Over the last few years, we've noticed that young poets and thinkers are increasingly interested in ecology, the environment, and climate change. This makes sense: it's one of the major issues of their generation, and young people have been active in the fight against climate change for a long time. And for many students, climate change isn't a distant problem but a present reality. In her essay, "Tracing the Outlines of Home: Middle schoolers’ writing resiliency in a time of climate crisis," Berkley Carnine writes about teaching a student from the Marshall Islands, which are disappearing due to sea level rise, leading to displacement and immigration. "His words," Carnine writes, "Trace the outline of home, of those 1,000 islands, of an atomic flash, of sadness, homesickness, and the desire to protect what is loved."
Climate change can be a tough topic to discuss because, well, it's scary and big and overwhelming! In the NPR article, "How to Talk to Kids About Climate Change," (which is definitely worth a read) parent Dawn Darby talks about, "raising her daughter to understand the web of relationships in nature rather than dwelling on ecological damage," because, she says, 'I have a rationale around this that it's very hard to defend what you don't love.'" In that spirit, here are four K-8 lesson plans that celebrate the natural world and will hopefully encourage young poets to think about how they might best take care of it.
In this lesson plan for kindergarten and early elementary students, Sophie Daws asks participants to read a poem from the perspective of a river, then create a collaborative chain poem (or "river of words") comprised of promises to that river. Daws wrote about her experience teaching this lesson plan in the blog post, "Our Pinkie Promises to the River." After doing this activity, you might take the opportunity to discuss extreme weather events, such as floods, with participants. Ask students not just how these events might be stopped, but how people can work together to build resilience in the face of them.
Bees are so important for our ecosystem! In this activity for elementary students, Saraiya Kanning has young poets observe bees, read a poem by Heid E. Erdrich, craft their own three-line lunes, and create bee art to go along with their poems. Kanning writes about her experiences teaching ecology and poetry to young students in her post "A Tiny Something." Interested in learning more about bees? Check out this episode of Smologies.
Ophelia Zepeda's poem "It is Going to Rain" opens this elementary-level lesson plan. After reading the poem creatively and out loud, students talk about the five senses, and brainstorm why rain is important in their own lives and communities. Finally, they write a poem in which they get to decide if it rains or not. This lesson could be a good opportunity to talk to young thinkers about drought, and the impacts it has and will have on communities.
In this exercise for older elementary and middle school students, Chalese "Chay the Poet" Potts asks writer to, "write from the point of view of a drop of water as it circulates around the earth perpetually, transforming, mixing, and moving." By adopting the persona of a drop of water, poets have an opportunity to image themselves into another form of life on this planet. This activity could be paired with conversations about the #NoDAPL movement and other water protection struggles around the world.
View more K-12 writing activities on our lesson plan archive.