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Dams: Teachers

Dam Essentials


Review basic facts about dams and hydroelectricity.

Explore the structure, design and uses of different types of dams as explained by civil engineers.

Learn some fun facts to share with your students. Teach them about the largest dams, the oldest dams still in use, the dams with greatest reservoir capacity, and the biggest dam removal project. Another fun site is The World's Most Fascinating Dams, with wonderful photographs of 13 marvels of engineering.

From the US Fish and Wildlife Service, learn more about the impact of dams on migratory fish.

PBS Learning Media

For K-2 students, these activity-based videos include support material for teachers, background essays, and discussion questions to get children “thinking like a scientist.”

For grades 3-6:

  • Hoover Dam and Hydroelectric Power introduces students to the way dams can produce electricity
  • Salmon and Dams is a complete lesson plan that encourages students to think about ways that people have helped and harmed salmon.
  • Beavers introduces students to “nature’s engineer” – the only creature other than humans that builds dams.

For middle school students:

Building Big: Dams is a great PBS resource for teachers and students. Dam Basics covers types of dams, while Wonders of the World introduces students to eight famous dams. Have your students learn about the role of the dam engineer, and then take the Dam Challenge where they must decide what to do with problematic dams. In the Under Pressure activity, students compare water pressure at the bottom and top of a dam.

Dam Resources for Teachers

National Geographic has some excellent resources for educators to help you teach about dams. Several of these include complete lesson plans and leveled articles differentiated for 3rd-12th grades.

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials has a site full of ideas for teachers and kids. You’ll find instructions for building a model dam, information on different types of dams, hands-on activities, and a collection of videos.

Student-friendly graphics can help your students understand more about how dams work. Take a Tour of a Hydroelectric Project for deeper comprehension of hydropower. The Fish Passage Tour demonstrates fish ladders, spillways, bypass systems and more.

Dam Bypass

The Bonneville Power Administration offers worksheets and curricular materials relating to dams, hydropower, rivers, and fish. Take a look at their resource collection. Many of these materials are available in Spanish.

The study of dams lends itself well to hands-on classroom activities. Here are a few for you to try with your students:

Lesson Plans and More

Teach Engineering has a terrific collection of lesson plans designed to help students understand the value, impact, and purposes of dam construction. There are eight standards-aligned lessons appropriate for 4th-6th grades, accompanied by nine hands-on activities that give students the opportunity to create dams, waterwheels, and engineering projects of their own. You’ll want to take a look at this site!


The American Society of Civil Engineers offers lesson plans for teachers on a variety of dam topics, including beaver dams, types of dams, and hydropower.

What’s Good and What’s Bad About Hydropower? Is a lesson encouraging upper-elementary students to discuss and research the pros and cons of hydropower and come up with possible solutions. For middle school and above, How Do Dams Affect Fish Populations? utilizes the scientific method as students research the question.

Dams, Road Building and the Environment, Don’t Dam It! and Controlling the Flow of the Colorado River are lessons from the Utah Education Network that encourage critical thinking and student research.

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