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Teacher Tools

GSLI promotes science and environmental education of K–12 students and actively links the research sector with public outreach. We support field trips, summer camps, teacher training, and curriculum development centered on GSL. The goal of these activities is to develop critical thinking skills and inspire stewardship among the next generation. High school programs were supported by the Utah State Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) initiative, which is underwritten by the U.S. Department of Labor. GSLI serves to connect all of these parties in education and, ultimately, workforce opportunities regarding this unique lake.

Westminster and Genetics Science Learning Center's Curriculum

Explore the ecology of Great Salt Lake. Developed by Westminster College and the Genetics Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, this interactive site includes facts, pictures, interactive activities and classroom experiments to better understand this extreme ecosystem.

Great Salt Lake Ecology. This product was partially funded by a grant awarded under the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) Initiative as implemented by the U.S. Employment and Training Administration. The information contained in this product was created by a grantee organization and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. All references to non-governmental companies or organizations, their services, products, or resources are offered for informational purposes and should not be construed as an endorsement by the Department of Labor. This product is copyrighted by the institution that created it and is intended for individual organizational, non-commercial use only.

Lessons and Activities

The following list contains lessons and activities that can be used within the classroom setting to help gain a better understanding of the Great Salt Lake.

Lesson Plans and Experiments

Exploring the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Lesson Plan

This lesson plan provides an 8-day flow of educational activities in which students use the Great Salt Lake ecosystem to explore food webs and how changes in living and nonliving factors affect different populations. The lesson fulfills standards 6.4.3 and 6.4.3.

Teaching overview:

  • Days 1 and 2—Engage students with images of Great Salt Lake and set up a "Great Salt Lake Museum" with various learning stations.
  • Days 3 and 4—Explore the Great Salt Lake food web
  • Days 5 and 6—Explore the effects of salinity levels on brine shrimp populations
  • Day 7—Explore the effects of salinity for other populations in the ecosystem
  • Day 8—Evaluate student learning. Students are columnists for a local paper. They must write a letter to a ready who has asked, "Is the Great Salt Lake a 'dead sea'?"

GSL Ecosystem Digital Lesson

GSL Ecosystem Lesson Slideshow

Author of curriculum: Megan Black

A Changing Lake Lesson Plan

The lesson plan connected to the above link provides a 7-day flow of educational activities related to a shrinking Great Salt Lake. Students will explore the ecosystem services that Great Salt Lake provides, examine the effects of a shrinking lake on those services, and design an argument for why we should or should not divert more water from the lake. The lesson fulfills standard 6.4.5.

Teaching overview:

  • Day 1—Engage with the ways that Great Salt Lake is changing by examining images, graphs, and data sets related to the change in lake levels over time
  • Day 2—Explore the question, "What is causing Great Salt Lake to shrink?"
  • Day 3—Take a look at the ways a shrinking lake can affect organisms within the Great Salt Lake ecosystem
  • Day 4—Examine the ways that a shrinking lake will affect humans
  • Days 5 and 6—Students will look at the ways people are currently working towards protecting the lake and compare the relative importance of various conservation projects
  • Day 7—Evaluate student learning through a written prompt asking students to prepare an arguemtn that could be relayed at a town hall style meeting

A Changing Lake Digital Lesson

A Changing Lake Slideshow

Author or curriculum: Megan Black

Oolite Reactions Lab Instructions

Oolitic sand, the type of sand found on Great Salt Lake's beaches, is a unique geological component of the area. Oolitic sand is found only in a few locations around the world. It forms when minerals present in the water gather around a small particle in the water (often a brine shrimp fecal pellet). The large white beaches at Antelope Island, Spiral Jetty, and near the Great Saltair are all composed of oolitic sand. This lab will have students combine different substances with oolitic sand and determine whether or not a reaction has occurred.

Student Scaffold for Designing and Conducting Experiments

This document outlines a simple interactive method for designing and conducting experiements. Students get to interact with the document by filling in blanks, placing and replacing sticky notes, and drawing a graph. The structure of the document can help guide students through a broad variety of experimental contexts.

Great Salt Lake Field Trip Guide

Field-based experiences are a phenomenal way to learn about the Great Salt Lake and the Great Salt Lake Institute has been a part of taking students to the lake for many years. These resources are a field trip guide based on successful field trips the institute has run in the past. The resources are meant to equip teachers with everything they need to facilitate a meaningful trip to the lake. Information is provided concerning everything from the planning phase all the way through the field trip and back to your school's campus.

This bird guide contains concise information about 12 of the most common birds spotted at the Great Salt Lake. The guide includes a photograph of each bird as well as a detailed description of the bird, its scientific name, its voice, its habitat, and its nesting habits.

Creator of guide: Hatley Laughridge

Guide to Common Great Salt Lake Birds


Bird Beak Adaptation Facilitation Guide

This activity explores the ways that different local birds have adapted to their environment and their food sources. The activity looks specifically at how different birds have evolved with different types of beaks to gather specific foods. Students will get the chance to collect food with various types of "beaks" (tongs, chopsticks, ladles, etc.) and draw conclusions about the role and importance of adaptation.

Bird Detective Activity

This is a short activity that teaches participants what an ornithologist is and introduces them to the feeding habits of Loggerhead Shrikes.

Time required: 15–30 minutes

Loggerhead Shrike Fact Sheet

Ornithologist Fact Sheet

Student Data Sheet (over 5)

Student Data Sheet (under 5)

This game is designed to teach students about the magnification of toxic chemicals as they make their way through successive trophic levels. Students will each get assigned a type of organism at the beginning of the game and as the organisms interact (eat one another) toxic chemicals (colored chips) will be passed through the food web, accumulating at higher trophic levels.

Time required: 30–45 minutes

Bioaccumulation Game

Bioaccumulation Game Life Cards

Brine shrimp are an essential part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, and the commercial brine shrimp industry generates $40–60 million each year. In this activity, students experiment to determine the effect of abiotic factors on the hatch rates of this important organism.

Time required: 20–30 minutes to gather supplies, 90 minutes of class time for setup and design, 1–2 days to hatch brine shrimp.

In addition to completing the "Hatch-a-Cyst" activity, students may be interesting in seeing what brine shrimp look like in action. The Great Salt Lake Ecosystem program brochure provides step-by-step instructions for hatching brine shrimp in a miniature ecosystem. The brochure is also a great resource for extra information about brine shrimp and their life cycle.

Hatch-a-cyst Teacher Guide

Hatch-a-cyst Student Pages

This activity is an experiential way for students to learn about the challenges a pelican might face in their effort to migrate and breed each year. In this activity, students put themselves in the shoes of American White Pelicans living in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. Students will have four "lives" as pelicans and will do their best to survive as they move to various locations (stations set up by the facilitator). Each location represents a real place a pelican might be found migrating, nesting, feeding, etc. At each location, students will learn about various environmental factors that affect pelican populations.

Pelican Pretenders Instructions

This is a facilitation guide for a short interactive activity that allows students to taste the salinity of various parts of the Great Salt Lake in comparison to the salinity of ocean water.

Tasting the Great Salt Lake Activity

Water Cycle Bracelet Facilitation Guide

This is a short activity designed to teach students about the flow of a water molecule through the Great Salt Lake water cycle. Students will pretend to be a water molecule as they travel through the cycle (from one station to another) and build a bracelet that represent their journey. This activity is an experiential tool to show students how water moves, and to get them thinking about the importance of the water cycle to living things.

Water Cycle Bracelet Station Cards

This document helps students explore some of the things that make the north arm of the Great Salt Lake unique and interesting. It can be difficult to gather the resources to physically take students to explore the north arm of the lake. Although it's not quite the same as being there, this webquest is a great way to expose students to this unique section of the lake.

Author of webquest: Wendy Roberts

Webquest Exploring the North Arm of the Great Salt Lake

Wetlands Web Facilitation Guide

This activity, designed by the Tracy Aviary, is an experiential way to illustrate the connections between various parts of Utah's wetland ecostystems. Each student is assigned a living or nonliving thing that is a part of a wetland ecosystem. Students are then asked to make connections between one another, utilizing a string that gradually unravels from one organism to the next. At the end of the activity, the string connects all the organisms and the interdependence of the individuals becomes evident. View the full facilitation guide with more details for framing the activity and debriefing suggestions.

Time required: 30–45 minutes

Wetlands Web Activity Cards

Winogradsky Columns Instructions

A Winogradsky column is a simple microbial ecosystem easily cultivated in a jar or other container. In this activity students use sediment and water samples from the Great Salt Lake or another local ecosystem to cultivate and compare microbial life from various locations.

Time required: 1–3 hours for sampling (if you go to the Great Salt Lake), 60 minutes of class time to build columns, 10–15 minutes weekly to observe chnages for several weeks to three months.

Other notes: The "Turbidity Measurement" document can be used to gauge the opaqueness of the water in your Winogradsky columns over time. The opaqueness, or turbidity, of the water can be an indicator of the quantity of life in your miniature ecosystems.

Winogradsky Columns Teacher Guide

Winogradsky Columns Student Pages

Turbidity Measurements