Ocean Currents

Grade Levels: 3 - 6


  • Students will map the patterns of the major ocean currents.
  • Students will learn about the influences of wind, water temperature, landmasses, and water density on currents.


  • Tin pie plates
  • Water
  • Oregano or chili powder (or any herb that floats)
  • Paper or plastic straws
  • Food coloring
  • 150 ml beakers
  • Hot plate (if hot tap water is not available)
  • Table salt
  • Map of the world
  • Reference materials


  1. Point out that ocean currents are driven by the wind and influenced by the landmasses that obstruct the flow of water as well as the density and temperature of the water.
  2. Demonstration 1: Fill a tin pie plate to the inner rim with cold tap water.
  3. Sprinkle a teaspoon of herb (oregano or chili powder) over the surface.
  4. Using a plastic or paper straw, gently blow across the middle of the surface from one side of the pan.
  5. Write a sentence to describe the patterns created by the motion of the herbs.
  6. Students should observe that the water is rippled by the artificial wind they create and that the currents on the surface circulate around the edges of the pan. Point out that the wind they created is analogous to the Equatorial Currents flowing west at the Earth's equator. These currents are forced into a clockwise rotation in the Northern Hemisphere and a counterclockwise rotation in the Southern Hemisphere because of the Earth's rotation and the landmasses that obstruct the waters' flow.
  7. Demonstration 2: If hot tap water is unavailable, use a hot plate to warm 50 millileters of water. BE SURE TO EXERCISE PROPER SAFETY PRECAUTIONS IN THE USE OF THIS EQUIPMENT. WEAR GOGGLES.
  8. Add a tablespoon of salt to the warm water and several drops of food coloring. Stir the mixture.
  9. WEAR HEAT RESISTANT GLOVES and carefully pour several milliliters of the warm water into the same water-filled pie pan used in Demonstration #1.
  10. Write a sentence to summarize your observations about how this denser mixture behaves when poured into cool water.
  11. Have students label the major ocean currents on a map of the world.
Excerpt from Ready-to-Use Earth Astronomical Science Activities for Grades 5-12

Free 7-Day Trial for TeacherVision®

Sign up for a free trial and get access
to our huge library of teaching materials!

Start Trial


Thanksgiving is just around the corner! It's (Thursday) November 26, this year. Use videos, lessons, and worksheets to teach the history and cultural significance of the holiday. Then, enjoy our crafts to celebrate and decorate!

December Calendar of Events
December is full of events that you can incorporate into your standard curriculum. Our Educators' Calendar outlines activities for each event, including: World AIDS Day (12/1), International Volunteer Day (12/6), Hanukkah (begins at sundown 12/6), Handwashing Awareness Week (12/6-12), Computer Science Education Week (12/7-13), Human Rights Day (12/10), Winter Solstice (12/22), Christmas (12/25), Kwanzaa (begins 12/26), Visit the Zoo Day (12/27), and New Year's Eve (12/31). Plus, celebrate Bingo's Birthday Month, Universal Human Rights Month, and Write to a Friend Month all December long!

Hour of Code
Introduce your students to basic coding and computer science! Celebrate Computer Science Education Week from December 7-13, 2015 with our Top 5 Free Coding Tools for Kids, Top 5 Free Coding Tools for Teens, or the Hour of Code resources provided by Code.org®

Interested in using different types of media in your classroom? We have a growing collection of videos, with related activities, for holidays and events, including: slavery & the Civil War, American History, U.S. Presidents, handwashing awareness, the Common Core, women's history, Memorial Day, the American Revolution, and the environment. Enjoy!

Teaching with Comics: Galactic Hot Dogs
Reach reluctant readers and English-language learners with comics! Our original teaching guides to the Galactic Hot Dogs comic series (chapters 1-4 and 5-8), as found on Funbrain.com (and now in print!), will take students on a cosmic adventure while engaging their creative minds. Plus, find even more activities for teaching with comics, featuring many other classic stories.