A Climate Change Resource Guide for Elementary School Teachers (2022)
Lesson plans to teach the next generation how to make a difference.
As a teacher, you have a responsibility to teach the next generation about what’s happening, as well as what they can do to mitigate the effects of climate change.
While 80% of U.S. parents support teaching climate change in schools, a poll found that less than 45% of teachers have it in their curriculum.2
To change that, we’ve come up with a resource guide for simple ways teachers can incorporate climate change lessons into their curriculum.
Classroom Lessons About Climate Change
Hands-on learning activities are one of the best ways to teach students. There are plenty of engaging and even fun activities that can teach children about climate change.
Here are some of the top resources:
- NASA’s Climate Kids: Provides interactive computer games and lessons for students Pre-2.
- Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL): Backed by NASA and the California Institute of Technology, this website offers tons of lesson plans and resources for teaching about climate change in the classroom. Some of our favorites are Simple Rocket Science (K-2) and the Melting Ice Experiment (2-12).
- U.S. Department of Energy: Offers videos and lessons about clean energy resources like solar power. There are educational resources for grades K-12.
- Earth Science Week: Offers clever “big ideas” activities and classroom activities to talk to kids about climate change. Also includes some resources for Spanish-speaking students.
- We Are Teachers: 15 hands-on climate change classroom activities for kids.
Classroom Books About Climate Change for Children
If you’re looking for books for your classroom library or to read aloud to your class, here are our top ten favorite children’s books about climate change:
- In a Garden by Tim McCanna (Grades Pre-3)
- The Earth Book by Todd Parr (Grades Pre-4)
- Our House is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter (Grades Pre-3)
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (Grades K-4)
- A Ride to Save the Earth by Lilian Ruach (Grades K-4)
- What a Waste: Trash, Recycling and Protecting our Planet by Jess French (Grades 1-4)
- The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen (Grades 1-5)
- What is Climate Change by Gail Herman, Who HQ and John Hinderliter (Grades 3-6)
- The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by EarthWorks Group and Sophie Javna (Grades 3-7) — this one also includes kid-friendly projects to incorporate into your classroom.
- A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids by Julie Hall (Grades 4-7)
Movies About Climate Change to Watch in the Classroom
Everyone loves a movie day in the classroom. Why not turn movie day into a way to talk with kids about climate change? Some of the movies on this list are a “sneaky” fun way to bring environmental lessons to kids.
The following are some of our favorite classroom-appropriate movies that teach kids about climate change; we’ve even included some discussion questions for after the film.
- Police Patrol (Ages 5+): This movie is about an electric police car fighting a pair of brothers who are trying to steal water from a small village. It provides a strong pro-environmental message for kids about how to best protect our planet’s natural resources
- Discuss: What are some things we can do to protect the environment?
- Ice Age: The Meltdown (Ages 6+): In this sequel to “Ice Age,” the main characters are in danger because of global warming. Note: There is some crude humor and mild language profanity.
- Discuss: What happens when ice caps melt, and how does this affect humans and animals? How do you feel about this?
- Adventure Planet (Ages 8+): “Adventure Planet” is an animated film that combines an adventure story full of suspense with a cautionary tale about the impending danger of climate change and society’s delay in response.
- Discuss: The main characters come from very different places, but what do they have in common? How do those qualities help them work together for the greater good of the planet?
- A Beautiful Planet (Ages 6+): This film documents a stunning exploration of Earth (and man’s impact on it) from the International Space Station.
- Check out this educator guide from IMAX for bonus lessons.
- Our Planet (Ages 6+): Narrated by David Attenborough, this docu-series explores different animals and habitats around the world.
- Discuss: After each episode, discuss each ecosystem. How could climate change negatively impact this habitat? What can be done to save it?
- Perpetual Planet: Heroes of the Ocean (Ages 7+): A more uplifting documentary, “Perpetual Planet” showcases the incredible work being done to protect the ocean’s ecosystem.
- Discuss: Why is the ocean an important part of the planet? What can we do to help protect the ocean?
Classroom Actions to Fight Climate Change
Teaching and talking with children about climate change is important. But, as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
Nashville elementary school teacher Sophia Krysa, M. Ed, told EcoWatch that one of the best ways to make sustainability lessons stick is to incorporate these teachings into play.
“Play is very powerful for our littles. It could be something as simple as a timed recycling game or cleaning and making art from discarded craft materials,” Krysa said. “Showing kids the power of sustainability in a gamified way will ensure that the values stick while the kids have fun.”
After you’ve finished a lesson, book or movie about climate change, meet with your students to brainstorm activities that your class can do that can also help save the planet. Here are some ideas:
If your school doesn’t already have recycling bins, start your own classroom recycling! Be sure to have separate bins for paper, glass, cardboard and plastics. And teach the students how to recycle the right way with proper cleaning or deconstruction.
You can turn recycling into a game or extra credit opportunity for students, or come up with fun upcycling crafts to make.
“Sadly, many schools don’t have recycling programs. Any age class can do a study on where their school could do better,” Krysa said. “You can even incorporate reading and writing lessons by doing research and writing an opinion letter or action proposal to your principal or superintendent.”
The average American child only spends about four to seven minutes a day playing outside, compared to more than seven hours in front of a screen.3 While you probably have dedicated time for recess, consider adding some extra time away from the playground.
If possible, go on a field trip to a nature center, farm, botanical garden or even a nearby nature trail. Spending time outside has numerous benefits for kids, but research shows that it’s also the best way to connect young people to a lifelong concern for nature and wildlife.4
Start a School Garden
Gardening is another great activity that gets kids outside, teaches them a valuable skill and is an active lesson in sustainability. School gardens can also provide nutritious foods to the school or can be important pollinators for insects.