Dream Stream

designed for the NYC and NYC Watersheds Trout in the Classroom program

To verify that students understand the anatomy of a healthy stream, purposes of various parts, and vocabulary to describe trout streams.  

    The clean cold streams of the Catskill Mountains provide an ideal habitat for trout and a reliable source of drinking water for over 8 million New York City residents.  The health of a stream depends on many factors including vegetation, surrounding land, forested cover and substrate.  New York City's watershed steams and surrounding lands are monitored and taken care of in order to protect the valuable resource of clean, cool and fresh water.

    A healthy stream has many important parts.  First, it has a partially to fully rocky substrate (stream bed), such as gravel or boulders.  As the cool water flows, it meanders (weaves back and forth) over and around this substrate.  The pattern of rocks and gravel makes the water act differently in different parts of the stream.  Sometimes, the water pools in flatter, calmer areas and the water flow slows.  In other areas, the highly variable substrate creates riffles—the areas of bubbly, white water—that help oxygenate the water.  When water flows quickly without interruption by substrate, this is a run.

    A healthy stream also holds and is bordered by many living things.  Aquatic macroinvertebrates, such as insects, mollusks, and crustaceans, live in every level of the water column.  Fish and plants also live within the stream.  Then, the riparian zone—the area next to the stream—must also be full of life.  A healthy riparian zone has trees, shrubs, and/or herbaceous plants, as well as animal wildlife.  This riparian zone (the roots and debris) helps filter surface water runoff and groundwater that might carry sediments and other pollutants that would otherwise enter the stream.

images of healthy trout streams (start at www.tu.org), shoeboxes or other small boxes, construction paper, glue, glue sticks, saran wrap, clay, and natural materials such as sticks, rocks, leaves, small plants, etc.


  1. Share trout stream images and vocabulary with your students, using magazines, books, or the internet.  (Older students can do this research themselves.)
  2. Ask the students to imagine, in their minds’ eyes, the perfect trout stream.  What is in the stream?  What is the shape of the stream’s path?  What grows next to the stream?  Where are the best trout hiding spots?
  3. In their shoeboxes, ask students to delineate their “dream stream” path, using a pencil.  This is a good first step to help them plan out everything else.
  4. Now, let them go with materials.  Students can use anything they brought or found, as well as share with others.  Gravel makes great substrate.  Sticks with leaves or paper make excellent trees, and stand up well in little balls of clay.  As a final touch, it’s nice to add saran wrap as the stream water.

In small groups or as a class, ask students to share their dream streams with each other.  Have them give a tour.  Perhaps they can give the tour as an angler, trout, or mayfly, pointing out what is most important to them from that perspective.

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