Lesson 4

Take A Stand!


Lesson Overview:

Lesson 4 discusses: 1) becoming environmentally knowledgeable; 2) effectively taking action to impact local environmental issues; 3) influencing others to become environmentally active; 4) informing public officials and legislators.


Content Standards Addressed:

Common Core State Standards​ ​


Learning Objectives:

Students will:

  • Define the lesson's vocabulary words.
  • Distinguish between reliable and unreliable information sources.
  • Identify three activities that could help raise funds for environmental issues.
  • Describe three methods for sharing environmental concerns with others.
  • Tell three ways to garner local support for environmental issues.
  • Name a famous environmentalist and recall at least one of his/her contributions.


Activism - energetic pursuit of goals through marches, rallies, letter-writing and other strong actions.

Interest group - an association of people who join forces to promote an activity they share or to address an issue they have in common.


Level 3 has thus far covered future environmental changes, the human ability to adapt behaviors and environmentally friendly living. This lesson shows students they can make a difference in other ways besides making personal lifestyle changes. After becoming well-informed on current environmental issues, they can take action to influence family and friends, community members and officials, and state and U.S. legislators.


Get the Scoop:

To make a positive impact, we need both background knowledge about an issue and a basic understanding of what's needed to improve a situation. Our time is well-spent learning as much as we can about important issues like the state of the environment. The more we are trusted as a source of believable information, the better position we're in to influence others. That being said, it's not necessary to become an expert on an issue before taking action.

It's important to obtain information from dependable sources. Here are some tips:

  • Sites with .gov, .org and .edu domains may be more trustworthy than .com sites. In general, blogs, forums and wiki sites are not as reliable.
  • Verify facts by cross-checking with other reliable sources.
  • Always check publication dates to see if information has been updated and is current. 
  • Make sure authors cite references to back up statements.
  • Examine author credentials carefully. Do they indicate motivation for the positions taken? (For example, if products are recommended, could they benefit from the sale?)



1) Students can find out about current state environmental concerns by clicking on the U.S. map on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's homepage. If several issues are at stake, divide the larger group. Ask them to research further and share their findings. If your group believes these issues are significant, how can they help promote and support them?

It's important to keep an eye on current events. Registering for a search engine's "alerts" service on topics like the environment, conservation or pollution is an easy way to keep informed; any appropriate news items will come directly to an email inbox.

Emphasize to students that learning often requires asking questions. They should never apologize for requesting additional information or clarification and should continue to do research and question others until satisfied they have the whole story.

2) Holding a debate is a great way to give students experience in doing research, readying arguments, presenting information and defending one's position to others. They can use one of the debate topics below or come up with one of their own:

  • Gasoline taxes should be higher to encourage citizens to take public transportation instead of driving cars.
  • Our community should have a public transportation system. (Alternate topic: Our current public transportation system needs to be more efficient.)
  • Artificial pesticides are necessary, despite the risks.
  • The school cafeteria should only serve organically grown foods.
  • Our school should go paperless.

Sound Off:

Contact officials and legislators. The United States has a long history of activism, that is, active, hands-on involvement to achieve goals. It's every American citizen's right - and their duty - to let local, state and national officials know how they feel about environmental (and other) issues. At the national level, students can contact members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee or the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. They can also reach their U.S. senator or representative directly via their websites. Senate and House directories are available by state. To locate state representatives, type the street address into the search bar on this website. Find local officials via a town or city's website.

Have students write a letter or email to a state legislator or a local official. They can follow this template:

1) Identify yourself and give your reasons for writing.

Example: "My name is Tabitha Smith, and I'm an eighth-grade student at Larchwood Middle School in Jonestown. I'm writing you because I'm very concerned that people are burning leaves in my community."

2) Add specific details. What is happening exactly? How does this affect you? Your family? Others in the community?

Example: "My brother Caleb and I have asthma, and my grandmother, Anna Smith, has emphysema. Even though some people enjoy the smell of burning leaves because it reminds them of autumn, leaf burning makes it hard for the three of us, and others in our community, to breathe. Research shows that burning leaves emits carbon monoxide and reduces oxygen in the air. (At this point, the student would cite a specific study showing this to be true.) This is especially dangerous to very young and very old people and people who have heart or lung diseases. Plus, if the fire isn't tended properly, it can be dangerous. Did you know that leaf burning can cause house fires and serious burn injuries?"

3) Tell the official what you hope will be done as a result of writing the letter.

Example: "Please use the influence you have as a state legislator to encourage Jonestown officials to pass a ban on burning leaves so its residents can breathe easier. Caleb and I - and our grandmother - thank you so much!"

4) Carefully type the letter and then have an adult proofread it.

5) Sign or type your full name and address.

6) Double-check the official's name and address on a government website.

7) Read the letter or email again before sending it. Is the letter courteous? Is it clear?​


Have students imagine they are city planners. What changes would they make to their community so as citizens live and work they will make the least negative environmental impact?

Students can work together to build a three-dimensional model of this ideal community. Remind them to consider water sources, transportation, industry, stores and other businesses, houses, schools, recreational areas, waste areas, and environmental protection.

Invite local legislators to your classroom to view the students' model, or have students bring the model to a city council/town meeting. They can prepare a short presentation describing the model and explaining their suggested changes.


Spread the Word:

Educate voters. Election time is a great time to pull together information about local environmental issues and summarize candidates' positions on them. Students can do research to create one-page flyers to post at school or another public facility. Eye-catching flyers:​

  • Are well-designed. Students should think about the message they want to send. How do they hope the reader will respond? They should draw a rough sketch of the flyer to plan it out before creating the real thing.
  • Keep it simple. Students should: 1) grab the reader's attention with a headline in bold font; 2) get to their point(s) quickly, but make each word count; and 3) make the last statement a call to action.
  • Make it clear. "White space" should be reserved - these are areas intentionally left blank to make the printed material easier to read. By using a size 14 font in Arial or Verdana, even older people with limited vision will be able to read it.
  • Include artwork or photos, which often say more than words. Original creations are best because of their uniqueness, but those who are less creative or lack artistic ability can also use clipart in the public domain (artwork that isn't copyrighted) and a background or border that ties to their message.

Campaigning for a candidate who champions a similar environmental position is a good way for students to get involved and experience the excitement of election time. Making phone calls, passing out literature about the candidate, writing letters or emails, putting up yard signs and marching in a parade are all great ways to show support.


Reproducible: Environmental Quotes

Quotes can be very helpful in supporting and illustrating one's points. Make copies of the reproducible to distribute. Read through and discuss the quotes as a group. 


Inform others. As students research environmental issues they care about, they can share this information with their community through:

  • Newspapers. Students can write a letter or email the environmental reporter or editor of their local newspaper or school newspaper. They should:
    • Write simply, using short sentences and casual vocabulary.
    • Use good writing techniques. The first sentence should "hook" the reader so he or she wants to read more; the last sentence should inspire - and leave the reader thinking.
    • Back up statements by quoting facts, and be ready to provide sources.
    • Use Environmental Quotes or another reliable quotation source to boost believability.
    • Follow a publication's word limit guidelines.
    • Sign the letter. Many publications won't publish those written anonymously.
    • Have others review what's been written before submitting it. Is it clear and understandable?
Like chili and soup, writing can improve after sitting a day or two. Reading a final draft one more time before sending it is always wise. Another typo may be found, or the writer may see a better way to get a point across.
  • Creative writing. Composing a poem or short story shines a spotlight on an environmental problem in a unique way.

  • Public presentations. When presenting information, students should show respect for their audience's time by coming prepared. In the case of a local pollution issue, for example, students could take photos of the problem, gather personal testimonies and compile facts and figures to support their statements.

  • Other media. Students may enjoy writing and staging a mock news show, play or musical. Or create a video or PowerPoint presentation in conjunction with Earth Day, Arbor Day or other environment-related event. With family permission, they might want to upload an original video to YouTube to make an even wider impact.

  • Art. Original cartoons, paintings, sculptures and other art forms reach people in a way no other form of communication can.

  • Music. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "Music is the universal language of mankind." Music can certainly engage people in a way mere words may not. Song parodies and raps are musical forms that may reach fellow students. If group members are not sure where to begin have them listen to updated versions of classic environmental songs like "Big Yellow Taxi" or "Mercy Mercy Me." Rereading the Environmental Quotes worksheet may generate some lyrical ideas as well. 


1) Ask students to compile a list of manufacturers, retailers and other local businesses that accept e-waste and/or other items that can't be recycled at your community's recycling facility. (Only include recyclers that have pledged not to ship e-waste to Third World nations.)

Have students create an easy-to-understand chart, listing the companies and their contact information. Have each student create an eye-catching poster, leaving space for the chart. Make copies of the chart to attach to the posters. Hang the posters at schools, community centers and/or other public locations.

2) Idling engines pollutes the air inside and outside vehicles and wastes fuel and money. After gathering facts about idling, invite students to observe the average time your school's or community's buses spending idling (if any). Invite school district bus drivers to come speak with your group. Serve light refreshments, if possible, to create a casual, friendly atmosphere. Students can present their idling research to drivers and respectfully request they not idle their vehicles. Have students write thank you notes as soon as possible to drivers who agree to make changes to their idling practices.


3) Ask students to do research online about food service products made from recycled or recyclable materials. (Some companies even offer a low-cost sample kit.) Have them create a presentation about these products for schools, organizations or businesses, encouraging them to convert to biodegradable products instead of using plastic or Styrofoam, which may take decades or centuries to decompose - if at all.

4) In conjunction with U.N. World Water Day or another water-related environmental day or event, locate a reliable online resource showing water sustainability in your area over the next 50-100 years. Create flyers that include the map. Does your community seem to be at risk for water shortages now or in the future? If so, find out what steps are being taken by state or local governments (if any) to manage this risk. Students can share their findings at a school assembly or other upcoming event. 

5) How does your community's emissions from generating electricity compare with the national average? Your students can find out by using the EPA's Power Profiler. They can then access the U.S. Department of Energy website and locate local utility companies that supply renewable energy. Invite them to create posters and flyers providing this information. Ask pairs of students to distribute the flyers at a "Support Renewable Energy" table at an upcoming community event.

6) Ask students to develop a school-wide or community recycling plan that would reduce the amount of waste that enters the landfill system. Share this plan at a teacher in-service or city council meeting.


Get Noticed:

Unite. Wearing armbands, T-shirts, bandanas, etc., in matching color schemes, designs or messages can pique the interest of others and bring attention to an issue. A silent march or peaceful sit-in, as long as it abides by school rules and local laws, can also be effective.

Advertise. Advertising is a great way to voice environmental concerns. Many of the flyer tips mentioned earlier are also useful when designing an advertisement. Traditional newspaper advertising can be expensive; ads in high school newspapers and door-hangers are good alternatives.


Gather Support:

Make friends and positively influence people. Students likely won't achieve their environmental goals entirely by themselves. Joining forces with others lightens workloads, provides opportunities for friendships and protects against burnout.

The saying, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" is a good reminder to students that they should always be friendly and polite as they work toward goals. People they meet are potential allies who could be very helpful to them at some point in the future.

Expressing appreciation for what a community organization or business is doing right is as important as sharing thoughts about what is wrong. Encourage students to "catch 'em being good," keeping an eye out for responsible environmental practices and writing supportive, encouraging letters to recognize eco-friendly efforts.



If your community permits grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants and other business to donate unwanted/excess food, brainstorm ways your group can help promote and support these programs. They might design and distribute flyers, help transport food to shelters and other sites, and/or write notes to businesses, thanking them for their generous donations.


Start a petition. One way to drive change - and find others who support the same position - is to circulate petitions. Here are some simple steps:

1) Write the petition.

  • Decide what group, organization or individual to petition.
  • State the problem or issue clearly and briefly.
  • Describe in detail how the issue should be resolved (what those being petitioned should do about it).
  • Tell how successfully resolving the issue will benefit the environment and/or the community.

2) Gather friends to circulate copies of the petition. Visit neighborhoods, schools, churches, and businesses, and show up for community events like festivals and parades.

3) Coordinate the circulation of a petition with something people are already aware of - like a hot news topic or an environmental day or special event.

4) Petitions can be created and circulated online. Use a search engine to find a trusted website for this purpose. ​ ​

Start an ecology club and/or environmental book club at school. An ecology club can help bring awareness of eco-friendly practices and local environmental concerns. Club activities could include:
  • Starting and maintaining a school compost pile with cafeteria scraps.
  • Planting a butterfly or vegetable garden at school.
  • Regularly removing litter from school grounds.
  • Planting trees as windbreaks or to offset parking lot emissions.
  • Building and hanging birdhouses by school windows.
  • Leading or assisting at environmental events, such as Earth Day or Arbor Day.
Your avid readers may enjoy reading and discussing environmental books geared to teens. Level 3 Resources suggests several titles, including The Green Teen by Jenn Savage and Generation Green by Linda and Tosh Sivertsen. As an alternate activity, reserve a portion of class periods to read aloud and discuss portions of these books.
Support the Cause:
Nonprofits. Most kids don't have steady sources of income, but they can still support environmental organizations by:
  • Asking family and friends to contribute to organizations in the child's name instead of giving them holiday or birthday gifts. Students should be sure to research the nonprofit they want to support by visiting a charity review website and/or doing online research. The percentage of contributions that actually goes to the cause itself - as opposed to fundraising, administration and other expenses - varies greatly.
  • Watching for special promotions by retailers and other companies. Some contribute a percentage of their profits to various causes - including the environment - when consumers buy their products.
Local issues. Students can bring attention to a local environmental issue - and raise money to combat the problem - by holding a simple fundraiser like a bake sale, garage sale or creative sporting event like a faculty vs. student basketball or baseball game. Promote the event, create and display posters, and make flyers to distribute to event attendees. (For tips, see "Educate voters" in the "Spread the Word" section, above.


Dig In:

​As they learn more about local environmental issues, students may soon discover that others in their community feel as they do. In fact, there may already be at least one active interest group in their area. Interest groups may have large memberships and their cooperative efforts are usually very well-organized. These qualities often - but not always - make them more effective than individuals working alone. Interest groups may take out ads, conduct rallies and communicate their message to officials and the general public by letter, email or phone. Students can also find local environmental volunteering opportunities using databases like VolunteerMatch. Searches can be done by ZIP code and by volunteer interest.



1) Organize a one-day, school-wide or community cleanup. Enlist the help of the PTA/PTO and other concerned adult groups to help supervise the project and haul the collected litter to disposal sites or a recycling center. Alert local media to the project.

2) Hold a free auto checkup for parents after school or on a Saturday to help promote improved gas mileage and energy. You might consider holding this event in conjunction with a fundraising car wash. The checkup might include:

  • Checking inside the driver's door for the proper tire pressure and inflating tires to that level.
  • Checking the air filter to make sure it's clean.
  • Checking for heavy, unnecessary items in the car or trunk and suggesting the driver remove the roof rack if possible to lighten the load, which improves gas mileage.

3) Using the Internet, find a national recycling program for nonrecyclables that donates money to nonprofits based on the amount of nonrecyclable waste collected. Invite group members to organize a collection of nonrecyclables to bring attention to these programs and raise money for a worthy community organization or national charity.


Reproducible: Environmental Hall of Famers​

Your students may be inspired to take action in their community when they read these short biographies. Make copies of the reproducible and distribute. You may have students read the biographies and answer the discussion questions below as an independent activity. Or read and discuss the worksheet as a group.

Extend this activity by assigning groups of students to do further research and provide additional details about the environmentalists' concerns and accomplishments. Invite them to create a poster for each person. Line the walls of a well-traveled area of your building with the posters to create an environmental "Hall of Fame."


Environmental Hall of Famers Activities and Discussion Questions: 


Reproducible: Our Rivers 

Rachel Carson

1. DDT is a potent poison that kills wildlife and poses hazards to human health. It has saved millions of lives worldwide, however, by battling the malaria-carrying mosquito. When DDT was banned in 1972, malaria deaths rose again significantly. Divide the group into two smaller groups and have them debate the advantages and disadvantages of using chemicals like DDT.

2. Discuss this quote from Carson: "One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, 'What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?'"

  • Do you think people ordinarily appreciate nature or take for granted that it will always be there in its present state? How can you help those you know appreciate nature more?

Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling

1. Make and distribute copies of the reproducible Our Rivers. Have the group list all the examples of pollution they see.

2. Darling drew this cartoon in 1926. How has the condition of our environment changed since then? Stayed the same?

3. Pair artistic students with others to create environmental cartoons.

4. Discuss this Darling quote: "I'm learning one thing the hard way ... you have to re-educate the public mind about every 15 or 20 years or it forgets everything learned a while back."

  • Do you agree that the public needs regular reminders about environmental problems and issues so they don't forget? What are some good ways to do this?

Rosalie Edge

1. Do you agree with Edge that protecting the environment is every citizen's responsibility? Why or why not?

2. What hawks and eagles are native to your area? Are they protected in your state?

3. Discuss Edge's statement: "While the old dream dreams, progress will come as always before, through the courage of the young who see visions."

  • Dreams are described as wishful thinking, while visions are thoughts of the future based in reality. As a young person, what environmental visions do you see for your community? Do you have the courage to make those visions reality?

Aldo Leopold

1. An ethic can be described as a set of rules a person believes and tries to live by. Think about your environmental beliefs, then write 10 statements that reflect your land, water and air ethics. 

2. Discuss this Leopold quote: "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

  • List ways the land is like a community.

John Muir

1. Use a search engine to find a "pin-able" online map of the United States. Ask students to mark the national parks they have visited and share a natural highlight from each.

2. Discuss Muir's statement: "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike."

  • How does Muir seem to support scientific studies that link human health with an appreciation for nature (see Lesson 3)?

Olaus and Margaret (Mardy) Murie

1. Wapiti is another word for elk and literally means "white rump" in the Shawnee Indian language. What other commonly-used words can you think of that come from American Indian languages? (Answers include many state names, like Oklahoma - literally Okla homma, "red people" in  Choctaw - and Michigan - literally Mshigem, "great lake" in Potawatomi.

2. Discuss this quote from Olaus Murie: "Perhaps we should give thought to our ancestors and feel humbly grateful for the beginnings of thoughtful regard for our land ..."

  • How did American Indians' use of natural resources show "thoughtful regard for our land"?
  • Gaylord Nelson
    1. Celebrate Earth Day (April 22). If the weather cooperates, spend some time outdoors enjoying activities that tie to the importance of clean water, soil and air:
    • Fly kites or hold a recycled paper airplane contest.
    • Run relays and other team games that require exertion and thus additional oxygen.
    • Make lemonade together and enjoy a snack of fresh fruit (locally grown, if possible) sitting under a tree. How different would these activities be if the environment was severely polluted?
    World Water Day is March 22. Each year's theme spotlights a different aspect of water, such as sanitation, scarcity or the role water plays in health. Find more information on the UN-Water website.
    2. Discuss this Nelson quote: "Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures."
    • In your opinion, does good environmental stewardship naturally lead to a more decent and respectful society? Why or why not?