Our Water Footprint

April 15, 2011

Elementary students consider how much water we consume and what impact it has by hearing some facts and discussing the story of one girl's water consumption.

To the Teacher:

In the classroom lesson below (timed to coincide with Earth Month in April), students will develop what author and psychologist Daniel Goleman calls their "green intelligence" by considering their water footprint.
Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and keynote speaker at Morningside Center's 2010 Courageous Schools conference, believes that environmental awareness and action are the next frontier in the field of social and emotional learning. See his article on the Yale Environment 360 website at: http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2190.


Students will:
  • discuss the kinds of water they come across on a regular basis
  • explore the idea of life force
  • consider their own water footprint through an interactive read aloud
Social and Emotional Skills:
  • environmental awareness
  • active listening
  • making informed decisions
Materials needed:
  • Today's agenda on chart paper or on the board
  • Jen's story (below)
  • Your own drawing of a foot on chart paper or the board


(7 minutes)
Ask students to talk in pairs about water. What kinds of water do they come across on a regular basis?
Back in the full group, ask volunteers to share what they discussed. Chart the kinds of water students mention, making sure to include drinking water, water for washing and flushing, oceans, lakes and rivers, and precipitation such as rain, hail, snow or fog. 
Agenda and objectives 
(10 minutes)
Tell students that today, as part of Earth Month, we'll be looking at the use of water. Water is considered a life force.
  • Ask students what they think the words "life force" mean.
  • Why do they think water is considered a life force?
Elicit and explain that we all need water to survive. Water not only covers 70% of the earth's surface, it makes up 70% of the adult human body. When looking at a globe or map of the world, the blue parts represent the water. Imagine if we could see water in the human body, what that might look like. Point out that if we drew a map of the human body in which water was shown as blue, then most of the body would be colored blue, just like our planet.
Ask students about the ways we need water. Discuss the importance of drinking water on a daily basis. By drinking water our bodies are able to digest food and flush out dirt (waste). Water also allows our bodies to control our temperature. Each day we must replace 2.4 liters (over half a gallon) of fluid—either through drinking liquid and eating foods that have lots of water in them - like fruits and vegetables. 

Our Water Footprint 

(15 minutes)
Ask students to consider and discuss the following question: What causes us to create a footprint when we walk in the mud or in soft sand?
Talk about how our actual footprint is caused by putting pressure on a surface. We are creating an impact by our presence.
The footprint we'll be dealing with today is called our water footprint. It's similar to the kind of footprint we make in the sand—only it's an impact we're having on the planet and our environment (not just on the sand) when we use water. Our "water footprint" describes the impact our water use is having on our planet's water resources.
Explain and elicit that each of us uses lots of water for drinking, cooking and washing. Often we're taking clean water (to use, say, in washing dishes), and then flushing it out as dirty or polluted water.
Americans waste and pollute enormous amounts of water every day. The long-term effects of such behavior are dramatic. In some parts of the US, rivers are actually running dry. In many countries around the world, the shortage of clean water is a life or death issue. Around 1 billion people have no access to a clean source of drinking water and about 2.6 billion people - half the developing world - lack basic sanitation (which causes diseases to spread). Americans contribute to this problem because many of the goods we buy come from other parts of the world where water is scarce. And it takes a lot of water to produce almost anything.
Explain that water is used in producing many things we use (or consume) like paper, cotton clothes, and meat.
Here are some examples for your students to consider:
It takes 1,914 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef
It takes 574 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of pork
It takes 588 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of chicken meat
It takes 634 gallons of water to produce 1 hamburger
It takes 359 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of rice
It takes 162 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of wheat
It takes 108 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of corn
It takes 3 gallons of water to produce 1 slice of wheat bread
It takes 8 gallons of water to produce 1 cup of tea
It takes 13 gallons of water to produce 1 orange
It takes 19 gallons of water to produce 1 orange
It takes 179 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of cane sugar
It takes 158 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of cheese
It takes 1,015 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk
It takes 53 gallons of water to produce 1 egg
It takes 713 gallons of water to produce 1 cotton shirt
It takes 3 gallons of water to produce 1 sheet of paper 
From the water footprint network website at: http://www.waterfootprint.org/

Read Aloud: 

Jen's Water Usage 

(15 minutes)
The following activity will allow students to see more clearly how our daily actions and choices affect how big and deep our personal water footprint is.
Explain that you will be reading a story about a girl called Jen (pick another name if you have a Jen in your classroom). Jen is a student around the age of your students. In the story we will follow Jen for the day. Ask your students to pay attention to what Jen does that increases her (and her community's) water footprint. Every time students hear something in the story that increases her or her community's footprint ask your students to raise their hands.
You might visually illustrate this activity by drawing the outline of a footprint on a sheet of paper. Post the footprint and every time the students raise their hands, get a volunteer to color in part of the footprint with a blue marker so that by the end of the story, the footprint is all blue.
The story:
Jen wakes up. She rubs her eyes and rolls out of bed. She goes to the toilet, which she flushes before going into the bathroom to brush her teeth. While brushing she leaves the tap running. Next she hops in the shower, washes herself and continues to enjoy the flow of the warm water for a while longer till her brother starts banging on the bathroom door, letting her know it's been 15 minutes. It's time for him to take a shower. She gets out and dries herself off with a cotton towel, which she throws into the hamper after having used it only once.
She returns to the bedroom where she picks a new outfit to wear to school today. She walks down the stairs into the kitchen where she has cereal and milk for breakfast, with her mom and brother. The family puts their dishes in the sink and mom turns on the tap as she hurries Jen and her brother to get ready, grabbing their bookbags and getting their coats on. Jen grabs her lunch of baloney sandwiches, some bottled water and she and her brother rush out the door to catch the school bus.
Jen's teacher greets her students and gives them a writing assignment. Jen makes a mistake. So she tears the page out of her notebook, crumples it and starts again. She does this several times before finally getting it right. On her way to lunch Jen goes into the girl's bathroom where she notices a leaking faucet as she washes her hands. She ignores it and heads to lunch where she hangs out with her friends. The school lunch today is beef patties and rice — not a student favorite. Most of it ends up in the garbage as students make their way to the playground.
The afternoon's science assignment is printed on handouts - one for every student. Having completed the experiment a student comes by with the garbage can so everyone can toss the handouts now that they're done.
On returning home, Jen and her brother have a snack and a bottle of water from the fridge. Mom sends them to play in the yard. It's hot, so they splash each other with the garden hose until it's time to go inside and have dinner. They put their wet clothes in the hamper, put on clean clothes and join mom for dinner—pasta with a meatball sauce. Afterwards Jen and her brother do the dishes, keeping the tap running all the while. After doing homework and watching some TV, Jen goes upstairs. She tosses her clothes in the hamper, puts on clean pajamas, washes her face and brushes her teeth (while keeping the tap running) and says goodnight to mom before crawling into bed and switching the light off to go to sleep.
After you've read the story, ask your students to look at Jen's water footprint. Consider asking some or all of the following questions:
  • What are your thoughts about Jen's use of water?
  • Where could Jen have saved (or helped others save) water?
  • What does Jen's story make you think about your own water use? 


(3 minutes)
Ask a few volunteers to share one thing they might do differently as a result of today's lesson. 


For homework ask students to keep track of their own water footprint by keeping a journal detailing their water use. In the next class, conduct a discussion about what students learned and how they might reduce their consumption of water..