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Charting the Tides: Exploring the causes and effects of the tides

First Place Winner of the SciREN Coast 2018 Lesson Plan Competition

By: Charlotte Brown and Marygrace Rowe


UNC-Institute of Marine Sciences

Grade Levels: Fourth and Sixth

Duration: 45 minutes – 1 hour

Setting: Indoors/Classroom


This three-part lesson plan will provide information about tides, the relationships between tides and water levels, and the impacts that high water levels can have on coastal communities. The first part of the lesson will explain how the moon and sun’s gravitational pull on the Earth create tides. The different types of tides (Spring, Neap, high, low) will also be reviewed. The second part of the lesson will require the students to graph real tidal data and complete an analysis from their resulting graphs. The last part of the lesson will be a discussion about the influence that high water levels caused by extreme tides can have on coastal communities. This lesson was inspired by the North Carolina King Tides (NCKT) Project, a citizen science project initiated to raise community awareness about the potential impacts of sea-level rise. The extension activity will explain how students can contribute to the NCKT Project as a classroom activity or on their own.


  • Low tide and high tide photos (Appendix)
  • 5 white foam balls on a stick (1 per group) – 6th Grade Only
  • 5 flashlights (1 per group) – 6th Grade Only
  • 30 bags of Mini Oreos (1 per student) – 4th Grade Only
  • 30 popsicle sticks (1 per student) – 4th Grade Only
  • Laptops – necessary for 6th grade; optional for 4th grade
  • Tidal Chart (Appendix)
  • Activity Worksheets and Keys for 4th & 6th grade (included)


  • Explain the difference between high and low tides and how they are created
  • Demonstrate how the moon and sun’s gravitational pull on the Earth creates tides
  • Sketch the alignment of celestial bodies and identify the resulting tide
  • Analyze real tidal data and construct plots of the data
  • Interpret tidal graphs to determine mean and range of data
  • Propose an explanation of how water level is influenced by tides


North Carolina Essential Standards

  • E.1: Explain the causes of day and night and phases of the moon
    • E.1.1: Explain the cause of day and night based on the rotation of Earth on its axis.
    • E.1.2: Explain the monthly changes in the appearance of the moon, based on the moon’s orbit around the Earth.
  • E.1: Understand the earth/moon/sun system, and the properties, structures, and predictable motions of celestial bodies in the Universe.
    • E.1.1: Explain how the relative motion and relative position of the sun, Earth and moon affect the season, tides, phases of the moon, and eclipses.

Common Core Mathematics Standards

  • Math.Content.4.MD.B.4: Make a line plot to display a data set of measurements in fractions of a unit (1/2, 1/4, 1/8). Solve problems involving addition and subtraction of fractions by using information presented in line plots.
  • Math.Content.6.SP.B.4: Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots.
  • Math.Content.6.SP.B.5: Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context, such as by:
    • Math.Content.6.SP.B.5.a: Reporting the number of observations.
    • Math.Content.6.SP.B.5.b: Describing the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement.
    • Math.Content.6.SP.B.5.c: Giving quantitative measures of center (median and/or mean) and variability (interquartile range and/or mean absolute deviation), as well as describing any overall pattern and any striking deviations from the overall pattern with reference to the context in which the data were gathered.
    • Math.Content.6.SP.B.5.d: Relating the choice of measures of center and variability to the shape of the data distribution and the context in which the data were gathered.

Common Core English Language Arts Standards

  • ELA-Literacy.W.4.1: Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
    • ELA-Literacy.W.4.1.a: Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
    • ELA-Literacy.W.4.1.b: Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.
    • ELA-Literacy.W.4.1.c: Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition).
    • ELA-Literacy.W.4.1.d: Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.4.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
    • ELA-Literacy.SL.4.1.a: Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
    • ELA-Literacy.SL.4.1.b: Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.
    • ELA-Literacy.SL.4.1.c: Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.
    • ELA-Literacy.SL.4.1.d: Review the key ideas expressed and explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.4.4: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
  • ELA-Literacy.W.6.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.6.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.6.2: Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study.
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.6.4: Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

Next Generation Science Standards

  • MS-ESS1: Earth’s Place in the Universe
    • MS-ESS1-1.: Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons.