Field Trip Activities
1. Planning a Field Trip
2. Water Chemistry Monitoring
3. Habitat Assessment
4. Macroinvertebrate Collection
5. Upland Ecology Studies
6. Active Games
7. Reflection & Observation Activities
8. Stewardship & Restoration Activities
There is no such thing as a "typical" field trip. Each varies in duration, content, and style. The only constant is our desire to see your educational (or curricular) goals met. All field trip activities are hands-on, at (and - quite often - in) the river, and strive to increase scientific and historical knowledge of the river, improve self-esteem and the students' perceived relationship with nature, and foster an increased ability to take action on behalf of the environment.
Planning a Field Trip
For more help in thinking about how to organize your students' activities at the river, check out Field Trip Organization 101. Also, please review our safety information before scheduling a trip to the Chicago River.
To book a field trip with Friends of the Chicago River, read the information on field trip logistics. You will need to fill out a Field Trip Needs Form and return it to our education staff.
What Makes a River Healthy?
A Brief History of the Chicago River
What are the eight biggest problems facing the Chicago River today?
Chicago River Field Trip Activities
Water Chemistry Monitoring
Using test kits, students can test the waters for pH, phosphates, nitrates, dissolved oxygen, biological oxygen demand, change in temperature, turbidity, total dissolved solids and fecal coliform. Non-toxic GREEN kits are for 5th-8th grade, while Hach titration kits are for high school students.
Water Chemistry Monitoring (5-12)
Monitoreo Química del Agua (5-12)
Water Chemistry Student Data Sheet
- for use with GREEN kits - for Younger Students
Water Chemistry Student Data Sheet
- for use with Hach kits - for Older Students
Other Chemistry resources:
- Calculating a River's Water Quality Index
- pH background and test instructions
- Phosphate background and test instructions
- Nitrate background and test instructions
- Dissolved Oxygen background and test instructions
- Biological Oxygen Demand background
- Turbidity background and test instructions
- Total Dissolved Solids background and test instructions
- Fecal Coliform/E. coli background and test instructions
- Coliscan Easygel Color Guide
- Coliform test instructions (GREEN)
- Understanding Water Chemistry Results
- Chemical Monitoring - Hoosier Riverwatch
- What can you do to prevent water pollution? - Hoosier Riverwatch
- Who Polluted the River?
Students can take a close look at the riparian habitat surrounding the river. Students can also measure the volumetric flow of the river.
Habitat Assessment (6-12)
Habitat Assessment Student Data Sheet
Stream Flow Monitoring (6-12)
Monitoreo de Flujo de Corriente (6-12)
Stream Flow Monitoring Student Data Sheet
Other Habitat resources:
- Habitat Assessment & Stream Flow - Hoosier Riverwatch
- What Does Stream Flow Tell Us?
Older students can collect and identify macroinvertebrates (small, backboneless organisms living in the water) to determine the quality of the river. Younger students can simply observe, characterize and draw the animals they find. If you don’t have your own equipment and are a member of the CRSN, you can borrow our equipment for your field trip.
Macroinvertebrate Observation (K-4)
Macroinvertebrate Monitoring (5-12)
Monitoreo de Macroinvertebrados (5-12)
Macroinvertebrate Student Data Sheet
Other Macroinvertebrate resources:
- What's it like to do this activity at the river with students
- Macroinvertebrates of the Chicago River
- Macroinvertebrate Fact Sheet
- Clues for Identifying Macroinvertebrates
- Functional Feeding Groups
- Invertebrate Pollution Tolerance
- Crayfish of Chicago - Loyola Univ.-Field Museum
- Crayfish Anatomy and Basic ID
- Biological Monitoring - Hoosier Riverwatch
- Life in the River - U. of Wisconsin Extension
- Macroinvertebrate ID - Arkansas DEQ
- Riverwatch Macroinvertebrate Key
- Field Guide to Aquatic Invertebrates - WV DEP
- Macroivertebrate Mayhem - Project WET
- Macroinvertebrate Bingo (yeah, the game)
- Macroinvertebrate Cards - Print and cut out! Great for practicing your macro ID prior to a field trip, or to simulate a water quality score using the student worksheets above.
Upland Ecology Studies
Students can investigate the ecology of the riverbanks and land surrounding the river through transects, nature walks and observation activities.
Invasive Species Impact Study (6-12)
Invasive Species Impact Study Student Data Sheet
Tree Transects (6-12)
Tree Transects Student Data Sheet
Easy Tree Identification (includes poison ivy and a few other common non-trees)
What are some of the plants found in the Chicago River watershed?
- Riparian-Mixed Habitat and Invasives
- Prairie, Wet Prairie and Prairie Invasives
- Wetland and Riverbank, and Wetland Invasives
- Forest and Woodland Invasives
Students often get very excited on field trips, an educational active game can provide them with a constructive outlet for their extra energy.
Sharing Nature with Children and Sharing Nature with Children 2 by Joseph Cornell both have a variety of fun and adaptable active games. Contact us to borrow these books from Friends. You can also get several example activities in books from the Sharing Nature Foundation.
Project WET has a neat active game focused on macros called Macroinvertebrate Mayhem. Younger kids will also enjoy playing Reverse Charades.
Reflection & Observation Activities
Students can hone their observation skills as they take guided nature walks, scavenger hunts and make detailed drawings. Take the time to slow down and let students soak it all in and understand what this visit to nature means to them.
Reflection & Observation Activities (K-12)
Forest Preserve Scavenger Hunt (K-8)
Chicago River Exploration (6-12)
Stream Walk (6-12)
- Stream Walk - Water Group Worksheet
- Stream Walk - Land Group Worksheet
- Stream Walk - People Group Worksheet
Sharing Nature with Children and Sharing Nature with Children 2 by Joseph Cornell both have a variety of fun and adaptable observation activities.
Stewardship & Restoration Activities
Students can help improve the natural area they visit by doing stewardship activities that can include litter pick up, invasive species removal, native plantings and native seed collection. Along the way, your students can earn service-learning hours that can be used for graduation requirements.
What is Service Learning?
What does a Chicago River service learning program look like?
Service Learning Project Ideas
Restoration of Riparian Areas
Litter Free Chiago River
Litter Free Chicago River General Info
Video on Teaching a Litter Free Curriculum
Link to Litter Free Curriculum for the classroom
Litter Free Chicago River Toolkit
Litter Tally Sheet for data collection - turn in to Friends after your trip
Invasive Species Fact Sheets
Buckthorn Fact Sheet
Garlic Mustard Fact Sheet
Honeysuckle Fact Sheet
Notes on Stewardship and Restoration Activities: Students, K to 8th, can do litter pick up/removal. Students in 4th to 6th grade are encouraged to enroll in a Mighty Acorns program. High School students (9th to 12th grade) can schedule litter pick up, invasive species removal, native plantings and native seed collection, depending on the needs and availability of the site steward. Please allow more time to schedule these types of restoration activities. If you are interested only in restoration activities, please contact the Forest Preserves of Cook County Volunteer Resource Center at (773) 631-1790 x10.
“It was awesome to have a day in the "field" doing science with my students!”
“I had so much fun on this field trip. I love going into the water to catch the crayfish, going hiking and reading by the tree. But my favorite was crayfish hunting even though I didn’t catch a crayfish. At the end of the field trip I sprained my elbow doing a cartwheel. I hope I get to go on this field trip again. It was so much fun!”