Climate Change Connection Circle

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SWBAT create and communicate a visual model which shows the connections between various climate change variables.

Big Idea

Help your students pull together factors that contribute to climate change and create a visual model used to tell a story.

Getting Started

This lesson requires minimal materials and builds on the practice of the previous lesson, Introduction to Connection Circles. I suggest you start with that lesson as it will make a significant difference in the pacing of this lesson if your students already know the basics of building connection circles and identifying causal (feedback) loops.


  • Poster paper
  • Markers
  • Sticky notes
  • Colored markers or pencils
  • Large circle to trace or large compass
  • Handouts (Connections Circles Basics and CC Worksheet)


  1. For each group, draw a circle (10"-12") in the middle of a sheet of poster paper using a marker. Set these aside. 
  2. Have copies of the worksheet ready, 1 per student.
  3. Make three posters, with the following titles and hang them on the wall:
    • What I understand...
    • What I am still unsure about...
    • What I am wondering...
  4. Have sticky notes ready for the end of the lesson.


7 minutes

Begin by reviewing the purpose and use of Connection Circles from the previous lesson. Ask students:

"Yesterday we read a story about a marine ecosystem in Alaska, identified a problem/concern and the elements of that story that contributed to the problem and changed over time. What did we do with those elements after they were identified?"

Here are the responses expected:

  1. Listed them and made behavior/time graphs.
  2. Identified connections between the elements and created a visual of the connections.
  3. Identified closed loops within the circle.

Note: If you have not taught the Introduction to Connection Circles lesson, review this first and familiarize yourself with the rules for making connection circles. You can use this lesson as the introduction if you like, but I would budget more time to do so. 

 "What criteria did we use when identifying the elements?"

  • Contribute to the concern/problem.
  • Are noun/noun phrases. 
  • Change over time, increase/decrease. 

"What did the "s' and "o" stand for?"

  • S = change same direction.
  • O= change in opposite direction.

"Today we are turn our focus onto the story of climate change that we have been studying and identify the elements of that story that contribute to the concern/problem and have changed over time."


30 minutes

Hand out the Connection Circles Worksheet. The first line asks students to identify the statement of the problem.

"What is the main problem? What is changing over time?"

Work as a class to decide on a concise problems statement then have them add this to their worksheet.

Watch Classroom Video: Developing A Problem Statement for a demonstration of this process.

Next, have students identify the elements that have been studied as part of this unit. If you did not use all of the lessons in this unit, that is o.k. Also, students may suggest elements that haven't been covered (deforestation, food production, population, transportation). Use your judgement whether or not to let students include these. I allow them provided they can make the connections which many can logically connect. 

Some ideas are:

  • Greenhouse gasses (GHGs)
  • Average global air temperatures
  • Absorbed solar radiation
  • Ocean temperature
  • Ocean sunlight absorbed
  • Albedo
  • Polar ice/snow 
  • Tundra/permafrost 
  • Sea level
  • Methane gas
  • Ocean acidification
  • Ocean CO2 absorbed
  • Severe weather
  • Storm surge

Ask them to add these items to the worksheet under "elements changing" and create a graph of how they change. We call these behavior/time graphs.

Watch Classroom Video: Graphing Data to see this process in action. 

Note: if you have not taught any of the previous Systems Thinking lessons in this unit, familiarize yourself with Behavior Over Time Graphs from the first lesson in this unit and model for your students how to create these. Here is quick summary of B/T graphs in science from a teacher's perspective.

Circulate around the room and check in with individuals and groups and check their graphs. If your students have created these before, this part of the lesson should run fairly smoothly. If not, you may need to make more time, perhaps much of class, to complete these. Discuss with students the difference in change of various elements and why.

As they finish up the graphs, give each table a sheet of poster paper with a large circle drawn in the middle.

Ask them to add the elements around the circle and draw connection circles connecting the elements. Make as many connections as possible. Label each connection with and S or an O.

Watch Classroom Video: Building the Connections Circle to see this process in action.  

Look for closed feedback loops. Use colored pencils/pens to trace over the feedback loops then draw these around the connections circle in the white space. 


15 minutes

Once students have finished their posters, call on groups to share one/some of the feedback loops they identified. Check for accuracy and make corrections as needed. 

Make sure they are identifying the direction of change in their narratives.

Watch Classroom Video: Feedback Loops to see this process in action. 


5 minutes

After all the groups have presented, ask them to complete an exit ticket. Point out the three posters on the wall titled:

  • What I understand...
  • What I am still not sure about...
  • What I am wondering...

Give each table a stack of sticky notes and ask them to create a response for at least 2/3 of the posters. Time permitting you could do all three or just one. Ask students to write their response and attach the note to the poster then clean up and dismiss. 

Watch Classroom Video: Exit Tickets to see this process. 

Follow up: 

I review these notes, organize them by comment and review these on the next class day.