Inspiring Eco-Warriors Through Writing

 Children’s books about advocate Greta Thunberg are easy to find and good choices for sharing with students. While introducing the environmental activist to students is inspiring, showing students how they can also become eco-warriors was my goal. Writing was my way to do that.

A special group of writing teachers in the San Diego Area Writing Project began a professional journey to explore how to teach students about the environment and social justice through writing. For my fifth grade students, we learned about climate change and how it affects communities around the world. They wrote both an essay including all text types, and a six-word story, a creative piece.

The first realization was that my students could say “climate change” and that it isn’t good, but none could explain it or the effects of it. Using websites and videos, we learned about global warming and the impact on the world’s climate. We brainstormed extreme weather: drought and wildfires in California, where we live; hurricanes and typhoons, snow storms; flooding; and sea rise. 

(Bill Nye’s “Climate Change 101” and NASA’s “Earth Minute” videos are all good for learning about global warming and the effects of climate change. The website Wonderopolis has a story “What is Climate Change?” that also helped my students learn about the topic.)

Next was learning what they could do to help stop climate change. Some of the steps surprised them. They love bananas and were surprised to hear that because bananas are not grown in this country, transporting them to America uses more energy than eating locally grown, seasonal fruit. They also loved to learn that eating less beef can help because cows “toot” methane gas.

(The National Geographic for Kids website includes “13 Ways to Save the Earth from Climate Change.”  Wonderopolis has “How Big is Your Carbon Footprint?” and “Can We Reverse Carbon Emissions?”)

The students were asked to write at least three six-word stories to explore the genre.

Showing my students how they could empower themselves was the next step. YouTube has many videos, from around the world, about students striking from school to attend protests calling for an end to climate change. A fellow San Diego Area Writing Project writing teacher, Janis Jones, brought another element into our work – Climate Warriors for the Environment. Created by UNICEF, the short videos feature teens working to change the devastating effects of climate change on their countries. Here’s a link to Janis’ post. Link to Janis Jones

For the essay, students were asked to include a definition of climate change and facts, with text evidence, about the effects of it. This was the informational part of the essay. They were also asked to make a claim (opinion writing) about what they think is the most important step towards ending climate change. Janis brought a narrative writing element into the assignment. Students were asked to imagine a way climate change could affect them, or someone else, and describe what is happening. They ended the essay with a “circular conclusion,” a teaching lesson created by Janis that guides students to connect the two paragraphs – lead and conclusion.

The class took all of this and did some creative writing. A six-word story includes just six words. Legend is it was created by Ernest Hemingway when he accepted a bet to write a story in just six words. This story, “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn,” is said to be what he came up with. We asked students to write at least three “Six Words for the Environment” stories.They picked their favorite, added original artwork or a photograph, and created a slide to present to the class. Before they started, we brainstormed two dozen related words they could use if they needed any ideas.

 Talking about the environment is now a part of the dialogue in our classroom. Students have taken personal vows to keep their clothes longer, or buy used clothes, to reduce the need to make new clothes in factories that emit carbon gasses. Our school provides breakfast each morning and on the days bananas are offered, there’s a shout that goes up that the cafeteria should stop serving them. And then the cow “toots” are still a very popular fact. They have become warriors for the environment. My hope is it will be a lifelong role for them.

San Diego Area Writing Project Spring 2022 Conference

Six Words for the Environment Student Slides


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