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Champions Of The LandChampions-Of-The-Land

  • Subject: Literature
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: One class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Many conservationists have written books that have had profound influence on the way people think about and treat our planet.
2. Such books can be powerful instruments for change in people's opinions and practices.
3. Reading such books and encouraging others to read them are important parts of being a environmentally responsible individual.


For this lesson, you will need:
A class library of books by conservationists, such as those suggested below, or access to a library where they can be obtained.
Computer with Internet access


1. Ask students if they have read or heard about the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. If any students are familiar with the book, ask them to briefly summarize it for the class. If not, tell your students that this tremendously popular and influential book exposed the dangers of pesticides. Rachel Carson was one of the first to make people begin to understand that we are a part of nature and that what we do to the environment affects us. Before Silent Spring, published in 1962, the prevalent attitude was that people were superior to nature and that nature was a resource to be consumed.
2. If you have Carson's book on hand, read one or two particularly interesting paragraphs to your class.
3. Tell students that they are going to have the opportunity to read Silent Spring or another conservation-oriented book of their choosing. Suggest the following titles: Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (known as "the conservationist bible"), The Yosemite by John Muir, Endangered Species by Christopher Lampton, Tropical Rainforests : Endangered Environments by James D. Nations, and Spill! The Story of the Exxon Valdez by Terry Carr.
4. Allow students two weeks to choose and read their books. If they choose titles other than those you have suggested, you might want to approve their choices before they read.
5. After students have completed their reading, ask each of them to prepare an abstract of his or her book for the class. Each abstract should include a summary of the book's main points and an outline of its conclusions or recommendations concerning the environment.
6. In addition, have each student write a brief essay explaining the effects their books might have had on science or society and their own personal reactions to what they read. Were they inspired to become part of the environmental movement? Were they troubled or enlightened by what they read? Do they feel compelled to investigate their subjects further?
7. You can compile your students' writing into a reference work for future investigation about the environment.
8. You might ask your students to e-mail their abstracts and reviews to an on-line book forum or bookstore such as

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Younger students can choose less complex books. They might even try to work with any one of a number of children's books on the environment selected from your school library or local public library.

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Discussion Questions

1. Compare and contrast the ways in which Native Americans and early European settlers viewed the natural world. Compare their views with your own views as a modern-day American.
2. Many people complain today that much of the United States has been paved over for shopping malls and parking lots, despite John Muir's successful struggle to preserve parts of the wilderness. Has enough been done to preserve nature at the present time? Why or why not?
3. When politicians make laws that will affect the natural world, they often must consider whether progress or preservation is more important. Shall they allow the timber industry to cut down a forest, for example, which would provide people with jobs and new, clear land to live on, or shall they set that forest aside for preservation's sake, keeping alive any flora and fauna that require that land to survive. What criteria should politicians use in such a situation? Why should they choose one side over another?
4. Brainstorm a list of the qualities and educational experiences that a person must have in order to become an environmental activist. Explain your reasoning.
5. Pesticides were once thought to be a great innovation, until eventually scientists discovered that pesticides were harming humans as well as the bugs they were meant for. Can you think of any innovations or inventions today that seem to be beneficial for humans but that might turn out to be harmful to our health? Why are these innovations potential risks?
6. Brainstorm a list of possible ways that you could be a champion of the land right in your own community.

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You can evaluate your students on their writing assignments using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: abstract includes a complete and coherent account of the book's main points and conclusions; essay clear, well-organized, and error free
  • Two points: abstract includes a satisfactory account of the book's main points and conclusions; essay clear but less than sufficiently well-organized with some errors
  • One point: abstract shows lack of understanding of the book's main points and conclusions; essay incoherent in parts, poorly organized with numerous errors
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by setting up criteria for a clear and well-organized essay.

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Environmental Awareness
Throughout the history of environmentalism, activists have used various strategies to further their causes. Bob Marshall championed government policies that would protect the wilderness by having 90 million acres declared public land. Rosalie Edge lead protest marches and attracted the media in her fight against the timber industry to preserve a rain forest in Olympia, Washington. Divide your class into groups, and have each group use the library and the Internet to research different strategies and tactics that environmental activists have employed. You might want to suggest simple examples such as creating and distributing pamphlets, holding rallies, and inviting media attention. When their research is complete, encourage each group to apply what it has learned to a community environmental project such as increasing the number of people who recycle, reclaiming an abandoned lot, or cleaning a riverbank or a roadside. Suggest that students brainstorm an environmental project before beginning. Students should then plan how they will achieve their goal and submit their strategies for your review before implementing them. When their projects are complete, ask each group to report to the class about how effective or ineffective its methods were; then lead a discussion about what students have learned from the process. What methods would they employ again, and which would they avoid? What proved difficult in swaying public opinion about their chosen environmental issue?

Biography of a Contemporary Conservationist
The conservation movement was started by a few individuals who were so inspired by nature that they made it their life's work to protect it. Ask your students to use local newspapers, libraries, and the Internet to research someone in their state or community who may be considered an environmental role model. Students should collect and organize background information about this person, prepare a set of interview questions for him or her, and then contact their role model to request an interview. Their questions should be broad, open-ended, and varied. They should include everything from "What events from your childhood, if any, contributed to your interest in conservation?" to "What conservation issues do you feel are most pressing and why?" When their interviews are complete, have your students compile the information they have gathered into a biographical article for a community or student newspaper.

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Suggested Readings

Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature
Linda Lear. Henry Holt and Company, 1997.
Lear shares the story of a courageous ecologist who Senator Ribicoff once described as having "all mankind in her debt." Rachel Carson challenged the culture of her time and shaped a powerful social movement that altered the course of history. This book illustrates how her ideals remain a driving force in this country today.

John Muir: Apostle of Nature
Thurman Wilkins. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
This detailed biography offers an understanding of Muir's views on the preservation of wild places. His wilderness walking in America began his passion to create wilderness ethics and preservation. Wilkins's interesting biography allows the reader to get to know Muir and understand the movement he created.

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Audubon Online
A well organized site with information for teachers and students and an interesting virtual tour.

Backyard Conservation : The United States Department of Agriculture
An extensive amount of information for grades K-12 on conservation.

US Forest Service: Education
Curricular resources as well as web links pertaining to conservation are available at this site.

A Geography of Hope
Conservation issues from the viewpoint of private land owners.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    conservation
Definition: Planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.
Context: Conservation policies now help to protect natural wilderness from exploitation and destruction.

speaker    environmentalism
Definition: Advocacy of the preservation or improvement of the natural environment.
Context: Rachel Carson created the environmentalism movement and antipollution campaigns because of her discovery that the chemicals people used to control nature were actually very harmful to people.

speaker    herbicide
Definition: An agent used to destroy or inhibit plant growth.
Context: A farmer who uses an herbicide to kill weeds also risks the danger of contaminating his or her crops.

speaker    pesticide
Definition: An agent used to destroy pests.
Context: Although the pesticide DDT was effective for killing insects, it proved harmful to other animals as well.

speaker    revolutionary
Definition: Constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change.
Context: It took a revolutionary thinker like John Muir to go against the common beliefs and insist that nature should be preserved and not used for monetary gain.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.
Understands the reasons for conflicting viewpoints regarding how resources should be used.

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows relationships that exist among organisms in food chains and food webs.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows ways in which humans can modify ecosystems and cause irreversible effects.

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: geography
Understands how human actions modify the physical environment.
Benchmark 6-8:
Understands the environmental consequences of people changing the physical environment.

Benchmark 6-8:
Understands the ways in which human-induced changes in the physical environment in one place can cause changes in other places.

Benchmark 6-8:
Understands the ways in which technology influences the human capacity to modify the physical environment.

Benchmark 6-8:
Understands the environmental consequences of both the unintended and intended outcomes of major technological changes in human history.

Benchmark 9-12:
Understands the role of humans in decreasing the diversity of flora and fauna in a region.

Benchmark 9-12:
Understands the global impacts of human changes in the physical environment.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows how people's changing attitudes toward the environment have led to landscape changes.

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Audrey Carangelo, freelance curriculum developer.

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