Skip to main content
The PBS on-demand streaming service, WNED PBS Passport, is available in Canada! Learn More
If Our Water Could TAlk
Classroom Reources

These educator resources are designed to be used with the program If Our Water Could Talk. They are recommended for teachers in elementary, middle and high schools to explore specific biology, earth science and historical themes. 

Below are activities designed to enhance the understanding of Buffalo Niagara waterways, as well as broader, relatable themes to be used in your classroom. We have also provided links to many other types of resources and activities.

Buffalo Water Renaissance

Water has defined Buffalo over the last two hundred years. Water helped build Buffalo into a shipping hub in the 1800’s and a manufacturing powerhouse in the 1900’s. Most of those industries are long gone but their legacy along the waterways of Western New York is not. Many water related issues face Buffalo today, industrial clean up, environmental restoration, and public access are only a few. But if handled correctly, water can be one of the keys to Buffalo’s future.

After watching A Trip up the Buffalo River with Captain Tom Marks discuss the concept of “renaissance” with students. Renaissance means rebirth and renewal.  The most famous renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned from the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy and later spreading to the rest of Europe.

1.    What does it mean for Buffalo’s water to go through a “renaissance?”

2.    What ideas do the students have for the future of the Buffalo waterfront?

3.    Create a work of art, poem or song based on the rebirth of Buffalo’s water.


Stanley Spisiak: A Voice for the Water

Stanley Spisiak was a local jeweler in Buffalo who had a passion for the outdoors and particularly for the water. He was an advocate for the waters of Western New York long before it was common or popular to speak out about environmental concerns. His actions laid the ground for the path to recovery of the Buffalo River and Lake Erie. Meet Spisiak and his grand-niece Jill Spisiak Jedlicka, who continues that work today.

Have your students watch the video segment Stanley Spisiak: A Voice for the Water. Stanley can be considered a hero. He stood up for what he believed in and action was taken.

1. What is the definition of a hero?

2. Who are the heroes in the student’s lives?

3. Has he or she ever acted as a hero? Did he or she cause action to be taken on some issue?

4. Write an essay on “When I Was a Hero.” If students were never in a hero situation, have them write about something they’d like to take a stand for. What would he or she do?


Listening to the Water

Jill Jedlicka is the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. She and her organization have done much of the legwork to help clean up the Buffalo River and other waterways around Western New York. The work done by Riverkeeper has been integral to the recovery of water all over the region. In her extended interview, Jill mentions "listening to the water."

Jill Jedlicka Extended Interview

After watching the extended interview with Jill Jedlicka, from Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, have a discussion with students about “listening to the water.”

1. What would Buffalo water say? Students should volunteer what they think our water might say. (ex. “please clean me,” “come swim with me,” “I remember when…,” etc.)

2. Talk about the different uses for our water (ex. For drinking, energy, transportation, recreation, etc.)

3. As a class, have students work together to create a large mural incorporating all the ways that we use Buffalo’s water.


More Educational Activities and Resources:

Water Treatment Plant (grades K-8)

In most parts of the United States, getting clean, safe water is as easy as turning on a faucet. Generally, this water comes from either groundwater or nearby streams and reservoirs. What most of us never see or have to worry about are the steps required to make this water drinkable. In this video segment adapted from ZOOM, cast member Noreen finds out how a water treatment facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts purifies its city's water.

WaterSense Game (grades 3-7)

Think you know everything there is to know about water? Move the water-efficiency hero Flo through water pipes and answer water-efficiency questions while avoiding water-wasting monsters.

What is a Watershed? (grades 3-12)

Even if you live, work or play far from a river, your actions could have an impact on the quality of the water in an area. Runoff from fields, lawns, and pavement could carry potentially harmful materials from our watersheds to our rivers. These effects could be felt far from the point of origin. This video from KET's Raindrops to Rivers shows how smaller watersheds flow into larger ones.

Water Testing (grades 4-6)

How clean is your water? Meet some smart kids in Queens, New York who are answering just that question at the Alley Pond Environmental Center. After collecting water samples, they measure the temperature and test the oxygen and nitrate content. The resulting data tells them how hospitable the water is for fish as well as the overall health of the aquatic ecosystems.

Water Solutions

These two sets of eight videos explore how to prevent and mitigate non-point-source water pollution. The first set (for grades 4-12) focuses on Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, located near Louisville, Kentucky, and how its "green" Visitor Center helps protect and conserve water. The second set of videos (for grades 6-12) focuses on the problem of acid drainage from abandoned Kentucky coal mines.

Human Impact on Water Quality (grades 6-8)

Water is a vital natural resource that all living things depend on to survive, but water quality is being affected by human activity. In this lesson, students explore how humans have impacted the quality of our water resources, and consider ways to avoid further pollution. Students first examine the causes of water pollution, then investigate the quality of their community's water supply. They conclude with an exploration of ways to make water safe for human consumption.

Urban Solutions to Water Pollution (grades 6-12)

In this KET video segment from Louisville Life, learn how a rain garden in an urban community helps prevent storm water runoff from contaminating an urban watershed. Students describe how building a rain garden helps improve their community, prevents storm water runoff, and provides a personal sense of accomplishment and pride.

Poisoned Waters: The Startling New Contaminants (6-13+)

More than three decades after the Clean Water Act, iconic American waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound are in perilous condition and facing new sources of contamination. In this special collection of educational resources from FRONTLINE Poisoned Waters, correspondent Hedrick Smith investigates the growing hazards to our waterways and emerging threats to human health.

What’s in Your Stream? (grades 9-12)

In this lesson students will learn about the impact of the environment on the rivers and streams in Pennsylvania through online resources and scientific investigation of water quality through hands-on fieldwork. The suggested time frame for this lesson is three 50-minute class periods.



Fishing for Safe Food (grades 3-8)

In this interactive game adapted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, students on a fishing trip try to catch different types of fish. Once a player catches a fish, he or she decides to keep it or throw it back, based on safety information provided by the EPA. The game teaches students which fish have high or low levels of mercury, and how much is safe to eat.

Acid Lake (grades 3-8)

This interactive activity adapted from EcoKids introduces acid rain—how it affects aquatic ecosystems, the difference between acid rain and normal rain, and how certain species as well as entire ecosystems, react to emissions from industrial and other man-made sources that contribute to acid rain. The activity also explains the pH scale, which is used to measure acidity.

The Hydrologic Cycle (grades 3-8)

Water continuously travels between Earth's surface and the atmosphere via the hydrologic cycle. Through five main processes — condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, and evapotranspiration — water is perpetually recycled. In this interactive resource adapted from NASA, explore the steps of the water cycle.

 Environmental Hazards at the Coast (grades 6-8)

 In this interactive activity adapted from the National Library of Medicine, explore the environmental hazards found at various coastal locations, including beaches, coastal brownfields, cruise ships, fish farms, homes, marinas and boats, power plants, storage tanks and pipelines, and wastewater treatment facilities.


Ecological Art (grades 3-13+)

In this Spark video produced by KQED, follow environmental artist Daniel McCormick as he creates temporary sculptures in the creek beds of West Marin.

Riveropolis (grades K-13+)

Gregory Gavin is an artist with a social cause. In this Spark video produced by KQED, explore his project called "Riveropolis," which was born out of his interest in bringing inner-city people together in a man-made environment reminiscent of nature.

Additional Resources

Environmental Protection Agency

Browse resources and lesson plans – choose the “Water” category for related resources.

TEACH Great Lakes

Features mini-lessons on many Great Lakes topics: environment, history & culture, geography, pollution and careers & business. (grades K- 12)

Give Water a Hand: Action Guide (PDF)

This book is your guide to action. It will help you figure out what you can do to protect water. Investigate the water in your community and Give Water a Hand. (grades 4-8)

Give Water a Hand: Leader Guide Book (PDF)

Here you’ll find step by step guidelines for helping your youth group or class (grades 4-8) make a difference for their community and the environment.

Funding for If Our Water Could Talk is provided by HSBC and Honeywell. With additional funding from The Joy Family Foundation, Lawley Insurance and The Baird Foundation.