What is the water cycle?

Jump to

Key information

Did you know that the water we turn on in our taps or our showers all comes from the sea, the rain, lakes and rivers? It's part of what's called the water cycle.

In this article you can find out:

  • How water travels from the Earth's surface, up into the sky and back to Earth again
  • The three steps of the water cycle: evaporation, condensation and precipitation
  • The water cycle in different places around the world

This resource is suitable for Weather topics for P2, P3, P4, P5, P6 and P7 (First and Second Level Curriculum for Excellence).

Watch this video to learn about the water cycle.

What is the water cycle?

The water cycle is how water travels from the Earth's surface up into the air and sky and then returns to the ground. The water cycle has three different parts.

  1. The first stage happens when the sun warms up the seas, rivers, lochs and lakes. As the water warms some of it is turned into an invisible gas called water vapour. This is the first part of the water cycle and it's called evaporation.

  2. As the water vapour rises, it cools and as it cools it turns back into droplets of liquid water. We see these liquid droplets as clouds. This is the second part of the water cycle and it's called condensation.

  3. As more and more water droplets condense they join together into bigger, heavier drops. Eventually they become so heavy that they fall from the sky to the ground. This is the third part of the water cycle and it's called precipitation. Precipitation includes things like rain, hail, sleet or snow.

  4. Now that the water has returned to the Earth's surface, the water cycle starts all over again.

The water cycle

Water is poured from a glass into a tap

Water from a tap

We use water every day but have you ever wondered about the journey water takes to get to us?

1 of 6

  • evaporation - When liquid water turns into an invisible gas called water vapour
  • condensation - The process of water vapour cooling and turning back into liquid water.
  • precipitation - Water when it falls as either rain, hail, sleet or snow.

Test your knowledge of the water cycle with this short quiz

Draw a water cycle diagram.

A diagram is a drawing that shows a process in a way that is simple and easy to understand.

Your diagram should include:

  1. Evaporation
  2. Condensation
  3. Precipitation

Here are some ideas to help you:

  • Your diagram should have clear labels of the three steps of the water cycle.
  • Use arrows to show the direction the water moves in.
  • Maybe you could use a picture of a loch, river or sea near you to help you illustrate the water cycle.

Here is an example of a water cycle diagram.

There's more to learn...

This guide
What is the water cycle? Where does the water in our taps come from?

How does the water cycle affect weather?