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Got Water?
Lesson Snapshot

Learning objectives
Students will learn that delivering clean, fresh water to citizens around the world involves and affects politics, economics, international relations, and technology.

Grade level



NCSS standards

Time estimate
Three class periods, with homework

  • Part 1: Introduction to topic, homework assignment
  • Part 2: Developing a proposal for water-sharing, presentations
  • Part 3: Presentations and discussion

What you'll need (see Resources for links)

Lesson Plan

Fresh water is a limited natural resource. Communities throughout the world are faced with the same question: Is there enough water to support local industry, agriculture, and human consumption?

Part 1

  • Begin this activity by asking students to brainstorm a list of factors that might affect their town's ability to provide water to its citizens. Are the issues the same on a state and national level? What are similarities and differences?

  • Once the list is complete, ask students to identify where the water comes from, and why. Consider the following factors: water sources, technologies, governmental policies, and the economics of water. You may want to use a graphic organizer to explore these issues.

Water sources
What issues affect the quality of groundwater?

  • Depletion and/or salination of aquifers, pollution, access and delivery issues, utilization rights (when the water table underlies more than one country or lies under one country but is fed with runoff from another country)

What issues affect rivers?

  • Pollution (industrial and recreational), flooding, dams, fishing, commercial uses, boats

What issues affect oceans?

  • Salination, pollution, commercial uses, disasters (oil spills), ships, ports/harbors

What issues affect rain?

  • Pollution, drought, collection, urbanization

Water technologies
What technologies are used to manage the water supply, including controlling use, quality of water, and delivery mechanisms?

  • Pipelines, desalination, dams, irrigation, recycling, purification

Water policies
What policies and programs have governments instituted to manage water?

  • Renewable resource programs (brown water), building codes to prevent increased water runoff, wetlands management, etc.

Water economics
How might water affect the economy?

  • After the discussion, introduce your students to the water issues among Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Distribute copies of the article "Middle East Water: Time Running Out" as background reading, and listen (if streaming audio is available) to the "Turkish Dam" segment from NPR as an introduction.

    • A massive irrigation and hydropower project is in development in Turkey. Syria and Iraq fear that a significant portion of their current supply of fresh water may be cut off by their neighbor. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Turkey that its plan to build 22 dams has the region realizing that water is as strategic a resource as oil has been to the area's politics and economies.

  • After reading the article and listening to the report, divide the students into three teams: Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Each team's task is to come up with a national position on the water issues regarding Turkey's dams. The ultimate goal is to find a cooperative solution for all three countries.

  • Each student will be responsible for conducting research and completing a written report. The reports should include the following:

    • information about the water issues facing their assigned country (agriculture, economy, environment);

    • the impact Turkey's dams will have; and

    • the political context and outstanding issues with the other two countries.

Part 2

  • After the students have completed their research, they will come together as a team to formulate their country's water position and elect a team spokesperson. The following questions can guide their discussion:

    • Where does your country get its water?

    • How does your country provide water for its citizens? Make sure you address all water needs, not just domestic consumption.

    • How does your team advocate cooperation with the other two countries?

    • Has your country had any conflicts (military or political) with the other two countries attending the summit? In what ways have they involved water issues?

    • What are your proposals for resolving these problems?

    • Can you come up with ways that would provide the basis for a water-sharing plan?

  • As students develop their country's proposal, remind them to consider the costs and benefits of all actions.

    • Does your country have water resources that it can afford to share?

    • If so, what will you expect in return for sharing your water?

    • If your country does not have enough water and needs to secure water from the other countries, what can you offer in return (e.g., other natural resources) that would encourage the other countries to share water with you?

Part 3

  • After the teams have developed their proposals, ask each spokesperson to present the team's proposal. Students representing the other countries should keep in mind their own country's needs and concerns. As they listen, ask students to note which parts of the proposal they can accept, which they cannot, and the reasons why.

  • After all three countries have presented their proposals, consider the following questions for debriefing:

    • What were the strongest and weakest points in each proposal? Ask students to give evidence for their answers.

    • What are the competing demands for water? Should a system for prioritizing water usage be established?

    • What might this look like? Can you arrange priorities to offer differing solutions to the problem?


  • How well can the student articulate positions presented, discuss pros, cons, relevant examples, and consequences of all positions?

  • How well does the student write a personal position on this or a related issue (e.g., water policy in states in the western U.S.), providing examples and reasons to support the position?


Core Resources:

Global Connections Essays:

Internet Resources:

Print Resources:

  • The Dictionary of Ecology and the Environment.
    Peter H. Collin. London: Peter Collin Publisher, Ltd., 1999.

  • Middle East: Crossroads of Faith and Conflict (map)
    Supplement to National Geographic, October 2002

  • Hammond Atlas of the Middle East.
    Maplewood, N.J.: Hammond, 2001.

Related Activities:

NCSS standards

People, places, and environments

  • Examine, interpret, and analyze physical and cultural patterns and their interactions, such as land use, settlement patterns, cultural transmission of customs and ideas, and ecosystem changes.

  • Propose, compare, and evaluate alternative policies for the use of land and other resources in communities, regions, nations, and the world.

Science, technology, and society

  • Identify and describe both current and historical examples of the interaction and interdependence of science, technology, and society in a variety of cultural settings.

  • Evaluate various policies that have been proposed as ways of dealing with social changes resulting from new technologies.

  • Formulate strategies and develop policies for influencing public discussions associated with technology-society issues.

For more information, see the National Standards for Social Studies Teachers, Volume I.

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