Water: From Neglect to Respect
The goal of this learning unit is to make students more aware of the ways in which they
are dependent upon water to maintain their standard of living. By comparing water use in
Lesotho with water use in the United States, students realize that they may be taking for
granted a substance that is considered precious in other parts of the world. Graphing,
estimating, and writing skills are all developed in "Water: From Neglect to
Four or five 45-minute class periods
Math, geography, language arts, visual arts
In what ways is water essential ?
What is the value of water?
How does differing access to water impact quality of life?
Photos and Stories From Lesotho
Student handout: Peace Corps Volunteers' Report (printed narratives in PDF or RTF)
Empty 2-liter containers
World map and/or map of Africa
Display boards for student projects
Math Standard 3—Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the processes
Benchmark—Solves real-world problems involving number operations
Benchmark—Adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides whole numbers and decimals
Math Standard 6—Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics
and data analysis
Benchmark—Understands that data represent specific pieces of information about real-world
objects or activities
Benchmark—Organizes and displays data in simple bar graphs, pie charts, and line graphs
Benchmark—Reads and interprets simple bar graphs, pie charts, and line graphs
Geography Standard 15—Understands how physical systems affect human systems
Benchmark—Knows the ways in which human systems develop in response to conditions in the
Language Arts Standard 1—Demonstrates competence in the general skills and
strategies of the writing process
Benchmark—Uses strategies to draft and revise written work
Visual Arts Standard 1—Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes
related to the visual arts
Benchmark—Understands what makes different art media, techniques, and processes effective
(or ineffective) in communicating various ideas
Benchmark—Knows how the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and
processes can be used to enhance communication of experiences and ideas
- Graph water-consumption rates of Peace Corps Volunteers and their own
- Describe the many uses of water in their own community, including personal, domestic,
agricultural, and commercial.
- Recognize that lack of access to water impinges on many aspects of living
- Create triptychs showing what they have learned in this unit using math,
visual arts, and drawing skills.
1. Show students the photo LE0706. Have them
play "Twenty Questions" until they determine what is being locked up in the
photograph. Ask students to brainstorm why people may choose to lock up their water
source. After several responses, read the photo description and point out Lesotho
on a world map.
2. Show several photos that indicate the time and effort put into water collection in
Lesotho (e.g., LE0403, LE0309, LE0711).
Explain that the students will be reading accounts about daily water usage written by Peace Corps
Volunteers in Lesotho. (If needed, use the Peace Corps website to explain the mission of the
3. Divide students into five groups. Have them read the stories by the following Peace Corps
Volunteers in Lesotho: Claire Hilger, Peter Yurich, Cynthia Holahan, Becki Krieg, and Jean
Marie Mitchell. Alternatively, distribute the student handout with Peace Corps Volunteer
reports (PDF or RTF).
Each group will read a different Volunteers account about water sources and daily
usage to find out where the Volunteers get their water and how much water is used on a daily basis.
Depending on the size of the group, one student may be asked to read aloud while the
others follow along silently. Some groups will need to do some simple division to figure
the daily usage rate. Each group should report to the class their Volunteers water
source and how much water the Volunteer reports using on a daily basis.
4. As students report their findings, illustrate the water amounts described by the
Volunteers by using empty two- liter soda bottles. Ask students to estimate their own daily
water use in liters. Poll students to find their responses and record the answers on the
board. Ask students to keep track of how many times they turn on a faucet between the end
of this class and the beginning of the next day's class.
1. Ask students how many times they turned on a faucet since the last class period and
record their answers. Discuss the difference in time and effort required for obtaining
water in Lesotho to getting water in the United States.
2. Show students a large piece of butcher paper or a section on the blackboard and have them write any and all uses of water they can think of in their home or community.
3. Tell students that they will be using data supplied by the United States Geological
Survey (USGS) to figure out their daily water use. If possible, have students take turns
visiting the USGS Water Science for Schools site to calculate
their water use. If computers are unavailable or if you would like your students to
practice addition and multiplication, use the data provided by that website for your
students to calculate their own water usage.
4. Students will need to calculate their water usage in liters by multiplying the
number of gallons they use by 3.8. Students should gather in the same groups they were in
the previous day. Distribute rulers, graph paper, and colored pencils. They will
work in groups to make a graph depicting their water usage compared with that of the
Peace Corps Volunteer. The groups should also calculate average use for the group members
and put that number on their graph.
5. Post completed graphs in the front of the room. Discuss the vast
discrepancy in water use between the Volunteer and the students that is likely to be
1. Refer to the student-generated list of water usage. Students are likely to have included
mostly household uses of water. Discuss the recreational, industrial, and agricultural uses
of water. Point out that nationwide, much more water is used for
agriculture and industry than for domestic consumption.
2. Have students visit the United States Geological Survey website at http://water.usgs.gov/watuse/pdf1995/html/index.html
to find information about industrial and agricultural water use in the United States as a
whole and in their own state. Compare that information with the agricultural and
industrial data provided by the World Resources Institute at
http://earthtrends.wri.org/datatables/index.php?theme=2 for Lesotho.
Ask the students to respond to the second essential question, What is the value of water?
Discuss the value of water in terms of its domestic, industrial, and agricultural usage in
your own state and in Lesotho.
3. Ask students how they think the lack of ready access to running water makes
life different in Lesotho from life in the United States. As students respond, elicit
responses such as the following:
People in Lesotho may not be able to wash their clothes as often as we do.
People in Lesotho may not be able to bathe themselves as easily as we do.
It is more difficult to start industries in Lesotho.
It is more difficult to irrigate crops in Lesotho. They are dependent on the rain for
virtually all of their farming.
It is more difficult to have a vegetable or flower garden.
People may not have as much time for studying, playing, or any other type of activity
because so much time is devoted to water collection.
4. For homework, ask the students to write down how much they value water after learning
about the difficulties with water in Lesotho.
1. Ask students to volunteer to read their homework assignments about how much they
value water. Discuss what they have learned about water.
2. As a culminating activity, have students create a triptych about
what they have learned in this unit. Explain that a triptych is a three-paneled display.
One panel should show a graph comparing their own water use with the water use of the
Volunteer in Lesotho about whom they read. This panel might also contain information about
water usage for domestic, agricultural, and industrial use in Lesotho and in their own
state or community. Another panel will show an
illustration of how water is typically obtained in Lesotho and how water is obtained in
households in the United States. It should answer the question "How does differing
access to water impact the quality of life?" The third panel should be a written
reflection of what they perceive to be the value of water. It should include mention of
what they have learned, and if their perception of the value of water has changed as a result of this unit.
1. Student work should be shown on cardboard display boards. Invite other classes,
parents, and water company officials to come view the displays and have students
prepare themselves to explain and discuss their displays and what they have learned.
2. Use the rubric for Water: From Neglect to Respect (PDF or RTF) to evaluate student understanding as shown through their triptychs.
Visit the local water-treatment plant or invite a representative to your classroom.
Have students survey local industries or agricultural enterprises to find out how
water is put to economic use.
Research effective water conservation techniques and make posters or pamphlets for school
or community distribution.
Use the data generated in this unit to practice other math skills. For example, have
students calculate a group or class average of water use per day.
About the Author
Amy Cohen is a social studies teacher at Abington Junior High School in the suburbs of
Philadelphia. She reflected on the unit she created and tested:
I piloted "Water: From Neglect to Respect" with an ESOL class, a bright
and eager group with roots in many different countries. Working with the photos was
wonderful. I started the lesson with the photo of a locked well in Lesotho and had them
guess what was being locked up. Several photos of women collecting, hauling, and waiting
for water followed this. The students were interested in where the photos came
from—they wanted to know how I had access to them, so it was fun to tell them about the Water in Africa project. One of the boys noticed that women were doing all the hard work,
which he found quite objectionable. It was interesting for me to develop and implement an
interdisciplinary lesson in which my weakest area, math, became a focal point. I was
dismayed by the students' weak math skills, but glad to give them an opportunity to
practice using math in an applied way. By the end of the unit I could tell that the
students did indeed start thinking differently about water and appreciating their own easy
access to running water—which was the point of the unit. (March 2000).