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Create an edible aquifer

About this lesson

Students will learn about surface and groundwater, how water is stored in underground aquifers and why you shouldn't pollute groundwater.

Year level: 5, 6

Theme: Water and the natural environment

Learning objectives

Students can:
  • explain what an aquifer is
  • understand the importance of groundwater
  • learn why it is important not to pollute our groundwater
  • create an edible aquifer.

Curriculum links

Humanities and social sciences (geography)

  • The environmental and human influences on the location and characteristics of a place and the management of spaces within them ACHASSK113


  • Sudden geological changes and extreme weather events can affect the earth's surface ACSSU096

Things you will need

For 30 students:

  • 35 x clear plastic cups
  • Brown sprinkles
  • 2 x teaspoons
  • 2 x big spoons
  • 2 litres vanilla ice-cream
  • Tub to carry ice
  • 1 straw per student
  • 2 litres of lemonade
  • Food colouring (4 x small bottles with eye droppers)
  • Bag of ice
  • Paper towels
  • Map of Western Australia

Lesson description


  • Ask students what happens when it rains and where they think the water goes. Explain that some of the water stays on the surface ('surface water') and some soaks into the ground.
  • What do students think an aquifer is?
  • Explain what an aquifer is then ask what they think we use it for. Do they know if they get water at school from a water bore or a supply scheme?
  • Show a map of Western Australia and ask students where they think the largest aquifer is located (the Yarragadee aquifer which stretches from Geraldton to the South Coast).
  • What do students think would happen if we use more water than we get from the rain.
  • Watch the video Groundwater (5:45).


Students will make a model of an aquifer by placing materials into a cup to represent different layers of an aquifer.

NOTE: do not reference the materials as 'ice-cream', 'sprinkles' etc. as the students are acting as scientists and must use the appropriate scientific names.

  1. Hand out a cup to each student, explaining that it is their aquifer.
  2. They will fill each cup halfway with 'limestone' (ice) as the first layer of their aquifer. Ask why they are using ice to represent the limestone.
  3. Students will add a few scoops of 'topsoil' (ice-cream). Ask what substances make up topsoil?
  4. Students will scatter a teaspoon of sprinkles over the topsoil which represents the organic components such as dead leaf litter and earthworms.
  5. They will then add a few drops of food colouring (pollutants) which may contaminate the groundwater. Ask what the pollutants might be.
  6. Ask students to describe what the pollutants are doing (they should be leaching through the topsoil and infiltrating the limestone layers). Equate this to the contamination of our groundwater sources and why garden bores are not suitable for watering vegetable patches or drinking.
  7. Finally ask where groundwater originates (rain). Add lemonade to represent this.
  8. Ask students how we extract groundwater and explain how a bore works then hand out a straw to each student.
  9. Discuss bore responsibilities, watering days, issues with bore locations, pollutants and ways to reduce groundwater pollution.
  10. Students can then sink their 'bores' and enjoy their 'groundwater'.

Reflect & summarise

Discuss the importance of groundwater to Western Australia and the implications if it gets contaminated.

Extension activities

Teacher background information

What is an aquifer?

An aquifer is a large underground reservoir of water that is used to provide our drinking water. There are many types of aquifers some can be just a few feet underground and others can be as deep as 1,300 feet. Aquifers were created millions of years ago as rain ran down the hills and mountains carrying water and sediment. As the layers of sediment began to be deposited the water would soak through the layers of sediment until it hit a layer of impermeable rock.

The area where water fills the aquifer is called the saturated zone. The top of this zone is called the water table. The water table may be located as little as a foot below the ground’s surface or it can sit hundreds of feet down.

Where is groundwater found?

Groundwater can be found almost everywhere. The water table may be deep or shallow and may rise or fall depending on many factors. Heavy rains or melting snow may cause the water table to rise or heavy pumping of groundwater supplies may cause the water table to fall.

How is water from aquifers obtained?

Water in aquifers is brought to the surface naturally through a spring or can be discharged into lakes and streams. Groundwater can also be extracted through a well drilled into the aquifer. A well is a pipe in the ground that fills with groundwater. This water can be brought to the surface by a pump. Shallow wells may go dry if the water table falls below the bottom of the well. Some wells, called artesian wells, do not need a pump because of natural pressures that force the water up and out of the well.

How are groundwater supplies replenished?

Groundwater supplies are replenished or recharged by rain and snow melt. In some areas of the world people face serious water shortages because groundwater is used faster than it is naturally replenished. In other areas groundwater is polluted by human activities.

Groundwater pollution

In areas where material above the aquifer is permeable, pollutants can readily sink into groundwater supplies. Groundwater can be polluted by:

  • landfills
  • septic tanks
  • leaky underground gas tanks
  • overuse of fertilisers and pesticides.

If groundwater becomes polluted it will no longer be safe to drink.

Did you know?

The biggest aquifer in the world is The Ogallala aquifer in America. It covers 225,000 square miles and is under 8 states!

Key vocabulary

  • Aquifer: An underground layer of rock or sand that can absorb and hold water
  • Contamination: The act of polluting, either on purpose or accidentally, with unwanted substances
  • Groundwater: Water that is held underground in the rock or soil
  • Impermeable: Fluid is unable to pass through
  • Porous: Filled with holes that can absorb water
  • Saturated: Holding as much liquid as can be absorbed