Earth Day Lessons With The Right Stuff

Earth Day lessons provide a great way to teach students about the significance of the event, and how they can make a difference.

By Cathy Neushul


Earth Day Lesson

Earth Day presents a unique opportunity for teachers. Not only do they have a chance to teach students about a topic, they also have an opportunity to get students actively involved. 

While some form of activity or project should be a part of any Earth Day lesson, it would be a good idea to give students an overview of its history. The first Earth Day  was held in 1970. It started as a grassroots movement proposed by a senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson. It was designed to bring attention to environmental issues. Students may be surprised to learn that concern for the environment is not a new idea, it's a movement that's been around for decades.

Earth Day also provides a way to discuss such environmental hot spots as the rainforest. I've included some rainforest lesson plans below. Students might find it interesting to learn about the animals and plants found only in the rainforest. Reading a book such as the "The Great Kapok Tree" by Lynne Cherry can help students visualize what is going to happen to the rainforest if people keep on cutting down the trees.

But whatever you do, you should try to make Earth Day lessons involve participation. Students can learn about a particular environmental issue and write a letter to the editor, or build an experimental device that would solve the world’s energy issues. With a focus on active participation, Earth Day can become more than a one day celebration, and provide a way to infuse environmental ideas into lessons throughout the year.

Earth Day Lessons:
"101 Amazing Earth Facts" Game: Students play a Jeopardy-type game involving facts about the earth. Before playing the game, students get into groups and memorize the facts. You'll find that you'll want to join your students in learning the information. The lesson has a link to a website with a list of interesting facts, such as how long scientists think it will take Los Angeles to become a suburb of San Francisco (15 million years), and what may be causing recent flu epidemics.

Earth Day Every Day: In this lesson students discuss how problems in one part of the country,  such as air pollution, can effect residents in other parts.This lesson seeks to link common environmental problems with their long range effects. Students come up with possible solutions for these problems.

Earth Day: Students learn about a variety of environmental problems. Students become familiar with environmental terms. They learn about endangered animals, and pick some to focus on. They also learn about Earth Day and why its a celebration.  It also comes with activity sheets, and ways for students to get involved in their community.

Earth Day PSA: Students design a public service announcement about Earth Day. It's a good way for students to learn about environmental issues and technology at the same time. Students video tape their completed public service announcements.

Celebrating Earth Day with Parents: While the title of this lesson refers to parents, any teacher could find loads of great Earth Day ideas on this list.  Students can create posters, T-Shirts, and bookmarks they can sell to raise money for environmental issues, or write an article about their favorite enviromental organization.

Rainforest Lessons:

Rainforest Relationships: This lesson has students learn about the rainforest, and the four distinct layers of life in it. It comes with wonderful links to a lot of useful information, and pictures about the rainforest. Students also create a rainforest mural.

Rainforest: In this lesson students learn about the rainforest and endangerred animals. They paint a picture of an endangered animal.

Human Impacts on the Rainforest: This lesson has high school students learn about the impact people have on the rainforest. They explore the rainforest using a journey with conservationist Michael Fay. They create a map showing Fay's trek, and the impact people have had on the environment in this region.

Earth Day Contests:

While many local organizations have Earth Day contests, I've included some national ones below.

The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies has a picture contest in which students can win a digital camera.

The EPA has an Earth Day photo project in which a picture from one person, or group is featured each day in April.

TIME For Kids has a contest in which the winner gets a digital camera, and has their picture in the Earth Day edition of the magazine.  

Science Guide

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Cathy Neushul