Future City Lab: NYC Wetlands


Grade Level: 6-9
Keywords: wetland, runoff, transition, marshes, swamps, bogs, fens, glaciers, emissions
Source: www.flickr.com/aidaneus

Time Estimate: 90 minutes 

Connection to Future City Lab: Living with Nature: How can New York City enhance its natural environment and cope with climate change? 


Students will

  • be able to describe what a wetland is 

  • identify the reason for the destruction of wetlands  

  • cite evidence and evaluate the need for wetlands in the New York City area 


  • Wetlands info worksheet  (see additional resources) 

  • Reading: EPA Factsheet: “Economic Benefits of Wetlands” 

  • Reading: EPA Factsheet: “Threats to Wetlands” 

  • Reading: EPA Factsheet: “Wetlands and West Nile Virus” 


  • Science Scope and Sequence, LE Key Idea 6: Plants and animals depend on each other and their physical environment.  

  • Science Scope and Sequence, LE Key Idea 7: Human decisions have had a profound impact on the physical and living environment. 

    • Natural ecosystems provide an array of basic processes that affect humans…Humans are changing many of these basic processes and the changes may be detrimental. (7.1b)  

    • Human beings are part of the Earth’s ecosystems. Human activities can, deliberately or inadvertently, alter the equilibrium in ecosystems…Human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes, and other factors is threatening current global stability, and if not addressed, ecosystems may be irreversibly affected. (7.1c)  

    • Human activities that degrade ecosystems result in a loss of diversity of the living and nonliving environment. (7.2a)  

    • Societies must decide on proposals which involve the introduction of new technologies. Individuals need to make decisions which will assess risks, costs, benefits, and trade-offs. (7.3a)  

  • RST.6–8.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.  

  • RHST.6–8.2: Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.  

  • RHST.6–8.4: Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in specific scientific or technical context relevant to Grades 6–8 texts and topics.  

  • RHST.6–8.5: Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).  

  • WHST.6–8.4: Produce a clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.  

  • WHST.6–8.6.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.  

Guiding Questions

  1. What are wetlands and how do they impact large coastal cities like New York? 

  2. Are wetlands worth saving? 


  1. Do Now (5 minutes): What are the risks and benefits of living near the ocean?
  2. Depending on grade level, students should be able to identify a number of risks and benefits, from simple ones – like risk of flooding, hurricanes, and tsunamis – to more complicated ones such as access to water trade routes. 

  3. Group Review (10 minutes): What evidence do we have of rising sea levels?
  4. Review the data on NASA’s Climate website. Start with graph under its “Evidence” tab (“Climate Change: How Do We Know?”, https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/) and review with students why rising global temperatures contribute to sea level rise. (Answer: melting ice sheets from the Earth's poles contribute to large levels of sea level rise, and warmer water expands and takes up more space.

    Click through to the sea level data visualization at https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/sea-level/ to confirm that historical and current measurements all show a clear upward trend. 

    Next review Climate Central’s Surging Seas Risk Zone Map for New York City: https://ss2.climatecentral.org/#12/40.7298/-74.0070?show=satellite&projections=0-RCP85-SLR&level=5&unit=feet&pois=hide 

    Ask: What might increased sea level rise look like? Use slider on left-hand side of screen to visualize increased sea level for the New York area. 

    For reference, consensus projections have sea level rise likely at three to six feet by 2100 if current carbon emissions rates continue. (The projections were at one to three feet just a year or so ago; scientists have adjusted their models to accommodate accelerating ice melt in Antarctica and Greenland.)  

  5. Setting the Stage (20 minutes): What is a wetland?
  6. Explain to students that there are many strategies to combat sea level rise, but some of the most compelling are ones that manage to achieve several desirable goals at once. Today the group will be learning about the value of wetlands and considering them as a potential means of mitigating rising seas. 

    Ask: What is a wetland? Chart responses on the board. 

    Have students read the introductory Wetlands Info Worksheet and answer some questions at the end to check for understanding. 

    End with reviewing the Regional Planning Association’s interactive vanishing wetland map (click through for full interactive map and test before presenting). 

  7. Information Gathering (30 minutes)
  8. Have students break into groups. Each group will read one of three readings on wetlands from the EPA. Students should take notes on important information. After they finish reading and taking notes, they can discuss what they learned with others in the group. 

    Note that these reports are not recent, but represent solid overviews of the key benefits that wetlands hold. Students should be warned not to rely on web links for further information-gathering, but rather direct them to the main EPA wetlands website: https://www.epa.gov/wetlandsChallenge students to think of whether there are any new developments or threats that might play into the larger discussion. (Zika, for example, rather than West Nile Virus.) 

  9. Sharing Out (15 minutes)
  10. Reshuffle students so that groups are comprised of students who read all three articles. Have students share what they learned from their article. Direct students to pay attention to what ideas repeat through each of the articles and which ones appear to be central themes. 

  11. Conclusion (10 minutes)
  12. Have students write an analysis on whether wetlands should be preserved and/or restored. They should cite relevant information that will help support their ideas. 

    Before the end of the lesson, ask students what they think can be done to support wetlands. Answers might cover themes like avoiding pollution, dredging, and development to proactively restoring wetland habitats and getting politically involved. Students should also be aware of the need to properly use and dispose of chemicals and pesticides and to buy low-phosphate detergents in the home. 

Additional Resources 

Wetlands info worksheet sourced from original materials found at:  

Fieldtrips: This content is inspired by the Future City Lab gallery in the Museum’s flagship exhibition, New York at Its Core. If possible, consider bringing your students on a fieldtrip! Visit http://mcny.org/education/field-trips to find out more. 


This series of lesson plans for New York at Its Core was developed in conjunction with a focus group of New York City public school teachers: Joy Canning, Max Chomet, Vassili Frantzis, Jessica Lam, Patty Ng, and Patricia Schultz.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these lessons do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.