Lesson Plan Details 

Printer Friendly Format | Lesson Plans A-Z | Lesson Plans By Topic | Lesson Plans By Location

Imperative Riparian Zones (FBCEC)

TopicHabitat and Management - General
Habitat and Management - Species and Habitat Management
Laboratory and Hands-on Activities - General
Participants will visit a riparian buffer restoration project on Crooked Creek where they will learn why the buffer zone is vital to the stream’s health and the surrounding watershed. Models will help participants visualize the natural dynamics of the riparian system.
Grade Level7 - 12
Recommended SettingIndoor classroom and Crooked Creek
LocationFred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR
Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484
Duration1 - 1.5 hours
Suggested Number of ParticipantsUp to 15
Special Conditions
Weather permitting
  • Experiment to see how a riparian buffer zone can benefit a stream.
  • Describe the importance of a healthy riparian zone to a body of water and the organisms living in the water.
  • Draw parallels from an experiment to real life.


Key Terms*


Riparian zone

  • Celery or carnation in colored water
  • 2 lamps
  • 2 large containers of water
  • 1 large sheet of cardboard
  • Materials as specified for Wetland in a Pan from “WOW!, The Wonders of Wetlands,” p. 212
  • 2 thermometersPencils and journals



A riparian zone is the land that runs alongside a stream. Grasses, shrubs and trees in this zone offer habitat for wildlife and stabilize creek banks even in floods. This buffer protects the stream from erosion, and overhanging canopy can keep the water temperature at a suitable level. A vegetative buffer also filters pesticides and other chemical pollutants, preventing them from entering the stream.

Part One
  1. Ask why it is important for large bodies of water to have trees and other vegetation on their banks. Record some of the comments on a dry erase board.
  2. Show the containers of water and have two participants measure the water temperature. They should record this in their journals. Have them turn on lamps over the water and predict what will happen to the water temperature. Place the cardboard sheet between the lamp and the water at one tub, and leave the other uncovered. After a few minutes, record the temperatures again.
  3. Ask the participants to relate their results to an actual stream bank. How would lack of shade along the edge of a body of water affect the water? What effect might this have on the water’s inhabitants?

Part Two

  1. Demonstrate Wetland in a Pan from WOW! The Wonders Of Wetlands.
  2. Show participants a stalk of celery or a carnation that has stood in colored water for several days. This should help them understand capillary properties of plants and relate this to the wetland activity.

Part Three

  1. Take the class to the riparian buffer restoration area on Crooked Creek. Relate their experiment results and model observations to the creek and surrounding area.
  2. Discuss erosion and how the vegetation not only keeps sediment out of the water but also stabilizes the bank. Ask them what would happen to the stream if the banks eroded and the stream widened. Would a slower stream with less shade have a different temperature? Have them predict what would happen to the diversity of life in the stream.
  3. Examine the west bank of Crooked Creek immediately above and below Kelley’s slab. Ask for descriptions and comments on its condition. Speculate on how the creek habitat is affected. Predict what this same bank might look like in five years and in 10 years. What could be done to improve its condition?
  4. Close with a discussion on how to repair or improve riparian zones. Have the participants imagine the restoration area in 10 years, 20 years and even 100 years. Give them a few minutes to record their thoughts in their journals.
  • At #2 above, take thermometers and dissolved oxygen testing materials to the creek and have participants select a shaded area to compare with a sunny section of the creek. Or compare rapids with a long, slow-moving hole.
  • For younger participants, do the first two parts of the activity as a demonstration. They can draw what they see. Take them to the creek and compare it to what they saw in the classroom. Have them write or draw ways they could improve a riparian zone on their favorite body of water.
  • How would lack of shade in a riparian zone affect water?
  • Describe the benefits of a riparian buffer zone.
  • Dobson, Clive (1999). Watersheds. Firefly Books, Ltd..
  • Murdoch, Tom and Martha Cheo (1991). Streamkeeper’s Field Guide, Adopt-A-Stream Foundation.



Buffer – something that separates two items


Riparian zone – plant communities that are the interface between land and a stream or other body of water