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.

Background Information

What Makes a River Healthy?
A Brief history of the Chicago River
Chicago River Web Resources
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
Q-Value Analysis

Other Chemistry resources:

Habitat Assessment

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)
Stream Flow Monitoring Student Data Sheet

Other Habitat resources:

Macroinvertebrate Collection

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:


Cranefly Larvae* (left), Mayfly Larva* (center), Rusty Crayfish* (right)

Gravid Crayfish† (left), Rusty Crayfish (center), Crayfish* (right)

Cranefly Larva* (left), Damselfly Larva (center), Fingernail Clams* (right)
†Photo by Victor Harbison
*Photos by Brittany Harthan

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, garlic mustard and a few other common non-trees)

What are some of the plants found in the Chicago River watershed?

Active Games

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 the books from Friends’ lending library. 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)

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 trash 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

Invasive Species Fact Sheets

Buckthorn Fact Sheet
Garlic Mustard Fact Sheet
Honeysuckle Fact Sheet

Notes on Stewardship Activities and Restoration: Students, K to 8th, can do site clean-up and trash pick up. Students in 4th to 6th grade are encouraged to enroll in a Mighty Acorns program. High School students (9th to 12th grade) can schedule trash pick up, invasive species removal, native plantings and native seed collection, depending on the needs and availablity 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.


A field trip to the Chicago River can be a transformitive experience

“It was awesome to have a day in the "field" doing science with my students!”

Katherine Drommerhausen, Lincoln Park High School

“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!”

3rd grader, Audubon Elementary