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Lesson Plans

In the California Drought, What Is My Role? - Lesson Plan

May 7, 2015

Full Lesson


By Amy Gambrill


California is currently experiencing an extreme drought as a result of low precipitation in 2012, record low precipitation in 2013 and a very dry 2014. This lesson asks students to think critically about the effects of drought, their personal water use, and how best to conserve water.


Earth Science, Math, Social Studies/Government

Estimated Time

1-2 class periods, plus homework for extension assignments if desired

Grade level



  • Computer and Internet access
  • Handout #1: See how a historic drought has changed California’s landscape – Article
  • Handout #2: California Imposes First Mandatory Restrictions to Deal with Drought – Article
  • Handout #3 (online): How much is your daily indoor water use? – Article/Calculator
  • Handout #4 (online): Typical water use at home – Article/Table (students will be referred to this page with their results in Handout #3, or they can visit it directly without filling in their daily water use)


To develop an understanding of California’s drought, students will:

  • Become familiar with the effects of drought on California’s landscape
  • Analyze government policies on water conservation
  • Learn about their own daily water usage
  • Discover their role in water conservation

Main Activity

  1. Students read the NewsHour article “See how a historic drought has changed California’s landscape” (Handout #1). Ask students: What is happening to California? How is the drought affecting California’s residents? How does the drought affect the rest of the country?
  2. Students read the New York Times article “California Imposes First Mandatory Restrictions to Deal with Drought” (Handout #2) about the mandatory restrictions Governor Brown has placed on California citizens. Ask students: What are some of the things the governor is doing (or can do) to help save water? What would you do if you were governor?
  3. Discuss with students: What do you think uses the most water in a home? What are some barriers to making water conservation a priority at home?
  4. Students write down predictions about their own water use (in gallons) until the next class.

Extension Activity

  1. Students keep a “water use” journal until the next class. Ask students to use the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) “How much is your daily indoor water use?” calculator (Handout #3). Students share their water usage. Calculate the average in the class. Calculate their average monthly or annual usage. Ask students: How did your actual water use compare to your prediction? How would the California Governor’s restrictions affect you and your family?
  2. Refer to the USGS “Typical water use at home” table (Handout #4). Ask students: Which activities used the most water? Do you already follow any of the tips presented in the chart? What are three to five things you could do to conserve water? What would make you change your habits? Do you think the restrictions in California will help the drought?