Making a Model

Social Studies/Science Activity

Water is one of the resources that every human being must have to live. Help children see the relationship between natural resources and the people who use them by creating models or constructions of simple water wheels.

Water power has been a part of our nation's development since its earliest days. People living in colonial America used both tidal water and river water to move water wheels that ran saws and ground grain. A water wheel turns when rushing water falls into buckets or paddles attached to the wheel. The large wheel is connected by a shaft to other wheels, gears, mill stones, or saws. Today people have learned to harness the power of falling water into electricity. We build dams that produce a large volume of water. When the water is released through a sluice, the water moves large turbines that, in turn, generate electricity. People use electricity for light, to run machines, and heat and cool their homes.


  • pictures of old fashioned watermills from the outside and the inside (The books Mill by David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin) and Colonial Craftsman)by Edwin Tunis (Thomas E. Crowell Company) have excellent illustrations.)
  • shirt cardboard cut into three-inch circles
  • straws
  • one-ounce paper cups
  • basin of water and a pitcher


  1. Give each child a cardboard circle, a straw, and three paper cups
  2. Children use a pencil to punch a hole in the middle of the circle.
  3. Then they can place the straw in the hole.
  4. Have them staple three cups at even intervals at the outside edge of the cardboard circle.
  5. Have children work in pairs to demonstrate how water moves a water wheel. One child holds two ends of the straw over the basin as the other child slowly pours water from the pitcher into the cups of the waterwheel.


  • You may want to demonstrate to the whole class the workings of the water wheel. Encourage children to bring home their waterwheels and demonstrate for family members how the models work.

  • Invite children to tell how the wheel moves. Hold a discussion, asking children what sorts of attachments could be added to a water wheel to make a machine that does some work.

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