What is our relationship with the land and water?

Questions to hold on to​

  • How can we describe our terrain?
  • Is it flat or hilly?
  • Are there canyons?
  • Did you pass any natural bodies of water?

Add to your thinking

The Digital Notebook is a space to hold your thoughts, questions, and growing understanding throughout this Unit.  You will be able to access it from every Module. Use The Digital Notebook to jot your thinking, take notes, or as a space to develop your writing. You can print and export it anytime, and at the end of lesson 8 you’ll be reminded to save a copy for yourself.

How Mountains Are Made by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Read Along with the Video

Roll over to see a synopsis and links to read-along text
A mountain might be thousands of feet high, but it can still grow taller or shorter each year. This classic picture book explores how mountains are made—including how Mount Everest grew from a flat plain under an ocean to become 29,028 feet tall.
Read Full Story

Read Along with the Video

Roll over to see a synopsis and links to read-along text
Dive – or, rather, climb – into this immersive book featuring high-up places from the Alps to the Andes to the peaks of the Himalayas. Meet the inhabitants of these rocky peaks, as well as the adventurers who challenge their great heights.
Read Full Story

Mountains of the World by Dieter Braun

In the heart of Sierra Nevada's range is Yosemite National Park. Get a close up virtual tour of world renowned Half Dome




Standards & BlueTech Alignment

Anchor Phenomenon

Yosemite – Wonders of America’s National Parks

Student Action / Outreach

Students create a game design concept or an actual physical or video game.

Career Connection

Software Developer, Game Designer

Blue Tech Alignment / Ocean Literacy Principles (OLP)

OLP 2: The Earth has one big ocean with many features (K-2)

Water Issue(s) Addressed

Conservation, Sources of Freshwater

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)


Develop a model to represent the shapes and kinds of land and bodies of water in an area.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

Literacy Standards


Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.


Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.


Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.


Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.


Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section.


With guidance and support from adults and peers, focus on a topic and strengthen writing as needed by revising and editing.


Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations). 

Visual Arts


Brainstorm collaboratively multiple approaches to an art or design problem.


Make art or design with various materials and tools to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity.

VA:Cr2.3.Ka Create art that represents natural and constructed environments.


Progression of Modules 

Link to Phenomena Board

Module 1

Inquiry Launch


How can you describe the landscape around you?

Yosemite – Wonders of America’s National Parks

Students learn about landscapes and mapping.

Module 2

Inquiry Deep Dive


How can you describe the journey of a river?


Students watch a timelapse of the Platte River – click here

Module 3

Hands-on Investigation


How do rivers affect the land? 

Students investigate erosion and how the Grand Canyon was formed.

Module 4

Engineering and Design


How can you protect people from rockfall and flooding?


Students engineer a way to protect people from rockfall or flooding.

Module 5

Career Connection


Students meet a game designer by watching this video: Shadow: A Day in the Life of a Video Game Designer

Module 6

Student Action


Students create games to teach others about the land and water and why it’s important to protect land and water.

Module 7

Reflection & Assessment 

Module 8




This module introduces students to landforms, and the ways water helps to shape the land. They watch an anchor phenomenon about Yosemite as a launch to explore this relationship. They learn about maps and explore geographic and poetic language to describe the land. They also are introduced to the unit project and learn about how games will help them not only learn themselves, but also raise other’s awareness of human’s relationship with water and the land. 



Launch the Anchoring Phenomenon 

Watch 2:43 – 3:43 of the video without sound: Yosemite – Wonders of America’s National Parks


Description of Phenomenon: This phenomenon introduces students to the idea of landforms, how they are made, how water moves through the land and how the interaction over time creates a majestic landscape that has inspired generations of people and is worth protecting. As students watch this phenomenon over the course of the unit, the whole video with sound will reveal the call to action to protect our lands and bring awareness to the importance of water.  Watching without sound the first time will focus students simply on the beauty of and variance in the land and the flow of the water.

  • What do you notice?
  • How does this affect you?
  • What do you wonder?

After video, capture/chart  – What are we noticing and wondering about …? 

Throughout the unit, students will be tracking their own inquiry in an inquiry notebook. Students can add their noticings and wonderings to their inquiry notebooks along the way.



Introduce the Essential Question for the project: What is our relationship with the land and water?

Have students share their initial thinking.

Question to Investigate: How can we describe our terrain?

Students go on a nature walk to investigate what their local landscape looks like. They use all of their senses to navigate their neighborhood and take observations of what they see around them, with heightened focus on the “lay of the land” (geography).   

  • What did you notice about the land where we live? 
  • Is it flat or hilly?
  • Are there canyons?
  • Did you pass any natural bodies of water?

To introduce cartography, share a text such as Bird’s Eye View: The Natural World by John Fardon. Or, go to YouTube for Bird’s Eye view options, such as this Bird’s Eye View of San Diego.


Or, have students consult Google Earth for a bird’s eye view of their local region.

This gives students a sense of “seeing” the land in map form.  Have students use this view to sketch a  map of their region and share these with each other. 



In this unit, students will be reading a mix of nonfiction and realistic fiction focused on the Earth’s geography specific to the flow of water from the mountains to the sea.  They will gain factual knowledge from the nonfiction, and expand their understanding as they explore realistic fiction focused on the beauty of mountains and rivers, and the essential nature of the flow of water through rivers.


Read Aloud

Read alouds for Module 1 introduce students to geographic landforms with an emphasis on mountains.  The suggested texts offer a balance of nonfiction and realistic fiction, creating opportunities to engage with content while also considering the effect of nature on the human condition.  Several of the options below have links to digital read alouds if needed.

Land and Water by Eve Heidi

How Mountains Are Made by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Mountain Dance by Thomas Locker

Mountains of the World by Dieter Braun

A Day On the Mountain by Kevin Kurtz

Sierra by Diane Siebert

World of Wonder: Mountains by Charlotte Guillain

Think and talk together as you read:

  • What are you understanding about…
    • (Who, what, when, where, why?)
  • What questions do you have?

  • What in the text helps you to understand what it’s like to be in the mountains?

  • How does this author seem to feel about the mountains?

As you read, begin charting using a three column structure.  Column one is for factual information about mountains, column two is for words and phrases that describe the mountains – their beauty, ruggedness, etc., and column three is for capturing the ways authors seem to feel about the mountains.  Students might also want to add their own experiences with and feelings about the mountains.


Shared and Small Group Reading

Recommendations for leveled and second grade NGSS-aligned texts for shared and small group reading are included in the BlueTech materials matrix.  Shared reading instruction for this unit should include:

  • Concepts about print targeted to developmental needs for students still requiring support
  • Overarching meaning making strategies as outlined in this unit

Additionally, shared and small group reading should include focus points specific to the nonfiction genre.  This genre specific instruction will support children’s meaning making as they delve deeply into meaning making in both read aloud and independent reading.  Focus points for nonfiction genre shared and small group reading in Second Grade may include any focus points included in the previous grade levels which require added support, and:

  • Using the table of contents to search for information
  • Notice the organizational structures of nonfiction (all about, sequence, problem/solution, , description, compare/contrast…)
  • Notice sentence structures and signal words particular to the organizational structure
  • Shades of meaning


Independent Reading

For independent reading, to the extent possible, gather nonfiction and realistic fiction texts on landforms with an emphasis on mountains, and water forms such as rivers, ponds, lakes, as well as erosion.  If possible, include texts on local mountains, rivers, lakes, etc. Give children ample time to read, think and talk, and continue asking questions.


Writing Workshop

In this unit, students will write about the places they love, with a focus on sharing information and creating a sense of time and place (setting).  This work will help them to focus on the geographic features of their region with emphasis on bodies of water if applicable, and describe these places in ways that draw readers in.  It will also prepare them for creating immersive settings as part of game development in Module 6.  

In preparation for writing, work with students to understand the local geography.  If your area has bodies of water such as ocean, lakes, rivers, etc., or local mountains where fresh water originates, be sure to identify and discuss.  Students can then write about the places they love in their local surroundings, the land and bodies of water they’re exploring in their reading, or other geographic regions they’ve visited and know well.

In Module 1, students focus on some of the sensory aspects of setting (what they see, hear, and smell).  Choose a mentor text such as Sierra by Diane Siebert that describes the setting with incredible detail and beautiful prose.  Read the text, think and talk about the big ideas as well as the sense of the mountains it creates.  Spend time understanding how the author uses language to create this.  Refer to the chart developing during read alouds as a support, and add new thinking to the chart.

Then, model write for the children, showing them how you visualize a loved geographic place in your mind, and work to capture that image in words.  Don’t worry about perfection at this point – rather, model a flexible experimentation to find the words and phrases that seem to match the image in your mind.

Coach students to nudge their thinking, and offer ample time to talk:

  • What place do you want to write about?  Why?
  • What information do you want your reader to know?
    • What aspects of who, what, when, where, why matter for your piece?
  • How do you hope your reader feels about this place?
  • How will you create a sense of this place for your readers?
    • Close your eyes and see your place in your mind.  Look closely:
      • What do you notice?  Look even more closely.  What new detail are you noticing?
      • What colors do you see?  Shades of color? 
      • What do you hear?  Smell?
      • What living things are in this place?

If children are writing about their local area, you might want to have them carry their inquiry notebooks to record details and sketch when they’re out in the area.  Encourage them to draw from these notebooks as they draft.  As they write, allow for time to share their thinking and writing with others and get feedback on the feel they’re creating with  their setting descriptions.



Explain to students that throughout the project, they are going to be learning about why the land and water are important to protect. As they learn about the world around them, they will be learning about creating immersive settings through words as writers, and how to transfer that sense of place to a visual project as they create a game design to raise awareness about protecting our land and water.

Play Where on Google Earth is Carmen San Diego? to experience a fun and interactive game.

  • What is fun about this game?
  • What is challenging?
  • What is this game teaching you?



Throughout the unit, students will reflect using the Phenomena Board as a way to track their sense-making and understanding of the anchor phenomenon. 

Guide students back to their Question to Investigate and have them share what they did and what they figured out. They look at a map of Yosemite and connect it to the phenomenon, finding the rivers and lakes and mountain landforms. 


Link to Phenomena Board


Investigative Phenomenon

Question to investigate

What we did

What we figured out

Connections to the phenomenon

Questions we still have

Video of landforms and bodies of water.

How can we describe the landscape around us? 

We went on a nature walk. We mapped our landscape. We read about landforms.

There are many different ways we can describe the landscape. We can make a map of landforms and bodies of water in our neighborhood. Google Earth is one kind of map we can use to find the land and water in our area.

We looked at a map of Yosemite.

Complete with students.

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