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Identifying bodies of water in Aoteaora

Water safety and awareness is a deep and involved subject area. Identifying bodies of water in Aoteaora is a learning intention from the Water Safety and Awareness classroom module in kura and primary schools. This activity helps students understand about different bodies of water in their local environment and more broadly across Aotearoa. In addition, students learn to identify recreational uses of these bodies of water and how to mitigate risk when recreating in, on and around these waters.

Meet Hohepa Tawhara, kaiako kōpuapua tuakana at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna, Te Whanganui-o-Tara. Hohepa shares his teaching practices to get his tamariki to explore the bodies of wai around their kura and homes. Read the Unit Plan learning template here

This is a learning lesson for kaiako and teachers helping tamariki learn to identify bodies of water in Aotearoa.


Learning Intention

Students learn to:

  • Investigate and enquire about their local and wider water environment
  • Define and locate different bodies of water in Aotearoa and in our local community
  • know Māori names for bodies of water
  • Identify recreational uses of water

Success Criteria

Students are able to:

  • Work within groups to talk and write about the names and definitions of the different bodies of water found in Aotearoa
  • Contribute to the group discussion and locate bodies of water on a map of Aotearoa and their local environment
  • Share experiences about how they and their whānau enjoy the water and where
  • Identify a range of activities that whānau and friends do in, on and around the water


Atlases and maps - from school library

Blank map of Aotearoa

Blank map of local environment

Places and placenames website link

Illustration of Te Whanganui Ā Tara

Lesson sequence

Starter – In groups students are asked to discuss and write group definitions for the following: a beach, fiord, harbour, bay, channel, river, river mouth, sand bar, lake, strait, waterfall, pond, creek, water race and other. These are shared and the teacher adds any necessary details and definitions.

Each group is then assigned one or more of the following task. Using the map of Aotearoa students are to identify and place:

  • oceans and seas which surround Aotearoa;
  • main lakes in the North and South Islands;
  • main rivers in the North and South Islands;
  • harbours of Aotearoa;
  • bodies of water between the North, South and Stewart Islands.

Students transfer their information onto a large blank map of Aotearoa and report their findings.

The teacher asks students questions such as:

  • How many of you have visited any of these areas?
  • What did you do there?
  • How did you keep yourself safe when you were in, on or around the water?
  • Can you describe the area and your experiences in, on or around the water?

On large pieces of paper, students are asked to brainstorm and record all possible recreational uses of water, such as swimming, fishing, underwater diving, waka ama, boating.

As an extension to the above activity, students are asked to use a copy of a local map and identify and name all possible recreational water sites in the local area, including swimming pools. 

Students then identify and suggest possible water recreational activities that can be carried out at these locations. Students then design a water location map of their local area and use symbols to represent the different activities that can be carried out at the each site.


This lesson is a good way for the teacher to assess what the students already know about the recreational uses of water, and the different activities take place. 



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