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Chesapeake Bay

Activity 2 (Explore): Introducing the

Chesapeake Bay

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Activity Overview

Activity Summary

In this activity, students get to know the Chesapeake Bay a little better by watching a video, looking at maps, and reading an article. The goal is for students to develop greater familiarity and connection with the Bay, while also learning some important facts for their investigation.


A Note About Place-Based Learning: Students may have a conceptual idea of the Bay, or they may have seen it when they rode over the Bay bridge, but few of them have the strong internal connection for the Bay that many conservationists have. Be sure to help students develop some of that connection, which goes beyond the technical definition of what they Bay is. The video students watch in this activity is designed to help with that. You may also consider putting up pictures of the Bay around the classroom during this module to help students build that connection, or even scheduling a trip with organizations like CBF to take students to the Bay.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 45 minutes


  • Students will know key information about the Chesapeake Bay

  • Students will develop questions about the Chesapeake Bay



  • Computer & Projector

  • Speakers

  • Chart paper (or other way to display document)



  • I see & hear, I think, I wonder: The Chesapeake Bay (with teacher guide)

  • About the Chesapeake Bay reading

Standards Connection

DCI: LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience



What do you know about the Chesapeake Bay?

  • This warmup is designed to provide some information on students’ background knowledge about the Bay. Some students may have a lot of background knowledge, and some will likely have none. Encourage all students to write something (ex. all students should know that it has water in it). Have students share after the warmup so that others can benefit from their background knowledge. You may want to look at students’ answers beforehand and ask a few students to share specific important information.

Modification: For the warmup, put butcher paper out on a table (or tables) and have students write whatever they know about the Chesapeake Bay on it. Have enough paper so that all students can write on it at the same time.


1. Frame the Activity

Remind students that they all know different things about the Chesapeake Bay. Tell them that in order for them to solve the mystery of what killed the fish in the Bay, it would help for everyone to know a little more about the Bay. If students included questions in Activity 1 that relate to knowing more about the Bay, connect today’s activity back to answering those questions.

Step 1

2. Video: The Chesapeake Bay By Air (preview)

Pass out the “I see & hear, I think, I wonder: Chesapeake Bay” sheet for students. Explain that during the video, they are going to see and hear lots of information about the Chesapeake Bay. Their job is to make notes on things that they see and hear in the top section of their handout. Afterwards they will add some things that they think and wonder. When students are ready, show the preview version of the Chesapeake Bay by Air video below. 

Modification: Consider showing the video without sound (or show it twice, without the sound the first time). This will help students to focus on visual observations.

3. Video Share

Have students turn to a partner and share some of the things they heard and saw in the video. Then have each pair share something with the whole class. Record these for the class on chart paper or in a projected document.

Step 4

4. I Think

With their partners, have students write down some things that they think they know about the Chesapeake Bay in their “I think” section. They may ask if something is true or not, and it is okay to share answers if you know them. Otherwise, you can tell them to write their idea as a question in the “I wonder” section. They can use some things they said or heard during the warmup for this section as well.

5. Reading: About the Chesapeake Bay

Hand out the article, About the Chesapeake Bay. Have students start by looking for information from the two maps and writing it in the “I see” section at the bottom of their handouts. Then have them identify key information from the reading to add to the bottom of their handout in the “I think” section. Key takeaways:

  • The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary, which means it is where freshwater from rivers and the saltwater from the ocean meet and mix together

  • The Bay has more than 3,000 species of plant and animal life

  • The Bay is relatively shallow (average depth of 21 feet)

  • The Bay is 200 miles long

  • Freshwater comes into the Bay from 50 major tributaries (rivers that flow into the bay)

  • The Bay’s watershed covers 6 states and Washington D.C.

  • The Chesapeake Bay has pollution in it

The Chesapeake Bay Report Card: The student reading includes a reference to a C- grade that the Chesapeake Bay received for health. For years, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has published a “State of the Bay” report card grading the Bay’s health on a number of indicators. In 2019, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) published the report card. You can access that report card here.

6. I Wonder

Have students write down additional questions they have about the Bay from the video or the reading in the “I wonder” section. Have them share some questions, and add them to the list of student questions from Activity 1. Make sure that at least one “I wonder” question relates to pollution in the Bay (ex. “What kind of pollution is in the Bay?” or “Where does pollution in the Bay come from?”). This will be necessary for Activity 5.

7. Return to the Phenomenon

Remind students about the dead fish in the Bay from Activity 1. Ask students if anything they saw or read might be a helpful clue in figuring out what killed the fish. For example, they may have written down that the Bay is polluted. This might be a clue as to what caused the fish to die. They may also have noticed that the water is sometimes brown. Don’t pass any judgment on students’ suggestions, and put a star by any questions that students think may be helpful for their investigation. You can also help students develop any new questions which might help in their investigation based on the video and the reading. For example:

  • Where does the pollution in the Bay come from?

  • How does the pollution get from there into the Bay?


Have students add any new clues to the clue board and to their personal clue sheets. Also encourage them to add any important new questions to their “I wonder” section

8. Formative Assessment: Exit TIcket


  1. What is an estuary?

  2. How does freshwater get into the Chesapeake Bay?

  3. How does saltwater get into the Chesapeake Bay?


  1. A body a water where freshwater from rivers mixes with saltwater from the ocean

  2. From the rivers and streams in the watershed (ex. the Potomac River, Patapsco River, and Susquehanna River) and from rain

  3. From the Atlantic Ocean

Word Wall: Add the word estuary to the word wall at the end of this lesson when you are going over the exit ticket.

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