Our Planet, Our Responsibility

Use this lesson to discuss current issues facing the planet and introduce the concept of environmental stewardship.

Objective: Students will explore an environmental problem impacting their community and examine ways people are working to solve the issue.

Time Required: 40 minutes, plus research and presentation time

Materials: Identify the Problem Student Worksheet, pen or pencil, access to Internet

Warm-up Discussion: The Big Issues
1. Discuss the bulleted items with your class. Ask students if these things have anything in common. Point out that the list summarizes some major environmental issues affecting our planet.
  • Harm to organisms or the decrease in their numbers
  • Destroying or changing the habitats, or natural homes, of organisms
  • Changing the way Earth’s systems, such as the atmosphere, function
  • Using up Earth’s resources
  • Pollution
2. Choose one item from the list above—for example, pollution—and write it on your whiteboard or chalkboard. Have students use their prior knowledge to describe some specific environmental problems that fall into this category.

3. Pass out copies of the Identify the Problem Student Worksheet to students. Read the introduction as a class. Explain that students will use the Internet to research one of the environmental problems they listed on the board. Then they’ll use the graphic organizer to explore the problem, its causes and effects, and solutions.

4. As students work, have them consider the following:
  • Are people responsible for or contributing to this problem? How?
  • Who or what does this environmental problem impact? How does this happen?
  • What don’t we know about this problem?
  • Are you personally curious about anything related to this issue?
Main Lesson: Environmental Stewardship
1. Explain that people’s actions affect the environment. People can have a negative influence—or a positive one—on the world around them. One way to help solve issues facing the planet is by practicing environmental stewardship. Ask:
  • What do you think environmental stewardship is? (The responsible use and protection of the natural world.)
  • What are some ways people could put environmental stewardship into action in their homes? Schools? Community?
2. Caring for the entire planet might seem like too big of a task. But if many people make small changes in their own lives to help the environment together, they can make a big impact. Share the following examples with your class. Then show how environmental stewardship can work on a large scale.
  • Of the 254 million tons of trash Americans create each year, it’s estimated that 75 percent could be recycled. But we currently recycle just 34 percent of that amount.
  • Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons each year to circle Earth 300 times! If people were to stop using these disposable items, it would reduce a huge amount that would end up in landfills.
3. Introduce students to a scientist who has made environmental stewardship her life’s mission. Read the following passage out loud. If students are interested in finding out more, you can recommend they read the book Jane Goodall by Jodie Shepherd, C. Press/F. Watts Trade (2015).

As a young girl, Jane Goodall dreamed of working with wild animals. When she was 26, Goodall was offered the chance to study chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa. She spent the next 25 years researching the apes in their natural habitat. She made important discoveries about the animals’ lives, such as how they raise their young and use tools. Goodall saw that chimpanzees and their homes were under threat. The same thing was happening to other animals all over the world. So Goodall created a program called Roots & Shoots. It encourages kids to create community projects to protect the planet.

4. After you are done reading, share this video with students. Jane Goodall offers advice for kids on environmental stewardship: youtube.com/watch?v=skAbsyRkCLg. After reading about Goodall and watching the video, ask students:
  • What environmental issue was Goodall concerned about?
  • How did she get others involved?
  • What advice did she give to kids?


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 lexus.scholastic.com 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 lexus.scholastic.com 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 ecochallenge@scholastic.com! 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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