Water Woes (5 Day Project-Based Lesson)

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SWBAT explain the importance of water conservation, identify the many uses of water in our daily lives, determine the amount of water used in various activities and create an infographic to share the current status of water conservation and efforts to help.

Big Idea

Our water supply is limited, so it is extremely important to conserve this resource that is so crucial to sustaining life.

Day 1: Engage

5 minutes

I start the lesson by holding up a gallon of water and asking the students to think about what I have in my hand, as well as to consider the importance of this object to our daily lives. I hand out 1 sticky note to each student and have them write as much as they can fit on the paper in response to what I just asked them.

Day 1: Explore

30 minutes

Next, I have the students spend 2 minutes with their table group at each of 4 areas of the classroom*, answering the following questions on graffiti tables:

  • How many gallons of water do each of you use every day?
  • How many gallons of water does the United States of America use every day?
  • How much of the earth's water is available for use by humans and animals?
  • Brainstorm all of the ways do you use water every day.

After completing the graffiti tables, I have students return to their tables and we take turns reading off of each of the papers that are on their table. While each group shares, I compile a complete list of the answers onto the whiteboard or on a document (projected onto the board), adding tally marks to any answers that are repeated.


*I set up enough graffiti tables so that every group can write at once by posting some of the same questions posted on different tables. This allows all students to participate without having to wait for a free table. It also saves time, since students only have to rotate 4 times, rather than wait for other groups to finish before they can visit a table.

Day 1: Explain

10 minutes

After sharing our estimates, I project the Per Capita Water Statistics provided by USGS, and ask students to read through it carefully and decide if they need to revise their original estimate. I offer students the opportunity to cross out their original estimate and write a new one on the chart paper. (I like to cross out instead of erase, so we can save their original answers and compare them later.)

Using the gallon jug I displayed earlier, I explain that two-thirds of the people in the world use just thirteen gallons of water each day, and ask how this compares with their estimates. Most students will say they thought the average water usage would be much higher.

I then throw a wrench in the statistics by explaining that the average American uses 176 gallons of water per day, compared to 5 gallons of water the average African family uses each day (data from Water.org). I wait a minute to allow for reactions to these statistics.

Pointing to the students' original guesses on the graffiti paper, I explain that only three percent of the total amount of the earth's water is freshwater; and of that three percent, only one percent is actually available for our use. The rest is too deep underground or locked up in ice caps. I like to visualize this by showing them 100 small pieces of blue paper, cut out to look like water drops, and removing three of them. Then, I cut off a very tiny piece of one of the the paper drops (approximately 1/100), to further drive this point home.

Next, I ask the students how many of them have ever been told by their parents or another adult to turn off the water or to stop wasting water. I have them turn and talk about why adults tell us to do this and why this is important to do.

Day 2: Elaborate

45 minutes

Now that students have learned a little about water consumption and availability, I challenge them to calculate their own "water footprint", using the SWF Water Use Calculator. After calculating both individual and family water usage in a typical day, we compare our results and calculate the mean water usage for sixth graders from our school, as well as their families.*

I remind the students that as if this isn't enough, people also contribute to the amount of waste in our landfills by buying bottled water each and every day. To provide more detail about the effects of buying bottled water on our water supply and on our landfills, I play The Story of Bottled Water.

Days 3-5: Evaluate

45 minutes

By this point, students are now feeling pretty passionate about the topic and ready to take action! Many have identified the need for water conservation and want to help promote the cause. I explain to the students that they will be able to share their message by creating an infographic to post online and around the school for others to view.

We start the project similar to any writing project, considering our audience, purpose, message, and format. Once we have researched to get statistics and deeper information about the topic and planned our project, it is time to create!

There are many super infographic creators online, including Piktochart, Venngage, Infogram, and many more. For this particular lesson, I have selected Canva. I have provided a video tutorial below to help you and your students get started.

Since we have worked with infographics throughout the year, students are quite familiar with the format. However, if your students have not worked with infographics, you can find some great information and examples on Kathy Schrock's website.

Student projects are assessed for both design and content using Kathy Schrock's infographic rubric.