Learning Extensions (Adventures!)
Persuasive Writing Sparks Environmental Activism
Editor's note: We create our stories with an important goal in mind: to open doors of curiosity in your students' minds and spark further learning. We were so excited when we heard from Andrea Muller, a 6th grade teacher at Yeshiva of Central Queens in Queens, New York. Her class was inspired by our nonfiction story "The Killer Smog," and went on quite the learning adventure.
Last fall, in our first nonfiction unit, we wrote an informative essay on environmental issues. As a class, we dug deep into the book Heroes of the Environment by Harriet Rohmer. Storyworks tied nicely into our unit; I was lucky that many stories focused on environmental issues. There was one in particular that really grabbed my class: “The Killer Smog,” about the London fog of 1952 that turned out to be England’s deadliest environmental disaster. It was a heated topic in all four of my classes and made my students think about the daily impact air pollution has on all of us. During a class discussion, one student had had enough: He said, “This kind of pollution can lead to people getting sick with asthma, pneumonia, or cancer, and I have seen how these diseases affect people in my immediate family.”
Once again, Storyworks helped supplement my teaching, except this time it sparked an idea for an extension (and a unit I never intended on teaching): persuasive writing. We saw the writing prompt for “The Killer Smog,” a writing contest.
Coincidentally, the prize was Heroes of the Environment, which we already owned, so our goal wasn’t to win the book. It was to make our voices heard.
Students went back into their portfolios and pulled out their informational essays, summarized the article, and followed a business-letter-writing guide to convince local politicians that air pollution had to be addressed. They did additional research to make their case—some of them dove into the Air Quality Index. It took them a week to write it. More than 90 letters went to our local Assemblyman, Michael Simanowitz. What followed was amazing.
We received emails and phone calls from his office acknowledging my students’ concerns. This led to Assemblyman Simanowitz coming to our school and speaking to the 6th graders about the importance of coming together as a community to voice our opinions. It was clear: We were making a difference!
The best part was when the Assemblyman arranged for a visit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)—a free service I’d known nothing about. Through a hands-on workshop, an educational specialist from the DEC expanded student knowledge on the importance of protecting our environment. Using furs and skulls from New York City wildlife, we were able to explore the physical features of different species that live among us. We also learned more about ways to reduce pollution to keep us safe.
This extension will continue into this school year, too. We’re planning a recycling event where people can safely dispose of unwanted electronics and batteries.
If Storyworks and Assemblyman Simanowitz encourages just one student to get more involved in and extend his or her knowledge of environmental causes, it might possibly lead this student to a career in science, engineering, or even politics. I’m grateful for the chance to help shape an environmental hero!
Has your class been on an exciting learning adventure recently? Tell us about it in the comments below!