Lesson 1: Water Resources and Water Footprints (Middle School)

Kai Olson-Sawyer, GRACE Communications Foundation
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Initial Publication Date: March 30, 2020 | Reviewed: December 10, 2020


This lesson helps students understand why Earth is considered the "water planet." Students analyze how much of Earth's water is available for humans to use for life-sustaining purposes, and they explore the concept of water scarcity in both physical and economic terms. They look at the many ways that humans use water and investigate international trends in agricultural, industrial, and household water consumption. The lesson also sets up the focus of this course: the concept of water footprints. Students explore how water footprints are an invaluable tool for identifying patterns of water use so that individuals, businesses, and even nations can more effectively manage their use of one of the most precious resources on Earth: water. Critical to this exploration is a visit to Watercalculator.org, where students calculate their personal water usage, analyze the results, and set a base point for tracking and conserving their water use.

This is the first of the three-part Lessons for Understanding Our Water Footprint: Middle School Lesson Plans.

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Appropriate for general middle school level (lower secondary) coursework with some background in earth sciences, environmental sciences and social studies.

This activity is also available in a format appropriate for a high school level (upper secondary) audience

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have mastered the scientific method and basic science principles; the water cycle; basic numeracy; ability to make concrete abstract thinking as it relates to virtual water and water footprinting; ability to work with a small group or team

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the first of three lesson plan modules. Each lesson can stand on its own or build on each other sequentially.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Describe the availability of water on Earth.
  • Describe several ways that people use water.
  • Differentiate between direct and indirect (or virtual) water.
  • Give examples of ways we can use and conserve water (directly or virtually).
  • Explain how a water footprint can help contribute to the better management of water resources.
  • Evaluate their water footprint using GRACE's Water Footprint Calculator located at Watercalculator.org.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students must use critical thinking; creative problem solving; collaboration; information literacy; systems thinking; adaptability.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students must be able to assess their own habits and routines, use the Water Footprint Calculator (WFC) web tool, and record and reflect on their responses from the WFC.

Description and Teaching Materials

PDFs for lesson plan and teachers notes for Lesson 1: Water Resources and Water Footprints are uploaded to the SERC platform. All the other resources are free and available as PDF downloads at the Water Footprint Calculator website.
Middle School Lesson Plan -- Lesson 1: Water Resources and Water Footprints (Acrobat (PDF) 8.2MB Mar24 20)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Teaching notes are incorporated into each of the lesson plans (numbers 1-3). For each lesson plan module, teachers are guided with specific instructions based on the options they choose.


Rubrics are provided as part of each lesson plan.

References and Resources

All Lesson 1: Water Resources and Water Footprints resources are available at: https://www.watercalculator.org/resource/middle-school-lessons/#WaterResources

Supplementary Resources:

Session 1: How Do We Use Water?
Water Resources and Water Footprints Presentation (PDF)
Water Resources and Water Footprints Teacher's Notes (PDF)
Session 2: How Do I Use Water?
My Water Footprint Stats Student Worksheet (PDF)
My Water Footprint Stats Sample Answers [For Teachers] (PDF)
Basic Rubric (PDF)
Participation Checklist (PDF)