If you’re looking for Earth Day activities for students, then you probably value sustainability and environmental consciousness. If you’re like me, you might even be able to trace these values back to your own education. I remember many of my teachers’ Earth Day lesson plans, as well as their everyday lessons about respecting the environment.
Reducing, reusing, and recycling were habits that were embedded in our daily routines. We had recycling bins in every classroom. We practiced up-cycling in art class. In science class, we studied weather patterns and the life cycles of living organisms. And through all of this, we learned about the delicate and awe-inspiring design of our planet.
Although a lot has changed since I was in school, one thing has remained the same: environmental stewardship is an important lesson for our students. Fortunately, Earth Day provides the perfect opportunity to integrate these lessons into our curriculum. Whether you teach Science, Geography, or English Language Arts – there are so many Earth Day lesson plans to choose from! This blog post will share a few of my favorite Earth Day activities for students.
What are some ideas for Earth Day lesson plans?
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Earth Day Lesson Plans for Middle School
One of my favorite Earth Day activities for middle school is to inspire students with relevant role models. By teaching them about youth who are making a difference for the environment, students learn that they are never too young to take action.
Climate change is emerging as possibly the largest concern for our future generations. Thankfully, there is no shortage of young activists and philanthropists to inspire your students. For example, your students have likely heard of Nobel Prize nominee Greta Thunberg. She serves as an inspiring role model for young people and neurodivergent students alike. Mondays Made Easy offers an Earth Day lesson plan that includes a nonfiction close reading passage about Greta Thunberg’s accomplishments.
There are several lesser-known role models worth exploring: Isra Hirsi, Autumn Peltier, or Bruno Rodriguez, to name a few! CNN, Euronews, and Climate Reality Project are all great resources for exploring young eco-activists. You can center your Earth Day lesson plan on exploring the biography of one of these activists.
Free Earth Day Activities for Students
Acknowledging Earth Day in your classroom doesn’t need to involve a lot of lesson planning. It doesn’t need to cost anything, either! If you’re teaching middle school students, here’s a free Earth Day lesson plan that also aligns perfectly with most literacy programs. If you teach high school, you can also use this resource to scaffold informational essay writing.
This free Earth Day lesson plan includes a reading comprehension passage on the harmful effects of plastic waste. In doing so, it considers both the environment and our health. You can use this resource to promote environmentally conscious choices.
Additionally, This Earth Day lesson teaches the “Outline Method,” a reading comprehension strategy for summarization. This reading framework is an acronym that students can use to search for relevant information in any text; it also scaffolds writing a proper summary paragraph.
Students can practice the “Outline Method” by reading the provided article, “Why is Plastic Harmful?” You can have students complete the associated worksheets in pairs or in small groups if you wish.
Earth Day Lesson Plans for High School
In high school, teachers tend to focus less on holidays and themes in their classrooms. This is likely because many school districts prioritize meeting the curriculum requirements or preparing for standardized tests. Thankfully, there are so many ways to tie Earth Day activities into the high school curriculum! Here are a few suggestions for any subject area:
1. Watch Earth Day Documentaries
A great way to hook your students on environmentalism is to explore one of the many documentaries highlighting climate change and unsustainable consumption habits. For example, National Geographic’s Before the Flood is narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. It examines the environmental impact and ecological changes caused by fossil fuels. In light of this, this documentary is a great option for science or geography classes.
For English class, there are a number of documentaries that can be examined both from an environmental and a rhetorical perspective. Both Kip Anderson’s Cowspiracy and Netflix’s Seaspiracy explore how agricultural farming and overfishing contribute to environmental degradation. They also demonstrate several strategies of strong arguments and can be examined from this perspective.
Andrew Morgan’s documentary, The True Cost, highlights the moral and environmental dilemmas of the fast fashion industry. If you teach elective courses (including Art, Business, or Fashion), this would be a great Earth Day option.
All of these documentaries were filmed and produced within the last decade and are sure to strike a chord with your students. You can develop an Earth Day lesson plan that has students reflect on the main argument of each documentary.
2. Conduct an Earth Day Debate
One of my favorite Earth Day lesson plans is to host a debate on an environmental issue. There are several Earth Day debate topics you can choose from, including banning single-use plastics or enforcing animal rights. If you teach History, Civics, Politics, or Philosophy, you can also select topics that align with your subject area.
For a more relevant and timely topic, you can also have students examine the relationship between the environment and the COVID-19 pandemic. Students can consider the effect of lockdowns on pollution or deforestation on the spread of disease.
I’m a big fan of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Format – the structure of this debate seeks a resolution instead of determining a winning and losing side. This serves as the perfect debate format for several subject areas and you can continue to use this style of debate for other topics in your curriculum.
3. Let Students be the Teachers
Let your students become the experts! This project-based learning idea involves encouraging your students to share their knowledge within their school community. I especially love this activity for English Language Learners, because it allows you to explore environmentalism through simplified concepts. It also offers them the opportunity to work on their speaking skills.
For this Earth Day activity, you can collaborate with a teacher in your department. Alternatively, you can reach out to neighboring schools in your area. See what lesson plans they have planned for Earth Day, and offer to have your students teach them!
If they don’t have something planned, your students’ Earth Day lesson plans could involve reading a story they’ve written or illustrated about the environment. If you teach science-based courses, you could even have them create a trivia game about environmental concerns. A great option for any subject area is a trivia game about local recycling guidelines.
Earth Day Lesson Plans for English Language Arts
The study of the Earth naturally lends itself to science and geography. Fortunately, there are several Earth Day lesson plans for language arts, too. Here are a few Earth Day activities for English class:
1. Write Environmental Research Essays
A research essay is a great way to acknowledge Earth Day in the classroom all month long. Students can research a topic of interest to them that relates to the environment. Then, they can use this research to write a persuasive or informative essay.
This is the perfect option for AP Language and Composition or senior-level English classes, especially those writing the College Board SAT exam. This is because students can expect to see environmental topics on standardized tests. Given the importance of climate change in several career fields, students can also expect to study environmentalism in post-secondary education. Having students develop an opinion on earth-related topics can therefore provide valuable preparation.
Mondays Made Easy offers a persuasive writing bundle to scaffold research writing in your classroom. This bundle can be used for research essays on any topic and provides graphic organizers and essay outlines to keep your students organized.
2. Conduct a School Audit and Proposal
Students can conduct an audit of their school and write an appeal to administration. Invite your students on a walk around the campus and encourage them to consider the ways in which their school is supporting sustainability initiatives. Additionally, they can also look for areas that require improvement.
For example, students can visit the school cafeteria and consider any waste management systems, as well as the packaging of food products or available meal options. They may also want to consider what types of environmental clubs, events, or initiatives exist within the school community. Finally, small changes like sustainable school supplies can also be taken into account.
Students can then begin to consider potential improvements. Then, they can use these ideas to write a proposal or appeal to the school principal. Their suggestions might include starting an environmental club, organizing a local clean-up, or developing a partnership with a nonprofit third party like Habitat for Humanity. Small changes, like reusable cloths, refillable dry erase markers, and non-chemical cleaning agents are all accessible swaps that students can recommend.
Earth Day Activities for Students
Hopefully, the Earth Day activities in this blog post have answered your question! Regardless of how you choose to acknowledge Earth Day in your classroom, be sure to also consider your students’ cultural and economic situations. It’s important for us to remember that not all food choices or material products are accessible to all of the families in your school community. Ultimately, our goal is to inspire our students to be stewards of the Earth – not shame them for their lifestyles!
Concerns surrounding climate change continue to grow. Thankfully, Earth Day offers us the occasion to spark meaningful discussions with our students. Your students will love these Earth Day activities since they all share the same objective: to frame environmental issues as an open door to innovative solutions.
Planning on trying any of these Earth Day activities in your classroom? Make sure to take a picture and tag me on Instagram!