ocean, or the water may seep into the ground to become groundwater.
  • Show images of gutters, downpipes, soak wells etc.
  • Get students to make predictions about where rainwater starts and finishes at school. List predictions on the board.
  • Take a trip around the school and identify the path that rainwater takes from the start to its exit from the school property. The path will include the roof, gutters, downpipes, possibly rainwater tanks, grates around buildings without gutters, and grates leading to drains. Have students draw a mud map of the stormwater system as they go.
  • Examine grates around the school that are not connected to feeder pipes and discuss their purpose. Where does the water come from that feeds into this grate? (These grates are usually clearing water in low lying hard surface areas where rainwater collects, for example in a car park).
  • Identify the end point for the stormwater. Look for a compensating basin (fenced off depression that is used to collect stormwater), a sump (a low lying area where water is allowed to collect so that it seeps into the ground and also evaporates back into the atmosphere), drains that feed into a local wetland or creek, or pipes that feed water into street drains.
  • Discuss environmental issues such as pollution from litter, dumping of chemicals, run-off of fertiliser etc.


  • Back in the classroom, break students into groups to make a model of one of the school buildings showing its stormwater system (e.g. gutters, downpipes, rain tanks, stormwater drains).  Students should check their model against their mud maps.
  • Have all the groups join their models together to form an overall model of the school. You may want to add in elements that show the destination of the stormwater (e.g. add in a local wetland, a compensating basin or sump).

Reflect & summarise

  • Review initial predictions. Were we right?
  • Ask students to explain to you where the water starts in the system, where it finishes and what happens to the water after it has left the school.
  • Discuss ways to keep the stormwater system free of pollution.

Extension activities

  • Investigate, design and present plans to the Principal for a rainwater garden bed.
  • Watch the video Raingardens (2:22).
  • Invite SERCUL to run a drain stencilling incursion.   

Teacher background information

What is a catchment area?

A catchment area is an expanse of land that intercepts water and then flows to a certain point either on the surface or underground. It might include a lake, a reservoir (or dam), a stream or any other water body and areas where water soaks into the ground and recharges as groundwater.

The school is a catchment area that may involve two or three sub-catchments (e.g. a car park, basketball court, school oval, gardens).

Groundwater contamination

Rainfall seeps through soil into the water table, where it collects in groundwater aquifers. Pollutants spilled on the ground, or leaking from storage vessels, have the potential to contaminate groundwater aquifers through seepage. Groundwater contamination in the shallow aquifer system can endanger community health and threaten the environment, especially the fauna and flora of wetlands.

What are drainage systems?

Drainage systems consist of pipes or open-channel drains that transport stormwater runoff and groundwater to natural water bodies such as rivers, wetlands or the ocean or to compensating basins. They often follow the route of natural watercourses that existed before any land development or clearing took place.

Drainage systems prevent flooding of developed land from surface runoff and from rising groundwater levels. In areas of high water tables, drainage systems lower the groundwater level so that the land can be developed.

Stormwater pollution

Stormwater is not treated and in some cases, leads directly to our water bodies such as rivers, lakes, wetlands or the ocean. The water also seeps into the ground and is taken up by plants, evaporates or gradually trickles down into the groundwater. Stormwater runoff easily collects pollutants along its path.

There are many ways in which human activity can impact on water draining from a catchment. These include:

  • littering
  • dumping of oil, paint and solvents
  • dog waste
  • waste from industrial areas
  • domestic fertiliser run-off 
  • oil and fuel from cars.

Did you know?

Australia’s rainfall is the lowest of all inhabited continents, however it has some of the wettest areas on Earth.

Key vocabulary

  • Catchment: The surface area from which runoff flows, sometimes via drainage systems, to a river, dam or wetland
  • Compensating basin: A sandy basin where stormwater is temporarily stored and re-enters the groundwater system
  • Drainage system: A system of drains
  • Soak well: A collection put for surface and subsurface stormwater
  • Stormwater: Surface water caused by rain
  • Sump land: A basin of variable size and shape that is seasonally inundated with water