Water: A Source of Life and Culture
Students will use primary and secondary sources to research water as a feature of culture. Using text and photos from Peace Corps Volunteers serving in various African countries, students will uncover the role water plays in shaping daily life. Students will analyze the material and create symbols that summarize their findings. Symbols will be collected and arranged to make a contemporary work of art.
6–8 class periods of 45 minutes each
Visual arts, language arts, geography
Where do artists get ideas?
How do natural resources affect cultures?
How can symbols be used to communicate an idea or concept?
Water in Africa website (or photocopies of the essays and photos)
Map of Africa
5 graphic organizers: "Where Do Artists Get Ideas?" (PDF or RTF),
"Water in Daily Life: Our Culture," (PDF or RTF)
"Water in Daily Life: Another Culture,"(PDF or RTF)
"Symbols of Water: Our Culture," (PDF orRTF)
"Symbols of Water: Another Culture"(PDF or RTF)
"Guiding Questions" (PDF or RTF)
Evaluation of Art Product (PDF or
Chalkboard or overhead projector
12"x 24" black construction paper
Tape or tacks to mount symbols
X-acto knives (optional)
Cutting boards (optional)
Visual Arts Standard 3—Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in
the visual arts
Benchmark—Applies various subjects, symbols, and ideas in one's
Visual Arts Standard 5—Understands the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and
the artwork of others
Benchmark—Understands how various interpretations can be
used to understand and evaluate works of visual art
Language Arts Standard 4—Gathers and uses information for research purposes
a variety of types of visual information, including pictures and symbols, for research
Benchmark—Uses a variety of primary sources to gather information for
Geography Standard 4—Understands the physical and human characteristics of place
why places have specific physical and human characteristics in different parts of the
National Science Education Standards
Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
- Read and analyze primary and secondary sources and interpret how they relate to
the essential questions.
- Record primary and secondary sources about water and create symbols to represent the
- Organize the symbols in a format that communicates an idea or concept.
1. Introduce the activity by distributing the first graphic organizer, "Where Do
Artists Get Ideas?" (PDF or
RTF) Give students 10–15 minutes to complete the organizer on their own, then
incorporate students' ideas into an organizer for the entire class (using the
chalkboard or an overhead projector). Emphasize the fact that artists are inspired through
different avenues, and artists often must research a topic before creating a work of art.
Art not only heightens our aesthetic sensibilities; it can also raise our awareness about
2. Inform students that they will create a work of art based on how the natural
resource water affects cultures.
3. Ask students to consider how water shapes their daily life, community, and culture.
Distribute the graphic organizer, "Water in Daily Life: Our Culture." (PDF or
4. Use the "Guiding Questions" (PDF or RTF)
to help students respond to the topics.
5. Have students present their information, in order to create a class chart. Two
methods may be used to collect and record information: (a) Each topic is listed on
individual chart paper and posted around the room. Students move from chart to chart
recording their responses to each topic without duplicating information. (b) One class
chart is created (using the chalkboard or an overhead projector), which includes all topics,
and each student is asked to respond to one topic.
6. Ask students what conclusions can be drawn from the information collected. Record
this information on a separate chart.
7. Homework (optional): Have students use the same graphic organizer, "Water in
Daily Life: Our Culture," (PDF or RTF) to record responses from members of their families.
1. Begin with a review and discussion of the first two essential questions, "Where do artists get
ideas?" and "How do natural resources affect cultures?"
2. Review the class organizer, "Where Do Artists Get Ideas?" (PDF or RTF) and make any
additions or changes.
3. Review the class organizer, "Water in Daily Life: Our Culture," and make
any additions or changes based upon information gathered from the homework activity.
4. Divide the class into groups of four students and distribute the chart "Symbols of Water: Our Culture."(PDF or RTF) Have each student in the group choose two topics from
their chart "Water in Daily Life: Our Culture," such as recreation or
transportation. Instruct the groups to work together to ensure that all topics are covered
and there is no duplication of topics.
5. Have each student expand upon the two topics chosen from the chart "Water in
Daily Life: Our Culture," and record a more detailed description in the first column
titled "What is important" in the chart "Symbols of Water: Our
Culture." (PDF or RTF)
6. Introduce the essential question "How can symbols be used to communicate an idea or
concept?" Ask students to explain the meaning of a symbol. (A symbol can be defined as a
simplified expression of a complex idea or meaning.) After defining the term, ask students
to give examples of symbols that they see on a daily basis. Prompt a discussion with
questions such as, Why are symbols used? Can symbols be misunderstood? What could cause the misunderstanding of a symbol?
7. After students have described in detail what is important about each of the topics
using the graphic organizer, have each student draw a symbol to represent the written idea
for each of their topics. One of these symbols will be used at the end of the lesson to
create a group collage of symbols.
Days 3 and 4
1. After students have completed their organizers about water in our culture, shift the
discussion to how water is used in various African countries. Inform students that they
will gather information about water usage in a specific African country. Explain to students that, working in their original groups, they will be using the
photos, stories, and fact files from the Water in Africa website to find information
about how water defines the cultures of specific African countries. Select an African
country for each group to study. (Countries should be selected from different regions of
the continent in order to provide students with an understanding of the diversity of
cultures and geography in Africa.)
2. Distribute the graphic organizer"Water in Daily Life: Another Culture," (PDF or RTF) and ask students to complete the chart on their own, using
information from the Water in Africa website about their group's specific country. After
each student collects country-specific information, tell them to return to their group and
share the information they have collected. Have students, using their graphic organizer"Water in
Daily Life: Another Culture," (PDF or RTF) record new
information gathered from their classmates.
3. Distribute the organizer"Symbols of Water: Another Culture,"(PDF or RTF) explaining that each student in the group should choose two topics from their
chart, "Water in Daily Life" (such as recreation or transportation) to complete
the section "What is important?" Once again, instruct the groups to work
together to ensure that all topics are covered and that there is no duplication.
4. Have each student expand upon the two topics chosen from the chart "Water in
Daily Life: Another Culture," (PDF or RTF) and record a more detailed
description about its importance in the first column of the chart "Symbols of Water:
Another Culture." (PDF or RTF)
In order to write a more detailed description of the topic, students should use the
resources of Peace Corps Volunteers from the Water in Africa website.
5. After students have written detailed topic descriptions, ask each student to draw a
symbol in the second column of the organizer "Symbols of Water: Another
Culture" (PDF or RTF) that represents the written idea for each of their two topics. One
of these symbols will be used at the end of the lesson to create a group collage of
Day 5 and until complete
1. Have students choose one symbol from each of the organizers, representing water in
our culture, and water in the culture of an African community.
2. Distribute two sheets of black construction paper to each student, asking the students to
draw the outline of each symbol on separate sheets. Symbols should be cut from the same
size paper and should fill the entire piece of paper in order to maintain consistency in
size. The neutral black paper is used to achieve high contrast silhouettes and reduces
misinterpretation of the symbols. (The use of color would require an additional lesson on
3. After outlining the symbols, students cut out the shapes. To add more details to the
symbols, students may cut out shapes within the silhouette to help define the symbol.
1. Explain that each group that will be assembling its symbols into a collection that
illustrates the question, How does water define cultures? Each group should have two
collections of symbols. One collection will communicate how water defines culture in the
students' lives and the second collection will communicate how water defines culture
in the lives of people from a specific African community.
2. Have students mount their collection of symbols on the wall and begin to consider
the meaning created by the collection. Alterations and additions can be made if needed.
Collections should be mounted in a manner that will facilitate comparing two different cultures and regions.
3. The rubric "Evaluation of Art Product" (PDF or RTF) to evaluate the entire process. Students should self-evaluate by writing about the
content of their group's collection of symbols and their individual contribution to design
Peace Corps Volunteers may be invited to class to further discuss water as a feature of culture.
About the Author
David McKoski teaches art and Chinese at Roberto Clemente Community Academy in
Chicago. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines from 1985 to 1987 and is a
Peace Corps Fellows graduate from DePaul University Urban Teacher Corps.