Inspire: You Can Make A Difference

Use this lesson to inspire students to explore ways to protect the environment.

Objective: Students will conduct research to learn about an environmental issue and how people can take action to make a difference.

Time Required: 40 minutes, plus research and writing time

Materials: Get Inspired! student reproducible, pen or pencil, access to Internet or library

Warm-up Discussion: Protecting the Environment
Tell the class: Name some environmental issues facing our planet. Call on volunteers to write their answers on your whiteboard or chalkboard.
2. Divide your class into several groups. Assign one of the environmental problems to each group. Ask: Why might these problems be hard to solve? How could solutions benefit people and the planet? Give the groups a few minutes to write down their answers. Then have them share with the class.
3. Get students thinking about how they can take action to help the environment by asking:

  • How many of you would like to make a change for the good of your community? How about for the good of the world?
  • How much do you think one person's or group's actions can accomplish?

Main Lesson: Making a Difference
Read the following passage out loud or display it for students to read on their own using a computer/projector combination or interactive whiteboard. The text introduces students to Rachel Carson, a scientist who helped launch the environmental movement.

Rachel Carson started her career on a part-time basis at the United States Bureau of Fisheries in 1935. As a marine biologist and editor there, she wrote pamphlets, radio scripts, and books about nature.

When the use of new chemical pesticides began to increase in popularity, Carson turned her attention elsewhere. She began researching their effects. In 1962, Carson published her findings in a book called Silent Spring. The book is famous for alerting the public to the dangers of a chemical called DDT.

Introduced in the United States for the purposes of commercial use in 1945, farmers employed DDT to kill insects that harmed their crops. Little did they know that the pesticide was also poisoning waterways. It seeped into rivers and lakes and built up in the bodies of marine animals.

Birds who ate large fish at the top of the food chain were hit particularly hard. The chemical affected their ability to reproduce. It caused their eggshells to thin and crack, killing the unborn chicks inside. Some birds, such as the bald eagle, the brown pelican, and the peregrine falcon, faced decline due to the use of DDT.

Carson was attacked by the chemical industry for her stance on DDT. But she continued to speak up on behalf of the environment and on the importance of protecting it. Her work led to a government investigation into the use of DDT and a decision to ban it.


2. Assess students' understanding of the text by asking the following:

  • Use context clues to define the phrase "food chain."
  • Explain how DDT harms birds.
  • How did Rachel Carson inform the public about DDT? What was the outcome of her efforts?
3. Some environmental issues may seem too large for one person or even a small group to face. Remind students that in Carson's story, it just took one person to make a difference. Carson stood up for her ideas because she felt strongly about the issue of protecting waterways and marine life. Ask: Are there any environmental issues you personally find important? If so, what are they and why are they important to you?
4. Carson's actions spotlighted a national problem. Many times, though, environmental efforts begin by focusing on local issues. Have students think of examples of people working to make a difference for the environment in their community. Maybe they organized a local beach cleanup, created a community garden, or set up a recycling program. Ask: Do their actions inspire you to do something to improve life in your town or city? If so, what would you do?
5. Explain that ideas that start locally can catch on. They can then expand to the regional, state, national, or even global level. Ask:
  • How might people working to make changes in their own community share their ideas with others?
  • What actions in your community could play a bigger role in solving global environmental issues?

Wrap-up Activity: Using the Student Reproducible
Divide students into groups, and hand out a copy of the Get Inspired! reproducible to each. This activity guides groups to research a problem impacting the environment and come up with possible solutions using an organizational tool called a mind map.
2. Read the reproducible's introduction together as a class. Give groups about 15 minutes to complete the mind map on their own. Note: They'll need access to the Internet or library for this portion of the activity.
3. When done researching, students will write an essay based on the information they gathered. This can be done during class time or as a take-home assignment.

Take It Further (optional)
This lesson will inspire students to make a difference in the world around them. Encourage them to take the next step by entering the Lexus Eco Challenge! They’ll create and implement a plan to address a specific challenge facing the environment. If that isn’t motivation enough, a total of $500,000 in scholarships and grants is awarded to eligible teachers, students, and schools each year!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Register the Team: The Teacher Advisor must go to and click “Enter Now” to register each team of 5–10 students.
  2. Choose a Challenge: Each student team and its Teacher Advisor should go to and choose a Challenge to enter: Land & Water, Air & Climate, or both! Then select one of the topics provided to address.
  3. Research the Topic: Provide class time for each team to research its topic.
  4. Develop an Action Plan: Instruct each team to create an original Action Plan describing how the students can help solve their selected environmental issue.
  5. Put the Ideas Into Action: Teachers will guide teams to implement their Action Plans in their community. Remind students to keep track of the process, including successes and challenges.
  6. Submit the Entry: Teacher Advisors must submit a team’s entry by having students create a PowerPoint presentation using the Action Plan template found online and then emailing the entry to! Each Teacher Advisor must include his or her name, the team name, and the school name in the subject line of the email with the entry submission. Only Teacher Advisors may submit Action Plans. Visit the site for complete entry details and Official Rules.



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