Lesson 3: The Value of a Water Footprint (High School)

Kai Olson-Sawyer, GRACE Communications Foundation
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: March 30, 2020 | Reviewed: December 2, 2020


Session 1 of this lesson begins with a quick activity to get students thinking about their direct and virtual water use. It introduces a few new ideas for virtual water use that may surprise students, including the virtual water required for the products we buy and use. Then students form marketing teams to explore five categories of water use (indoor, outdoor, diet, electricity, and buying habits) and create infographic posters to share what they learn. Then, in Session 2, students remain in five teams to audit the school's indoor and outdoor direct water use as well as several categories of virtual water use: food, energy, and electronics. They use what they learn to create a strategic conservation action plan that incorporates their How to Save Water awareness campaign in an effort to decrease the school's overall virtual water use. The lesson can be conducted as a short project or a more comprehensive capstone project.

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

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



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

This activity is also available in a format appropriate for a middle school level (lower secondary) audience.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have mastered the scientific method and basic science principles; basic numeracy; basic water accounting; strategic thinking; 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 second of three lesson plan modules. Each lesson can stand on its own or build on each other sequentially.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Quickly categorize examples of water use as either direct or virtual
  • Create an infographic poster and awareness campaign to communicate water conservation ideas to the school community.
  • Work with classmates to audit the school's direct and virtual water use.
  • Create a strategic action plan with suggestions for improving the school's water footprint as well as ideas for implementing their awareness campaign.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

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

Other skills goals for this activity

Students must be able to discern the difference between direct water use and indirect water use (virtual water), work and collaborate with a team, conduct an in-school water audit, create a water conservation campaign, create a water conservation strategic plan.

Description and Teaching Materials

The lesson plan PDF for "Lesson 3: The Value of a Water Footprint" is uploaded to the SERC platform. All the other supplementary resources are free and available as PDF downloads at the Water Footprint Calculator website: https://www.watercalculator.org/resource/water-footprint-lessons/
HS Lesson Plan--Lesson 3: The Value of a Water Footprint (Acrobat (PDF) 1.5MB Mar26 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 3: The Value of a Water Footprint" resources are available at: https://www.watercalculator.org/resource/high-school-lessons/#waterfootprintvalue

Supplementary Resources:

Session 1: Saving Water at Home

Direct and Virtual Water Use Game Cards (PDF)
How to Save Water Infographic Poster (PDF)
How to Save Water Education Campaign Worksheet (PDF)
My Saving Water Game Plan (PDF)

Session 2: Saving Water on Campus

School Water Audit: Direct Water Use (PDF)
School Water Audit: Virtual Water Use (PDF)
Water Footprint School Project Rubric (PDF)
Water Footprint School Project Group Evaluation (PDF)
Participation Checklist (PDF)