Teaching Students About the Great Lakes


The Great Lakes of North America are one of the most significant and awe-inspiring features on our planet. Comprising five vast freshwater lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they make up the largest freshwater system in the world by surface area. As teachers, we have a great responsibility to educate our students about these incredible natural wonders that stretch across eight U.S. states and the Canadian province of Ontario. In this article, we will explore some engaging ways to teach students about the Great Lakes and their importance to our world.

History of the Great Lakes:

One way to start teaching students about the Great Lakes is through their historical background. The lakes were formed over 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age when glaciers receded and left behind vast basins filled with melting water. Indigenous peoples have lived around the lakes for thousands of years, and their cultures contribute immensely to the rich history of the region.

Teachers could incorporate stories from these indigenous cultures into their lessons, as well as discuss how early European explorers like Samuel de Champlain played a crucial role in mapping and understanding this unique region.

Geography and Geology:

A comprehensive study of the Great Lakes should also include their geography and geology. Students may be surprised to learn that these immense lakes contain about 84% of North America’s fresh surface water or 21% of the entire world’s supply!

Educators can create interactive map activities that help students identify each lake’s location, size, and drainage system while discussing how geological events like glacial movements shaped these unique landscapes.

Ecosystems and Wildlife:

The Great Lakes are home to an abundant variety of plant and animal species; hence they are crucial ecosystems on our planet. Teachers can encourage students to research individual lakes’ ecosystems and create presentations or reports on various aspects such as endangered species found in them, migratory bird routes, and the unique habitats that support such diverse life.

Environmental Challenges:

Teaching students about the Great Lakes’ environmental challenges is essential to nurture responsible stewards of these vital resources. Examples of environmental concerns include invasive species like the zebra mussel, decreasing water levels due to climate change, and pollution from industries around the lakes. Students can participate in solution-oriented projects such as designing strategies to prevent pollution or creating educational campaigns to raise awareness about protecting the Great Lakes.

Field Trips and Hands-on Learning:

If possible, visiting one of the Great Lakes or associated landmarks like museums, national parks, and aquariums could be an enriching experience for students. This hands-on approach allows them to see firsthand the beauty and importance of these natural treasures while engaging with scientific concepts they have learned in the classroom.


Teaching students about the Great Lakes offers a fantastic opportunity to blend history, science, and environmental stewardship into an engaging educational experience. By introducing students to these vast freshwater resources’ rich history, geography, ecosystems, and challenges they face, we help create curious minds that may contribute towards preserving these natural wonders for generations to come.

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