Environmental literacy is a matter of understanding and appreciating the natural world. Many of our students don’t understand the interconnectedness of living things, don’t recognize the effects of their actions on the world we live in, and therefore can’t make responsible decisions about their use of resources. With concerns about sustainability and green living increasing, future decision makers need to be able to understand and evaluate the news they hear and read.
For young students, environmental literacy can involve nature study as well as the new 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. All students can and should learn about habitats when they study plants and animals, about fuel sources and use when they study earth science, and about human issues such as water needs and sanitation when they study social studies. Older students can tackle more controversial topics: the nature of climate change, human responsibility for environmental damage, laws and regulations. They need to understand the more complex science issues, and to use critical thinking and math skills to evaluate data and arguments about environmental issues.
- The North American Association for Environmental Education has a collection of environment-related lesson plans.
- The Environmental Literacy Council has a teacher’s area with a lot of resources, including a growing testbank that allows you to generate exams on the subject.
- When you use Google Earth, turn on “Global Awareness” in the panel on the left. It’s a portal to information ranging from endangered species with photos and intriguing details to water and sanitation data from Unicef. Depending on the options you check, you’ll get clickable links to extra info as you explore the world. This feature lends itself to lots of projects in science, social studies, media literacy, and tech skills. As a starting point, have each student choose a country to learn about and create a chart showing the environmental strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing that nation. Present to the class or create a bulletin board of the charts.
- Project Green is an intensive study of your classroom environment.
- Green Classrooms helps you set a good example in your classroom.
- Arctic Triptych has activities for studying arctic animals and their habitats. There is also a PDF unit of reproducibles to go with the activities. The focus of the unit is on data analysis.
- Encodazoo is a remarkable site which shares energy saving tips. It can also give younger students good practice with keyboard and mouse skills, including panning and navigation. It’s bilingual English and Japanese, good for fluent readers but with few words.
Books for your classroom library:
- Everything Kids’ Environment Book: Learn how you can help the environment-by getting involved at school, at home, or at play
- Earth Book for Kids: Activities to Help Heal the Environment is, like the previous title, a good source of hands-on activities to increase environmental literacy.
- Ecology is a beautiful DK book for exploration and study of the science behind environmental data.
- Environmental Science Activities Kit: Ready-to-Use Lessons, Labs, and Worksheets for Grades 7-12
- Cartoon Guide to the Environment by Larry Gonick. He explained relativity in a way we could all understand and enjoy, so you know he can entice your middle school and high school students to contemplate the environment.
- A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids: Understanding Climate Change and What You Can Do About It is a clear introduction to a tough subject.
- Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax is the classic first book on the environment for young children.
- The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists is the book to read if you’re not sure about your own environmental choices. This book lays out what really matters, what doesn’t matter so much, and why. It’s comfortable reading for high school students, and it’ll help you answer your students’ questions, no matter what grade you teach.
Add science kits for hands-on study:
- The Magic School Bus: Going Green for your younger students.
- The Magic School Bus: Solar Energy to the Rescue focuses on fuel sources.
- Thames and Kosmos Alternative Energy and Environmental Science Power House Green Essentials from the masters of chemistry sets.
- Thames & Kosmos Alternative Energy and Environmental Science Sustainable Earth Lab is a smaller set, but still rich in hands-on activities.