Floodplain Modeling

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In this design-based lesson, learners study flood dynamics as they modify a riverbed with blockages or levees to simulate real-world scenarios. Learners will learn about floodplains, consider different manmade and natural factors that contribute to flooding, and explore different structures that can be used to mitigate flood damage.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
Over $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 2 sheets of cardstock (or paper) for construction of model houses
  • Model House Template
  • Transparent tape
  • Scissors
  • Markers, colored pencils, or crayons to decorate houses
  • 5-pound (2.3 kg) box of oil-based modeling clay per group (reusable)
  • Aluminum baking pan
  • Small board (or something else rigid) to support the baking tin after inserting the clay
  • Clean-up supplies (paper towels, sponges, towels, etc.), for after using wet clay
  • Thick book to prop up the plastic tub (may not be needed if you conduct activity outside)
  • Riverbed Template, one of three designs provided
  • Optional: additional cardstock, rulers, protractors, etc.
  • Computer with projector and internet access
  • Floods, Floodplains and Levees
  • 1 large, shallow, plastic waterproof tub, 8-in x 14-in x 30-in or 20-cm x 36-cm x 76-cm, clear plastic is better but not necessary
  • Wire cutters or tin snips to cut the baking pan
  • Small paper cup, used to pour water over the riverbed model


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Processes
      • Weather and Climate
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Civil Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering
  • Mathematics
    • Geometry
      • Plane Geometry
  • The Nature of Science
    • Science and Society
      • Risks and Benefits
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Model Building
  • Nature and Environment
  • Outdoor Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Includes assesments for student learning:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Nicklas, Tim ; Schaefer Zarske, Malinda ; Ekern, Kristi ; Carlson, Denise

Source Collection

  • TeachEngineering


  • All rights reserved, Regents of the University of Colorado, 2006

Funding Sources:

  • Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE)
  • U.S. Department of Education
  • National Science Foundation, 0338326