Inspire: Pioneering Change

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

Objective: Students will conduct a research project focused on an environmental issue and write an informative essay that includes solutions to the problem.

Time Required: 40 minutes, plus research and writing time

Materials: Pioneering Change student worksheet, pen or pencil, access to Internet or library

Warm-up Discussion: Protecting the Environment
Engage students in a discussion about some of the environmental issues facing our planet. Write some of these topics on your whiteboard or chalkboard.
2. Divide your class into two groups and have them debate one of the environmental issues.

  • Have students consider why the problem might be hard to solve and how solutions could benefit people and the planet, as well as any controversy surrounding the issue.
  • Students should analyze different perspectives to get an understanding of the broader landscape surrounding the issue. They should also consider how these perspectives might affect people's approach to improving the issue.
3. Get students thinking about how they can take action to help the environment by asking:
  • Do you think actions you take could make a change for the good of the 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: Changing Ideas
Provide students with an example of real-life environmental activist, Joel Salatin. Salatin is an organic farmer and part of the local food movement, which strives to produce more eco-friendly foods for people's tables. Have students read the following texts about Salatin, which include magazine and newspaper interviews and a first-person account of a visit to Salatin's farm by food writer Michael Pollan.

2. Have students analyze the texts by asking the following guiding questions:
  • What are the authors' reasons for writing the texts? Are their arguments and reasoning valid? Are their claims based on facts or opinions?
  • Explain how each text approaches the subject differently. Which details does each emphasize?
  • Define what the phrase "local food movement" means in your own words.
  • Use evidence from the text to summarize Salatin's work and beliefs. Why does he believe a switch to more locally grown food is important for the environment?
3. Remind students that Salatin has a lofty goal: He wants to change the prevalent way food is grown in the U.S. by moving away from large mass-produced agriculture to small local farms. Ask:
  • Do you think it's possible for one person or a small group to successfully make changes when confronting such large environmental issues?
  • What criticism and obstacles might they face?
4. Salatin has become such a well-known and outspoken proponent for the local food movement because he strongly believes in the issue. Ask students to consider if there are any environmental issues they personally find important and why.
5. Salatin's work to spotlight a national problem started by him making changes in his own community. Many environmental initiatives begin by focusing on issues at a local level. Can students think of examples of people working to make a difference for the environment in their community? Ask: Do their actions inspire you to do something to improve life in your town or city? What?
6. Explain that ideas that start locally can catch on, expanding to a regional, state, national, or even global level. With students keeping Salatin's actions in mind, ask:
  • How might people working to make changes in their own community share their ideas with others to help actions spread? 
  • What actions in your community could play a bigger role in solving global environmental issues?

Wrap-up Activity: Using the Student Worksheet
Distribute the Pioneering Change worksheet to each student. It will guide students to research a problem impacting the environment.
2. Have students read the worksheet introduction, then complete the research project by following the steps listed. Note: They'll need access to the Internet or library for this portion of the activity.
3. When done researching, students will write an informative 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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