Connect the Spheres

Activity Source: 

Adapted with permission by National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Global Precipitation Measurement Mission.

This activity will provide you with an introduction to a series of lessons — Survivor Earth — about water resources on Earth. You’ll investigate Earth systems by making observations in nature and identifying systems in the natural world. Ultimately, you will understand how the four spheres, or systems, on Earth — biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere — are interconnected.

For teachers:

Find the full lesson, including Teacher’s Guide, Student Capture Sheet, and PowerPoint Presentation at Survivor Earth is at


For each student:

  • Pencil
  • Clipboard
  • Masking tape
  • Copy of “Connect the Spheres” student capture sheet, including partner capture sheets
  • Pictures for “beat the clock” (in the “Connect the Spheres” PowerPoint)


  1. Take your pencil, capture sheet, and clipboard outside on a short nature walk for 5-10 minutes, accompanied by an adult. As you walk, record at least five observations. What do you see? What’s going on outside today? What do you see happening in nature? Have you noticed any changes in nature around your home or school? Your observations might seem simple or obvious, but they will be important later on.
  2. Back in the classroom, look at the diagram of components of Earth systems (water, soil, air, living things, sun). Identify the system that each observation falls into on your data capture sheet.
  3. Working with 2-3 partners, choose one of your group members’ observations to consider in more detail and describe the interactions between the systems. For your team, write the observation, circle the picture of the system, and draw arrows with notes explaining the connections between parts based on that observation. If there is time, present your observations and connections to the class. Or post your papers around the room for a gallery walk, so students can see what other groups produced and find more connections.
  4. Discuss: From what you saw and heard, what overall message can you see? What are some conclusions you can make? What is this showing us? How are all of Earth’s systems connected in some way, so that no part can function on its own?
  5. Review the four scientific terms for the spheres — biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere — and match them to the pictures. Beat the clock! Perhaps consider another picture and write down as many connections between spheres as you can in 30 seconds.


For teachers:

  • Conduct this lesson in different seasons, comparing observations and interactions.

  • Play “Find that Observation” by randomly assigning students an interaction pair (e.g., sun-soil) and asking them to identify one observation that illustrates that interaction.
  • Explore “Earth System in a Bottle” from Elementary GLOBE, in which students create terrariums to learn about the four spheres (