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How Wetlands Work

About the Activity: 

“How Wetlands Work” is a demonstration of how wetlands positively impact people’s lives every day by preventing flooding, filtering pollutants and protecting clean drinking water, and recharging ground water and rivers. Also discussed is the importance of wetlands as habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife.

Supplies Needed:

  •  3, 9 oz clear solo cups

  • 1, 3 inch x 4 3/4 inch kitchen sponge (cut in half)

  • 2 Straws

  • 1 Round Coffee Filter

  • Glitter (medium size glitter, do not use pixie dust size)

  • Water

  • Towels for clean up


  • Craft Knife

  • Scissors

  • Tape

  • Permanent Marker


  1. Poke 5 or 6 small holes in the bottom of one of the clear Solo cups using a sharp knife or the point of the scissors. Teachers you may want to this ahead of time in case students don't quite have the skills to do this delicate work

    1. Label this cup with the holes "Wetland"​

  2. Dampen your sponge by running it under water and then squeeze out the excess. This will make it easier to cut.​

  3. Take the sponge and place the bottom of the Solo cup on top of the sponge. With your marker, trace around the bottom of the cup onto the sponge. Cut the sponge into a circle using the mark you just made. This will fit into the bottom of the cup. Make sure it fits then remove the sponge from the cup.

  4. Dampen the coffee filter very lightly and place it inside the "wetland" cup allowing the edges of the filter to drape up the sides of the cup. Getting the filter a little damp will make it easier to nestle in the cup.

  5. Fit the cut sponge into the cup so it secures the coffee filter in place.

  6. label a second cup "Groundwater."

  7. Take the "Groundwater" cup and tape two straws over the top of the cup so that it will support the "Wetland" cup when you place it on top

    1. Make sure during the activity this is checked ​

  8. Label the third cup "Rain/Runoff Water"​


  1. Support the "Wetland" cup on top of the straws taped to the "Groundwater" cup.

  2. Fill the cup labeled "Rain/Runoff Water" half to 3/4 full of water

  3. Sprinkle  a little glitter on top of the water in the "Rain / Runoff Water" cup.

    1. The glitter will be the pollution or other impurities that we don't want getting into the aquifer, groundwater and drinking water resources.​

    2. Most of the glitter will float on top of the water, but you can give it a stir if you want to move some of the glitter to the bottom of the cup, but it isn't necessary.

  4. Make it rain by gently pouring the water from your "Rain /Runoff Water" cup into the "Wetland" cup.​

    1. Pour water into the center of the sponge trying not to pour water on the outside of the coffee filter​

  5. Watch as the water filters through the sponge and the coffee filter leaving the glitter behind.​


  1.  What happened to the pollution (glitter) when it entered the wetland?

  2. What features of an actual wetland do you think help keep pollution and impurities out of our groundwater?

  3. Where did the water that entered the wetland go?

  4. How do you think acting like a sponge helps wetlands prevent flooding?

  5. Why is it important to conserve wetlands if we want plentiful and clean groundwater?

About the Presenter

Jennifer Kross 1.jpg

Jennifer K Kross

Jennifer is a communications specialist with Ducks Unlimited’s Great Plains Region based in North Dakota. She is responsible for communication related projects including annual report writing, website content, press releases and outreach presentations. Jennifer holds a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and an M.S. in Wildlife Science. Jennifer has been with Ducks Unlimited since 2006.

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