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Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival

Objective: Inspired by Okamura and the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival, students will learn about California’s water distribution and drought through the integration of science, math, and art.

Introduction: Not only part of the visual arts community, Arthur Okamura was also friends with many Bay Area poets and even illustrated some of their books.

One of the biggest contributions Okamura made to the Bay Area community was his artwork for the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival.  The Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival was born from the collaboration of poets and ecologists to discuss “Nature and the American Imagination.”  In 1997, Okamura was commissioned to paint large silk banners as background sets at Golden Gate Park for the first Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival, held in San Francisco.  Today, Watershed has moved its annual festival to Berkeley, CA, and continues to explore the connections between environmental awareness and the American literary imagination with ecological, cultural, and literary groups, artists, dancers, and musicians.

In this lesson, you will learn about California’s water use and drought with a PBS Interactive Lesson.  Based on what you learn, you will then reflect upon your own relationship with water through illustration and poetry.

Learn More about Arthur Okamura: https://education.asianart.org/resources/arthur-okamura/

Common Core Content Standards (California):

Mathematics (Grade 6 and 7):
6.RP.1: Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities.
6.RP.3.C: Find a percent of a quantity as a rate per 100 (e.g., 30% of a quantity means 30/100 times the quantity); solve problems involving finding the whole, given a part and the percent.
7.RP.3: Use proportional relationships to solve multistep ratio and percent problems.

Content Standards (California):

CS.3: Students use a variety of maps and documents to identify physical and cultural features of neighborhoods, cities, states, and countries and to explain the historical migration of people, expansion and disintegration of empires, and the growth of economic systems.
Writing Standards (Grade 6 and 7) (if haiku poem is included in lesson plan):
W.6-7.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
W.6-7.3.b: Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
W.6-7.3.d: Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.

Materials: PBS Learning Media, “The Lowdown | How California Distributes Its Water in Dry Times: Percent and Proportions”; Paper; Markers and/or crayons.


In the Classroom

  1. Visit “The Lowdown | How California Distributes Its Water in Dry Times: Percent and Proportions”.
  2. Distribute support materials.
  3. Complete the interactive lesson.
  4. Introduce Arthur Okamura and the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival as examples of artists engaging in environmental issues.


  1. Ask students to imagine themselves as these artists and observe how their families use water at home.  
  2. Based on their findings, students should illustrate their findings, their relationship to water, and/or actions to cut their water usage.  
  3. Challenge: On a separate sheet of paper, write a haiku about the picture and try to incorporate at least three of the five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste).
    A haiku poem is three lines: The first line is 5 syllables.  The second line is 7 syllables. The third line is 5 syllables.