This companion document to the Issue in Focus provides educators with guidance on ways to incorporate the content into classroom teaching. This component is geared toward grades 9-12 teachers, with connections across subjects and disciplines.
Contents of this Classroom Companion include:
Student Readings and Discussion Questions
Below are student readings that provide some insight into global water issues and discuss some of the most relevant topics covered in the Issue in Focus. Each article is aimed at different age groups or reading levels, and is followed by some selected discussion questions.
“Privatization of Water in Bolivia” – An analysis of efforts to privatize water systems in Bolivia
“A New Cholera Epidemic” – Overview of the resurgence of cholera, and the recent outbreak in Zimbabwe
“The Three Gorges Dam” – Article about the building of and the environmental impact of the Three Gorges Dam in China
Lesson Ideas and Curriculum
This portion of the guide contains some suggestions for possible lesson plans and activities to teach students about water around the world – across the disciplines. For complete lesson plans and curriculum, see the recommended curriculum units listed at the end of this section.
- Geography – Map out local fresh water sources such as rivers, lakes, springs, and aquifers. Try to find out where the government in your town or city gets their water. Is it from underground aquifers, local lakes, or piped in from freshwater sources many miles away? Are there any dams in your local area? Map those too, and find out what they do.
- Borders – Rivers and other waterways are commonly used to define the physical borders of many countries around the world. Discuss examples of this with students, and why this is so. These waterways don’t just form the boundaries of two countries, however; they often form the boundaries of several countries along the waterway. So then who controls the water? What rules/laws apply when one country uses water in a way that impacts another country either up or downstream? Refer back to the “Water, Politics, and Conflict” section of this issue to read about some current trans-boundary issues relating to water.
- Government and Policy – Research the US federal clean water acts of the last few decades. What do they stipulate? Who is supposed to carry out this legislation and how? Compare these requirements to your state laws and agencies. Compare your state to another state. Make a chart with three columns and take notes as you compare: 1) federal laws; 2) state laws; and 3) your state. What special conditions do the residents of your state face? If both federal and state governments fail to protect citizens from polluted water supplies, what should people do? Refer to the following set of articles in the New York Times online to start your research.
- Society and Culture – The ways in which water is perceived and used differ greatly across cultures. Culture is also influenced strongly by geographic location and access to water. Water is not perceived the same way in Africa as it is in Asia, or in Australia as it is in the Amazon. The role that water plays in shaping the lives of people can be seen in the huge variety of water-related religious practices, spiritual beliefs, myths, legends and management practices throughout the world. What are some different cultural rituals or traditions involving water? If water is such an important element of life and a symbolic part of so many cultures, why is water also so polluted in many places? What might be done to prevent or reverse this pollution?
- Creative Writing – Have students examine some examples of the use of water in poetry and short stories, such as “Two Ways of Seeing a River” by Mark Twain, or the poetry of Wendell Berry. How do the authors use vivid descriptions and poetic metaphors to portray the beauty and importance of water? Have students write their own short descriptions or poems illustrating the power and life-giving nature of water.
- Literary Analysis – “Water, the fountainhead of civilization as of life, flows through human expression through the ages. Water flows through literature. There is the recurring motif of yearning for rain as the farmer looks at his sun-baked field and his hungry family. There is the intimate relationship of an individual or a community with a particular river or sea. But water in literature is also as a persona larger than a single entity. There is the beneficent life-giver, the nurturing mother-river in stories of fishing villages, and people who live off the sea or river as others live off the forest.” (Githa Hariharan) What is the significance of water in the poems or novels you are reading in class? What can this tell us about the significance or value of water to the characters or culture being depicted?
- Analytical Writing – Compare the plot of the Milagro Beanfield War to the events that took place in the water privatization protests in Bolivia a decade ago (see the advanced reading above). How were the actions of the lead character and local townspeople in The Milagro Beanfield War similar to those of the villagers in Bolivia? What was the relationship between local landowners and outside companies? What role did the government play in both scenarios?
- Digital Media – After researching some of the issues related to water raised in this edition, have students film public service announcements advocating what they think should be done about these issues. Instruct students to choose a specific area – water rights, a focus on sanitation to wipe out cholera, taking a stand on water conservation or plastic bottles, etc. – and have them write a script and film a 60 second PSA to educate other students and urge them to take action. Use the PSAs from the 1H2O website as examples.
- Health – Drinking water: we take it for granted; we need it for basic survival. And yet, what we drink every day is a vehicle for bacteria, chemicals and industrial by-products that are a danger to our health, if not in the short-term, certainly in the long term. Diseases of all kinds can be transmitted through water. Investigate and categorize the kinds of pollutants that can be found in drinking water. What types of diseases do they lead to? What types of technologies are used to treat drinking water so that the water is safer? What pollutants cannot be effectively eradicated from the drinking supply and why?
- Earth Sciences – Study the hydrologic cycle. The water cycle is a closed system – all of the water on the earth today existed when the planet was first formed. How much of earth’s water is freshwater and usable by humans? How is global warming impacting the amount of freshwater available to humans, and the water cycle overall? What happens when we contaminate or pollute water as it goes through the water cycle, and what does that mean for the future?
- Ocean Literacy – In earth science and ecology studies, remember to include a study of the oceans. Even though humans need freshwater, not saltwater, for survival, how do oceans contribute to the health of the earth’s ecosystems? What is the role of oceans in the hydrologic cycle? What is the impact of global warming on the earth’s oceans and thus on our land and freshwater ecosystems?
- Physical Science and Engineering – Learn about dams, or actually build a model dam with students. Learn about how they are built, why certain shapes are used, how they work, the controversies surrounding them, and explore some of the world’s largest dams. Check this website for some great teaching resources on dams.
- Economics – Analyze the best ways to manage water from an economic perspective. For example, what is a user tax? What if all water that people drank had a special tax placed on it? What if there was another special user tax for water in plastic bottles? Have students explore this as an option to regulating society’s use and sharing of water resources. What are the problems with this kind of solution? What are the benefits for this solution? Who are the people talking about this approach? What are their interests, assumptions and biases?
- Know the Numbers – Who uses the most water? To investigate this question, use a combination of thematic maps and raw data to paint a full picture. Make a list of countries and investigate their average use/consumption. Use data from the website of The Pacific Institute. What are the implications to these numbers? How does this water usage compare to the amount of water available in each of these countries? For this second question, go to the Worldmapper website and then search for maps related to “water.” Display the “water resources” and “water use” maps and discuss the differences that students see between the maps.
- Track a Trend – One of the greatest problems with water use in the world today is that the population has grown exponentially; as the number of people grows, humans are competing for the same water resources, which is causing water stress. Create a chart or graph that shows the trends of population growth in several countries as compared to the freshwater available in those countries. Recommended data websites: Pacific Institute: The World's Water and Population Reference Bureau.
Recommended Curriculum Units:
These lessons and curricula provide an in-depth look at various water-related issues and offer full lessons ready for the classroom.
This website has a wealth of lessons and hands-on activities for learning about population and the environment. Several of these lessons focus on water issues and water stress caused by pollution and the growing world population, including “Water, Water Everywhere,” “Earth: Apple of our Eye,” and “Who Polluted the River” (for elementary students).
BioEd Online: The Water Cycle and Global Warming
In this lesson from BioEd Online, students learn about the water cycle and how human activities have influenced the natural distribution system and the overall quality of water, through scientific inquiry. The discussion questions bring up issues around causes and harmful effects of global warming. All written materials are available online while some activities require basic lab equipment.
Engaging Students Through Global Studies: Every Drop Counts
From Facing the Future, this collection of water-related lessons focuses on the amount of water on earth available for humans and other needy species. This series includes a “water walk” and a personal water-use audit. Materials for this unit and other water-related issues can be ordered online or downloaded for free from the Facing the Future website.
Water Partners International: Global Water Supply
These middle and high school curricular units cover a broad scope of subjects including English, science and technology, geography, and economics, all under the umbrella of the global water crisis. Classroom activities range from poetry seminars to vocabulary-building worksheets to science and math lessons about potable water availability. Materials are available at the Water.org website, a wonderful resource around global water-related issues.
National Geographic Xpeditions: Navigating the Niger
This lesson plan explores the connection between people and the environment in West Africa’s Niger River Delta. Students will examine how the ecology of the river is being compromised by overfishing, pollution, dam construction, and increased oil production, and the implications this has both regionally and globally. Visit the Xpeditions website for more water-related lesson plans.
Peace Corps Worldwise Schools
This Peace Corps page includes lesson plans, online games, and volunteer stories from around the globe.
Scholastic: Clean Water Around the World
This site includes teaching resources, online interactive activities, and links to other resources focusing on clean water.
Books and Readings – Non-Fiction
Bottle Mania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It
By Elizabeth Royte
With a seamless blend of first-person observation, detailed anecdotes, and hard research, Royte explores the history and ramifications of those ubiquitous plastic and glass bottles. She addresses the economic, ecological, and cultural weight of water as she visits massive New York aqueducts, struggling rural villages in Maine, and high-tech treatment plants in Missouri. Her findings reflect the distressing trend of our heavy footprint on the environment and its resources.
Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit
By Vandana Shiva
In Water Wars, Vandana Shiva uses her remarkable knowledge of science and society to analyze the historical erosion of communal water rights. Examining the international water trade, damming, mining, and aquafarming, Shiva exposes the destruction of the earth and the disenfranchisement of the world's poor as they are stripped of their rights to a precious common good.
When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the 21st Century
By Fred Pearce
Pearce presents the alarming ways in which this ecological emergency is affecting population centers, human health, food production, wildlife habitats, and species viability. Having crisscrossed the globe to research the economic, scientific, cultural, and political causes and ramifications of this underpublicized tragedy, Pearce's powerful imagery, analyses, and advocacy make this required reading for environmental proponents and civic leaders everywhere.
By Robert Glennon
In great detail, Glennon documents water crises in Georgia, California, and even seemingly water-rich Michigan, noting that states generally end up competing with one another over water allocation and that international conflict follows in short order.
Youth and Adult Fiction
Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together
By Herb Shoveller
An inspiring true story that exemplifies the unbreakable bond that united these boys from very different backgrounds and illustrates the true story of friendship and compassion in which a simple wish to help others brings focus to the necessities that unite us all.
The Milagro Beanfield War
By John Nichols
When a Latino farmer flaunts water restriction laws to encourage his small plot to grow, those who hope to develop the land and the other small farmers try to ignore him. However, the two groups eventually must take sides.
By John Steinbeck
The adventures and misadventures of cannery workers living in the run-down waterfront section of Monterey, California, are recounted and exposed.
The Monkey Wrench Gang
By Edward Abbey
Throughout the American West, dams, bridges, and concrete are destroying the natural environment. A burned-out veteran, a mad doctor, a sexy revolutionary, and a polygamist outdoorsman have joined forces to dismantle the machinery of progress through peaceful means, or otherwise. This book was published for an adult readership and thus contains mature content.
Is water part of a shared “commons,” a human right for all people? Or is it a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded in a global marketplace? Thirst tells the stories of communities in Bolivia, India, and the United States that are asking these fundamental questions. http://www.thirstthemovie.org/
Irena Salina’s award-winning documentary investigation into what experts label the most important political and environmental issue of the 21st Century: the world’s water crisis. http://www.flowthefilm.com/
Blue Gold: World Water Wars
This film resents numerous worldwide examples of people fighting for their basic right to water, from court cases to violent revolutions to UN conventions to revised constitutions to local protests at grade schools.
The Water Channel
The Water Channel is an excellent resource for short films on various topics related to water.
Food & Water Watch’s Water Film Library
Food & Water Watch conducts advocacy and research to protect the quality and safety of food and water. They have a library of films available to borrow, as well as a list of other recommended films.
Websites and Multimedia
Mercy Corps' international work fulfills the water needs of vulnerable populations by piping clean drinking water to rural communities, helping to solve resource-based conflicts and delivering water to families during emergencies. Their water topic page includes a wide array of videos and articles that address these global problems.
Voices of Youth
A UNICEF project that provides an online platform for students and teachers to explore, discuss and partner on issues related to human rights and social change. The Water, Environment, and Sanitation page includes interactive games, fact sheets, brain teasers, quizzes, and other engaging and helpful information.
One Water is a collaborative project at the University of Miami to raise awareness of water issues, and contains a wealth of articles and videos on water concerns around the world.
Circle of Blue
An online source for daily global water news and data that has been collected and presented by leading journalists and experts in the field. Circle of Blue spans the subject areas of arts, business, policy, politics, science, and technology, all related to the global water crisis. The site includes insightful articles and engaging video reports that provide detailed analysis of current events related to water.
American Museum of Natural History: Water – H20 = Life
A collection of articles and activities presented by the American Museum of Natural History. This site touches on several aspects of water, including conservation, habitats in water, the economics of water, and regeneration projects.
H20 For Life
This nonprofit organization run by volunteer teachers, parents, and students connects schools in the United States with schools in developing countries to tackle issues around water, sanitation and hygiene. The project provides students with a model of how to get directly involved in combating global water issues. Additional classroom resources are available on their website.
Activities described in this Classroom Companion correspond to the following national standards from McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning).
World History Standards
Era 9: The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes
- Understands major global trends since World War II
World History Across the Eras
- Understands long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history
World History Topics
- Cultural perspectives
- Farming and agriculture
- Government and the economy
- International diplomacy and relations
- Natural resources
- Population density, distribution, and growth rates
- Population explosion and environmental degradation
- Tension and conflict in the contemporary world
- Trade and trade routes
- Understand and know how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
- Understands the historical perspective
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions
4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
- Understands atmospheric processes and the water cycle
- Understands earth’s composition and structure
- Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
- Earth’s surface features
- Environmental Issues
- Conservation of Matter and Energy
- Interdependence of Organisms
- Populations and Ecosystems
- Seasons, weather, and climate
- Water in the earth system
1: Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
6: Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis
9: Understands the general nature and uses of mathematic