A Sense of Water
Students will investigate the extent to which water is reflected in various cultures in Africa, and write some of their own impressions of how water permeates all aspects of life.
Five 45-minute class periods
Language arts, geography
How does language reflect culture?
How does descriptive language enhance meaning?
Internet access (if possible)
Teacher and student copies of the following handouts, as needed:
One blank overhead transparency
Volunteer Water and Culture Stories (class set: PDF)
Volunteer Story Example (one teacher copy or overhead
WATER Sense Template (class set and one
teacher overhead transparency: PDF)
WATER Sense Template
Step One (one teacher overhead transparency: PDF)
WATER Sense Template Step Two (one teacher
overhead transparency: PDF)
Maps of Cape Verde, Mauritania
, and Morocco to
Language Arts Standard 1—Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process
Benchmark—Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., makes outlines, uses published
pieces as writing models, constructs critical standards, brainstorms, builds background knowledge)
Benchmark—Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work
Benchmark—Uses style and structure appropriate for specific audiences (e.g., public, private) and
Benchmark—Evaluates own and others' writing
Language Arts Standard 2—Demonstrates competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
Benchmark—Uses descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas (e.g., establishes tone and mood, uses figurative language)
Language Arts Standard 3—Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions
Benchmark—Uses conventions of punctuation in written compositions
Language Arts Standard 6—Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading
a variety of literary texts
Benchmark—Applies reading skills and strategies to a variety of literary passages and texts
Benchmark—Identifies point of view in a literary text
National Science Education Standards
Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
- Explore Water and Culture stories and images from the Water in Africa website to discover how water
plays a role in the culture of various countries.
- Select a story and highlight relevant examples of how water impacts culture on a sensory level (words
sung or spoken, atmosphere and mood, touch, sights, ritual).
- Read or reenact story poems with partners, contrasting the two voices.
1. Take students to the computer lab or use your classroom computer(s) to access the Water in Africa website and assign partners to read and peruse Peace Corps Volunteer "Water and Culture" stories from Cape Verde, Mauritania, and Morocco. Tell students to briefly note any written descriptions that provide examples of how water impacts people on a cultural and sensory level (words sung or spoken, atmosphere and mood, touch, sights, ritual, religion, rules). Allow students 30–45 minutes, depending on available lab time. Encourage students to explore as many of the stories as time permits under the "Water and Culture" section. If the task is completed early, or if additional lab time can be obtained, students would also be interested in exploring the photos and other stories from these countries.
2. Have partners join to make groups of four. Within these groups have students share what they discovered on the Water in Africa site. As students discuss their observations, quickly visit each group and record on an overhead transparency a brief note or two of a particularly relevant comment with the student's name. For example, students might note that Mauritanians have a custom of drinking hot tea even during the blazing heat of the afternoon or that the water used to wash the words of Koranic verses off a slate becomes holy, able to cure the ailments of those who drink it.
3. Call the class back together and show the students on an overhead
the notes you took as you circulated among them. Refer to a map of Africa periodically to show students the locations of the three countries they read about. Have students comment or elaborate on their discussion points.
1. Prepare the following materials needed for this lesson:
Volunteer Water and Culture Stories (class set:PDF),
WATER Sense Template (overhead transparency and class set:PDF),
Highlighted Volunteer Story Example (one copy or overhead transparency for teacher: PDF),
WATER Sense Template Example Step One (overhead transparency:PDF), highlighters.
Distribute the Volunteer Water and Culture Stories ( PDF). This is a hard copy of the volunteers' stories that students read online earlier. Explain to students that today they will look at the Peace Corps "Water and Culture" stories more carefully. Tell them they are to read the stories independently and then choose one story that has special appeal to them to work with, using the WATER Sense Template (PDF).
3. Display the overhead transparency of the template and show students how the word "water" is formed vertically in acrostic style. Show students how the words for each letter of "WATER" stand for a particular sense. Explain that this will help them to think of how parts of the volunteers' stories they read can be quoted and organized. Students will be curious as to what the "First Person Voice" portion is for. You may wish to hold off on explaining this part of the unit, telling students that the first person voice will be explained soon in Step Two.
4. Next, model what you expect students to do by having students refer to the Moroccan story by Volunteer Jennifer Bohman in their handouts. Read the story aloud to the class. Using the attached Highlighted Volunteer Story as your guide, have students highlight their copies like the shaded example.
5. Display the WATER Sense Template Example Step One (PDF) as an example of how Jennifer Bohman's passages might be organized. Discuss with the class why the Volunteer's sentences or phrases may have been organized in this way. For example, the Atmosphere line, "Farmers are perpetually looking to the sky and Allah for rain," may be interpreted as creating a mood of desperation, hopefulness, expectation, longing, or anticipation. The Touch line, "I see these same farmers handing a family that has set up camp for a week or two a few gallons of water," conveys the act of people handing over their precious water to others. While not a direct example of physical contact, touch is implied in the exchange. Students may even wish to interpret touch as a "touching" passage.
6. Show students another example from the Water and Culture (PDF) handouts: "Delicious tea is made in rounds of three glasses and drunk several times a day, including during the blazing afternoon heat." This sentence portion could be recorded in Touch as it describes the feeling of a hot day combined with the touch of hot tea. Make sure students note that in some cases, the first words of the sentence were omitted, as they are not necessarily important for their purposes. Encourage students to include the most descriptive segments of the stories they have selected, but to keep enough of the passage to maintain a storylike quality.
7. Note that the above example is from a very short Volunteer story. Students may not be able to find examples to fit each category of the WATER Sense template, but they should try.
8. Direct students to reread the stories independently and highlight particularly descriptive passages that provide examples of words sung or spoken, atmosphere and mood, touch, "eye"sights, ritual, religion, or rules.
9. When the stories have been thoroughly explored, have students select one story to work with on the WATER Sense Template. Have the students dig deeper into their selected Volunteer story and pull out parts that they can record on the WATER Sense Template as you modeled earlier. Encourage students to make notes next to passages that they can categorize as examples of words sung or spoken, atmosphere and mood, touch, "eye"sights, ritual, religion, or rules. Have students copy the portions they have selected onto the template next to the descriptors by WATER that it best fits. Tell them to offset these passages in quotation marks.
10. Reassure students that the connections they make between the Volunteer's story and the template can be somewhat general as long as the connection has been thought out. Also encourage the students to place passages where they best fit and to not be concerned about putting lines in a different sequence on the template. There is no one "right" answer; rather, students should experiment with placing passages from their selected Volunteer's story where they best see fit.
11. As students work with the template, they may ask to change to a more descriptive vignette or try more than one selection. Encourage students to experiment; however, instruct them to complete the template for the Volunteer's story they are working on to the best of their ability. Remind the students that they should not combine stories. Students should use one story per template copy.
1. Prepare the following template for this lesson:
WATER Sense Template Step Two (PDF) transparency
2. Tell students that they will now learn how they can add their own writing to the Volunteer's story to bring the story into the present tense. Have students refer to the first Moroccan story by Jennifer Bohman. If desired, read the story aloud to students again.
3. Place the WATER Sense Template Step Two (PDF) transparency on the overhead. Expose just the W portion of the template and show students how the addition of "Have you had any rain?" in the first person voice brings the Volunteer's story to life and to the present tense. Indeed, it is as if a bit of overheard conversation has been captured on paper. These words could have been uttered by the Volunteer or by a villager. Encourage students to place themselves in the perspective of the Volunteer or a villager when adding the first person voice to their template.
4. Continue on the template to A for atmosphere but this time cover up the first person voice. Ask students what people might say as they look to the sky and Allah for rain. Explore how some of the student suggestions bring the Volunteer's observation into the present tense. Then display the first person voice "Allah, send us rain—if you will!" Discuss how this line captures the voice of a villager pleading for much needed rain, but on Allah's terms.
5. Continue to share the rest of the Moroccan example by having a student read the Volunteer line while you expressively read the first person voice. Alternating people further enhances the storylike quality of the Volunteer voice punctuated by first person.
6. Provide students with quiet writing time so that they may add first person voice between the Volunteer lines of the template. Encourage the students to place themselves in the Volunteer's shoes and to try and imagine the setting and surroundings of the story on which they are focusing. Students will need to determine if the first person voice will be from the perspective of an African villager or of the Peace Corps Volunteer. For example, if the Volunteer is writing about a personal experience, students might add the Volunteer's voice, imagining what he or she was saying or thinking.
7. As students begin to finish the First Person Voice for each letter of the WATER Sense Template, ask them to find a partner and practice reading their finished product. Ask students to take turns reading the Volunteer and first person voice as you modeled earlier. Encourage students to be expressive in their verbal performance. Monitor, make suggestions, and allow time for students to revise and practice performing their work.
1. If computer lab time can be secured, or if you have a printer in your classroom, help students use word processing or painting software to make a printed copy of their WATER Sense story. Instruct students to use a font that works well in roman and italics. Have students transform their WATER Sense notes into poem form by adding a title, putting the Volunteer's lines in quotes alternating with the first person voice lines in italics, and including a byline with the Volunteer's name and location served and student name. Ideally, the poem will fit on one page.
2. Students may also wish to add a border with graphics or color-pencil designs.
3. When the poems are complete, display them on a
bulletin board around a map of Africa. Connect each poem to the map by stapling
a string from the poem to its approximate location. Title the bulletin board "A
SENSE OF WATER."
Also give credit for insightful comments from the student audience. To promote participation, ask the student audience to provide feedback about which first person voice lines brought the story to life or seemed authentic or true to the images and atmosphere described in Volunteer's story. Ask students to comment on which Volunteer descriptions they most enjoyed and why they were selected for a particular sense. Such informal questioning will allow students to share their understanding of how water impacts culture on a sensory level.
Seek other outlets for students to share their work through performance.
Once all students have had a chance to hear, edit, and revise their writings, ask for partner volunteers to share their final products with the class, alternating voices as they practiced earlier. This will have the effect of placing the audience in the scene as if it were happening now. Use the attached Rubric (PDF) to assess students as they present or collect and evaluate. Give students credit for presenting in front of the class.
E-mail student poetry to Peace Corps World Wise Schools at email@example.com to be added to the student project section of the Water in Africa website.
Have students isolate favorite lines from the water poems and create a set of multicultural cards with a water theme.
Students may be interested in reading more from this site about the geography, temperature, rainfall, and climate of the countries they have been reading about.
About the Author
Michelle Abernathy-Tabor is a sixth-grade teacher in western Washington. "My inspiration for this unit," she said, "came after reading some of the beautiful writing under "Water and Culture." I focused on the most age-appropriate sites with some of the most descriptive and varied passages: Mauritania, Cape Verde Islands, and Morocco. I knew I wanted to do something with these descriptive passages and as I wrote, the unit evolved. I settled on the idea of poetry and was going to initially have students do an acrostic poem with the country's name. Then I decided to make a WATER Sense template for a prompt-based poem based on the word WATER."