Lesson 2: Waste Is In the Eye of the Beholder

Activities:  Diamonds & Water – A Question of Value

 Download Activity 2:  Teacher Guide, Handouts, Visuals (.doc file)

Time Required:  

  • 2-3 class periods  


  • Jump ropes, hula hoops, or other fun exercise equipment (optional)
  • large bottle(s) of cold soft drink
  • bag of candy treats
  • Simple “costumes” for Romeo and Juliet (hats, name-tags, capes, etc.), and a very small paper cup with about ½ – 1” of water
  • a “note” from Romeo, folded into a paper airplane
  • 2 laminated copies Romeo and Juliet script
  • Visuals 1, 2, and 3 – overhead transparency or powerpoint slide
  • classroom bucks, 6-8 per student
  • student handout – 1/student


  1. Announce that students will begin a study of an important contemporary issue – the use of our precious water resources – by watching a play about a well-known historic romance.  Ask for volunteers to participate in a short and very famous play about two lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Give the laminated scripts to the actors and give them a few minutes to read over the script and get into their costumes while you discuss the water use with the class:
  2. While the actors are preparing, the class will consider a few preliminary questions about water use.
    • Do you think wasting water is a problem in today’s world? Elabo­rate and give examples.
    • What is a wasteful use of water? How did you determine that it is wasteful?
    • Why do people waste water?
    • How do we try to stop people from wasting water? Why do you think we are successful or unsuccessful in these efforts?
  3. When the class discussion is finished and the actors are ready, set the stage and prepare the class for the play:
    • Ladies and gentlemen, you have surely heard the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers of old Verona who died for each other rather than deny their love. William Shakespeare has immortalized their story in his famous play, which still has the power to move theater audiences to tears. But Shakespeare did not tell the whole story the story of how Romeo almost blew it even before things turned really bad. Ladies and gentlemen, we now present the TRUE tale of Romeo and Juliet.
    • Script: The Real Story of Romeo and Juliet

      (When the play opens, Juliet is sitting on a chair by herself, crying softly, her hands covering her face. Then she looks up.)

      Juliet: Romeo, Romeo, where are you, Romeo?

      Romeo: Here, my dearest love. I come at your calling. (Romeo runs, tripping, into the room, and startles Juliet who jumps up.) What’s wrong?

      Juliet: Oh, Romeo, how nice to see you. I have just been talking to Jane, and she said that John told her that Kim said that Keisha said you told Maria you weren’t sure you really, truly love me! Oh, Romeo, my heart is breaking.

      Romeo: Oh, no, my dearest sweet! It isn’t so. That maybe was true last week, or at least I told Jamal that I was thinking about it, but I made him promise not to tell anyone, and he said he only told, like, Jenna but that he told her not to tell anyone. (Romeo tries to sneak his arm around Juliet to comfort her but she shrugs him off.)  But it doesn’t matter! Because it’s not true! I do love you! I love you more than life itself. Prithee, dearest Juliet, don’t cry. Tell me what I can do to prove my love!

      (Juliet pulls away and goes back to sit on her chair, thinking.)

      Juliet: Oh, boo hoo. (She fakes a cry.) I don’t know. Maybe you could, like, go on a quest or something. Isn’t that what lovers do?

      Romeo: Of course! I will go on a quest. I will spend my entire fortune and allowance if I have to, but I will search the four corners of the earth and bring you the most precious thing I can find.   . . .     Will that prove my love? Promise me that you’ll await my return.

      Juliet:  Oh, Romeo, I’ll wait; I promise I’ll wait. I’ll hold my breath until you return—or at least for a real long time—for you mean more to me than life itself.

      (Juliet takes a huge breath and puffs out her cheeks. Romeo runs from the room. Juliet struggles to hold her breath).  Anon, a message comes flying into the room for Juliet. Romeo has thrown it through the door, and Juliet rushes to pick it up. As she opens it, she lets out her breath and goes back to her chair to read the note.

      Juliet: Whew. About time. Let’s see. It says, “Oh, breathe, my love, breathe, for I have foundyou the most precious thing on Earth. I come forsooth to bring you proof of my love.”    Oh, my Romeo, (clasping the note to her heart). You DO love me. (Juliet holds out her hand and looks at it.) I just know he is bringing me the most beautiful and rarest of diamonds to adorn my little finger.

      Romeo: I’m back, my love! (Romeo springs into the room with a flourish and, falls to one knee in front of Juliet, holding up a small paper cup.)  And I have brought you proof of my love. Only the very air itself is more precious than the gift I offer to win your love again.

      Juliet: (Takes cup, looks inside and then turns angrily to Romeo.) Oh, Romeo, how could you? As if! I hate you and I’ll never speak to you again! (Juliet throws the cup of water in Romeo’s face and runs out the door, crying.)

      Romeo: Oh, woe is me. What did I do wrong? (Exits, shaking his head sadly.)

  4. After the performance, discuss
    • What did Romeo do wrong?
    • Was Romeo right? Is water precious? Why?
    • Was Juliet dumb to expect diamonds rather than water? Why?
    • Why would Juliet rather have diamonds than water?
    • Display Visual 1. Which is more valuable, diamonds or water? Explain that economists refer to this as the diamond/water paradox:  we say that water is more valuable than diamonds because it’s essential to life, but we don’t act that way.  Our Romeo and Juliet scenario illustrates that paradox.  Romeo gives Juliet something essential to life, but she’s not impressed and throws it back in his face. 
    • Would anyone other than Romeo rather have water than diamonds? Why or why not?
    • Do you think Juliet knows that water is precious?
    • Was she wasting water when she threw it in Romeo’s face?
    • Would Juliet have acted differently if she had learned in school that water is valuable and throwing it in people’s faces is waste­ful? Why or why not?
  5. Step two in examining the diamond/water paradox is to answer the question of  why people would use something precious for an ordinary purpose, and why it doesn’t do much good for us to scold them about it or ask them to change their behavior?
    • To do this, students are going to need some money – classroom bucks.  In order to get the money, they have to exercise.  Quiet the cho­rus of groans by telling the students that you will pay them classroom bucks for exercising and after the exercises they may spend their classroom bucks at a snack auction. Set out the jump ropes, hula hoops, etc, and list acceptable exercises: jog­ging, jumping rope, twirling hula hoops, doing sit-ups, push-ups, jump­ing jacks, and so forth. Explain that the more students exercise, the more you will pay them.
    • Rules for the exercise period:
      • Exercise time will last for ____ minutes (3-5 suggested.  Set a timer.)
      • You may stop to rest whenever you want to and for as long as you want to.
      • You may change exercises whenever you want to.
      • While you are exercising, I will pay you for your efforts.
      • Put a sheet of notebook paper with your name on it on the floor near you before you start exercising.  I will put classroom bucks on your paper as 1 walk around and will tell you how many bucks I’ve put there.
      • You may not leave the room to get a drink or drink from a water bottle
      • You may not pick up the money from another student’s paper
  6. When there are no more questions about the rules, ask the students to push all the desks to the sides of the room and to take their name papers to an exercise spot. (Or take the students outside or into a hallway.)
    • When the students are safely situated with room to exercise, start the timer. Go around the room, encouraging and paying exercisers. The purpose is twofold:  to make the students thirsty and to give them income to spend. It doesn’t matter how much money you distribute, so use it liberally (5-8 classroom bucks per student) to encourage students to persist throughout the exer­cise period and to make them very thirsty. However, because you want all students to participate in the auction, make sure that no student gets sig­nificantly more than anyone else.
  7. End the exercise period. Direct students to pick up their classroom bucks and count them; then to move forward and sit on the floor in front of the snack bar. When the students are ready, bring out one glass of soft drink with ice, keeping the rest hidden. Say that you forgot the candy, but promise that you will have it tomorrow and tell the students that they may save their classroom bucks to buy candy then. (Without the candy, the students will tend to spend all their money on the cup of soft drink. Offering the promise of candy, however, provides an alternative for those who don’t want a soft drink and/or a reason for saving rather than spending all their money.)
    • Auction the glass of soft drink to the highest bidder. During the auction, keep track of which student is the second-highest bidder. Let the pur­chaser gloat a little bit while you discuss the following questions with the class
      • How valuable is a drink? How do you know?
      • [To the student with the drink] How valuable is the drink to you?
      • How much money did you spend?
      • How much money did you have?
      • [To other students] Were you willing to spend that much? Why didn’t you?
  8. Identify the second-highest bidder. “Discover” a second glass of soft drink behind your desk and ask the second-highest bidder if he would like to purchase it for his bid price in the previous auction. After the drink has been sold for the second-highest price, ask:
    • Were the two drinks the same?
    • Why was the drink worth more to the first bidder than to the sec­ond one? If the drinks were the same, why were they valued differently?
  9. Bring out a tray with 10 to 15 cups of soft drink. Auction them and record the sale prices. Ask:
    • Why were the bids lower this time than in the previous two auc­tions?
    • What factors seem to determine how valuable the soft drink is?
    • What would you predict would happen if I brought out 20 more cups of drink?
    • [To the purchaser of the first drink] Supposing that you had enough classroom bucks, would you be willing to pay the same price for a second cup of drink? For a third?
  10. Remind students that they can spend their remaining bucks on candy tomorrow—but only if they keep the secret about more drinks in the auction, and don’t tip off your other class.
  11. Now turn your attention to how people use water, keeping in mind our analysis of the soft drink exercise. On what basis do people make decisions about water use?
    • How much would each of you have been willing to pay for that first cup of soft drink? How much do you suppose people who have no water would be willing to pay for the first cup?
    • If water is so valuable that you would be willing to pay anything or everything to get it, why is the price we normally pay so low?
  12. Help students connect the two activities – the play and the drink auction. Ask:
    • What is the same and what is different about the Romeo and Juliet story and our activity involving soft drinks?
    • How could you change the Romeo and Juliet story so that Juliet would be overjoyed with Romeo’s gift, and the audience would find it believable?
  13. Closure/Debrief
    • Review the paradox of water: Water is so precious that we cannot live without it; yet its price is relatively low because (for us) the supply is relatively great and the opportunity cost to get more water is low. While water is important, we have no reason to believe we won’t be able to get it when we want it. We turn on the faucet and there it is! In turn, the relatively low price that most of us pay for water reinforces our belief that there is plenty of water.
    • Discuss:
      • Why does the value of water vary from time to time, even when the amount of water doesn’t?
      • Which is more valuable—water to irrigate crops or water to nur­ture a beautiful valley where people like to picnic? Water to grow lawns or water to wash cars?
      • Why can’t we provide for all the uses of water that people value?
      • Why do some people think other people waste water? What do we really mean when we say someone is “wasting” water?
      • Pose a series of questions regarding changes in people’s behavior. Ask:
      • Suppose someone you don’t know has a $100 ticket to a playoff game you’d really like to see, and he doesn’t go to the game. Is he wasting the ticket?
    • Display Visual 2. A farmer in grows rice in the desert in California. Rice is grown in flooded fields. The water the farmer uses to flood the fields is brought in by a huge, federal irrigation system. Much of the water evaporates rapidly; the arid weather conditions in the California desert regions dry it up. What do we know about the fanner who uses water in this way—a way that many people consider wasteful?
      • Why does the fanner grow rice instead of crops more suited to the environment of this area?
      • Which of the following is most likely to be true about the farmer’s choice to grow rice?
        • He is likely to ignore protesters from the “Keep Our Canals Full” committee.
        • The farmer’s father grew rice, and that’s all he knows how to do.
        • The farmer isn’t very smart. 
        • The farmer is generally a wasteful person.
        • The farmer doesn’t stay awake at night worrying about getting enough water to flood the fields.
        • The farmer probably makes more money growing and sell­ing rice than he pays for the water he uses to grow it.
        • The farmer grew up near a lake and likes having water around.
        • The farmer is likely to be responsive to a local government campaign to “Shut the Floodgates—Eat More Wheat!”
        • If getting water to grow rice were more expensive, the farmer would consider doing something different.
      • Why would people often use something precious like water for ordinary purposes, and why doesn’t it do any good for us to scold them about it or ask them to change their behavior?
  14. Assessment:  Distribute handout 3.

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