Resources for Teachers

The Fragile Fringe - Where Are the Wetlands?

Objective: To identify one or more types of wetlands

Many students will recognize the marshes along the coast as wetlands. Wetlands can be very large or very small and those along the coast are just a few examples of the types of the wetlands. Along with the freshwater, intermediate, brackish, and salt marshes of the coastal area, there are freshwater inland marshes, bottomland hardwood forests, edges of creeks, streams and ponds, and low elevation spots in fields that are considered to be wetlands. Lesser known wetlands may be the inland salt marshes of Utah and the Dakotas, the bogs in the northeastern and north-central United States, and the potholes of the northern Great Plains.


Activity: (for elementary - high school)

1. Look for a wetland closest to you. Check out the following possibilities on your school grounds, in your neighborhood, or within traveling distance of your school.

  • Along streams, creeks, ponds, bayous, or other permanent bodies of water
  • Temporary bodies of water that occur frequently and last for a week or more (check out the playground for a spot that stays wet after a rain, a vacant lot or field that always has a soggy spot - no buildings or crops because it is too wet)
  • An area close to the Gulf of Mexico - a chenier, a barrier island

Have the students walk around and observe the wetland(s) they find. Observations should include types of plants and animals, types of soil, smells, and sounds that may be different from those they have experienced in places they might not consider to be a wetland. In a wooded area, look for signs that water has been there although it may be dry when you are there. Look for water marks on trees, debris and leaves caught in bushes or trees above ground level, leaf litter that is soft due to absorption of water from the ground, or plant leaves covered with a film of mud or silt. (A skill that could be developed here is that of recording observations/data: journal entry, essay, photography, drawing/artistic skill.) Remember to have pictures in the classroom if the students can't go out. Having an assortment of pictures of the different types of wetlands is also a good resource.


2. Collect wetlands plants, then dry and press them. Remind students to record where and when they collected the plants for possible future reference.

  1. Identify the plants using a plant identification guide (this can be done in the field without bringing the plants into the classroom). A good guide for wetland plants is Common Vascular Plants of the Louisiana Marsh (see resource list for complete bibliographic information).
  2. Identify the types of leaves found (simple, compound) and the type of venation (for younger students, simply separate the leaves into groups by patterns of veins; older students can research and learn the terminology for venation: parallel, palmate, pinnate (view leaf venation diagram in the appendix). Note any differences in type of venation based on whether the leaves were collected from coastal or inland wetlands. Most marsh plants are grasses which have parallel venation; swamps have more woody vegetation which have pinnate and palmate venation.
  3. For a creative activity have students use whole or pieces of the dried plants to create a picture or poster about wetlands.


3. Obtain a map of your area and/or the entire state. A regular map will do but a topographic map is best. (You may obtain topographic maps from local marinas or fishing tackle shops or order National Wetlands Inventory maps from USGS/ESIC, 507 National Center, Reston VA 22092 or call 1-888-ASK-USGS.) Have students find the wetland they located in exercise 1, if it is large enough. Look for other areas on the map that, based on the students' and your knowledge of wetland characteristics, might be a wetland (e.g., symbols for swamps are often found on common road maps). If using a topographic map, identify the methods used by cartographers of distinguishing different types of wetlands.


Extension (middle and high school):

Investigate prior records and maps to find out if there are areas that were once wetlands that are no longer classified as such. Investigate the reasons for this. Create maps showing differences in human habitation as wetlands have increased or decreased in an area.

4. Identify different types of wetland habitats using a key in the "Wetland Habitats" activity from WOW: The Wonders of Wetlands. (pp 21-23).