Lesson 1: Healthy Water - What Is It?

Grade 5-8 (Integrated social, science, health and math)
Grade 9-10 (Integrated social, science, and health)

Topic: Defining healthy water.

Time: 60 minutes

Space Requirement: Regular classroom

Methodology: Group discussion, group work, concept map formation, journaling


  • Three 250 mL beakers
  • Three empty water bottles
  • Cheesecloth or a coffee filter
  • Funnel
  • A small amount of bleach
  • Various organic substances to discolour water
  • One sheet of blank paper per group

Objectives: Students will develop a definition of healthy water based on student-centred classroom discussions. The students will also develop a definition of unhealthy water based on student-centred discussions. These definitions will serve as the basis for all discussions relating to water health issues.

For the Teacher: The water journals can be collected at various times during these lessons but should always be returned at the start of the next lesson so that the students can keep an accurate journal and demonstrate growth throughout the unit.

The concept of healthy drinking water may seem “common sense,” but there are many important ideas and concepts to know. Therefore, it is recommended that the teacher become familiar with the fact sheets listed below in the sources and related links section.


  1. Before class begins (preferably the day before the lesson will be taught) prepare two beakers (250-500 mL) of water in the following manner:
    a. To Beaker A add coffee, soil/compost, egg shells, or anything else that will discolour the water and give it an unpleasant smell.
    b. To Beaker B add 1/3 cup of salt or sugar and stir to dissolve completely.
    c. Filter the contents of each beaker (through cheesecloth) into separate, empty water bottles and replace caps.
    d. Fill a third empty water bottle with tap water and mark the bottle to identify it from the other clear water (but do not label it).
  2. Place the three bottles on the counter or in another location so that the students will notice them, but do not make direct reference to the bottles.
  3. Ask the students to state a word or phrase that describes water and record their answers on the board in the form of a concept map. An example of a concept map is shown below. (5 min)
  4. Ask the students to identify any words or phrases that make reference to health and underline these answers. (5 min)
  5. Ask the students to identify any words or phrases that make reference to unhealthy aspects and place a star beside these words. (5 min)
  6. Divide the class into groups of three and hand out a white piece of paper to each group. Each group must then develop a concept map of water health using the underlined and starred words or phrases. They can include other words or phrases that are not on the board in their concept maps. (10 min)
  7. While the groups are working, make a blank concept map of water health on the board.
  8. Have one student from each group add two words or phrases to the concept map. Students should add any words or phrases that are not on their maps so that each student’s map is the same. (10 min)
  9. Move the focus to the three bottles of water, by asking the students which bottle(s) have “healthy” or “unhealthy” water. Encourage the students to use words or phrases from their concept maps to decide. (10 min)
  10. Ask the students if they think that all Canadians have equally safe drinking water? If so, do they think that First Nations communities and rural communities have equal resources (knowledge and funds) as urban areas to effectively treat their drinking water? Do they think that any of these three beakers of water might be unsafe to drink? If there is one that is unsafe to drink, what kind of community do they think it may have been from? (10 min)
  11. On the board write the phrase “Healthy drinking water is…” and have the students begin a water journal with this statement. The students have the rest of class to write on this subject, and should write about half a page about it. (5 min)

Evaluation: The students will hand in their journals and their writing can indicate the depth of their understanding. The journal can be used to identify areas that should be clarified for the students.

Resources: The following resources and handouts are found below: - Sample Concept Map

Extension Activity: The Safe Drinking Water Foundation has other educational programs that can be taught with this set of lessons. Operation Water Drop examines the chemical contaminants that can be found in water; this program is designed for a science class. Operation Water Flow explores the use of water and where it comes from; this program is designed for a Social studies and Math collaboration. Operation Water Spirit presents a First Nations perspective of water and water issues and is designed for a Native Studies or Social Studies class. Operation Water Health explores common health issues surrounding drinking water in Canada and around the world and is designed for a Health, Science and Social Studies collaboration. To access more information on these and other educational activities visit the Safe Drinking Water Foundation website at www.safewater.org.

Sources and Related Links:

Sample Concept Map:

Water Concept Map