We Are All Connected! Earth Day Lesson

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Students learn that all living things are connected and dependent upon one another.

Big Idea

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry serves as the foundation for a lesson about the fragile ecosystem of the rainforest as students are introduced to environmental science.

Readers' Theater

15 minutes

Helping students to understand animals and plants and how they have external and internal parts that help them survive and reproduce is one aspect of NGSS, but I don't think this understanding cannot be completely meaningful without understanding that they are connected also to one another to survive too.This lesson helps them grasp the concept that without them, we would not survive.

A great way to introduce environmental science and integrate the arts by using reader's theater is an awesome way of being able to tell this great story of Lynne Cherry's The Great Kapok Tree  

I opened the lesson today writing the word "Kapok Tree" on the whiteboard. I asked them if they had ever heard of a Kapok Tree? I had them open their books to the map page. We discussed the rain forests and how they have diminished. I asked them what they knew about how the rain forests are being cut down. This discussion allowed me to understand that they understand that it is concerning and that animals are affected, but don't quite grasp the understanding of the impact on the whole world. 

We continued to do a picture walk through the book so that we could become familiar with the animals, plants and insects that Ms. Cherry had beautifully illustrated. They pointed out that the blue butterfly was being created and used in their Spanish class. The picture walk led back to my question, "What IS a Kapok Tree?"


Four Fast Facts

15 minutes

Four Fast Facts is a great strategy for students to do quick research by skimming and scanning. It gives them a limit and helps frame what they need to search for. Higher level readers will produce higher level facts while lower level readers will be able to glean facts that still have importance, regardless of the depth. I wrote the 5 W's on the board,( Who?, What?, When?, Where?, and Why?), to get their mind set up for looking at facts that could answer those questions. I asked them to list four fast facts in a shared Google Doc. I displayed this Four Fast Facts document on the SB so all could see what was being shared. 

When we were done, we shared our fast facts. Some students were really amazed at the height, but I asked for a few "aha" moments they had as they researched the Kapok Tree. One student shared that the Kapok Tree's fruit contains 200 seeds! Others shared facts and we enjoyed seeing all the things they shared on the Google Doc. 

Acting the Reader's Theater Out

15 minutes

In order to familiarize them with the literature, I told them that I would read the story first and that they should follow along. As I read, I used different voices as each animal talked, trying to personify how I thought that animal would speak. For example, I slowed my speech way down with each word and lowered the pitch of my voice as the sloth spoke.  When I was done, we discussed the plot of the story so that students understood that having the boy last signified that humans are at the top of the food chain. They realized that the story started with the smallest creatures, with the exception of jaguar as he crept in before the others came down and from around the tree. 

When I got all finished, I asked them if they would like to act the story out by reading and by acting? Of course they were on board with that option! 

So, I began by explaining that I needed readers to play the part of the animals. I also needed a narrator. Then, I began choosing them as hands raised in offering. Next, I chose those who were left to play the parts of the tree and all of the characters. 

We began!  To set the ambiance, I played a You Tube Rainforest background video with sounds. Student's read their parts, using expression and different voices for each animal, as I had done. This was really fun to hear! important points with each animal were starting to be revealed as students acted the parts out and the story came alive right in the classroom.At the end, we all clapped and showed appreciation for our readers and actors.

We Are All Connected

10 minutes

To bring students to a level of deeper understanding and meaning of the story, I gave each of my students a strip of construction paper and asked them if they could think of things they could do that would conserve energy and resources that would affect wildlife. We discussed packaging and how paper is made from trees. We talked about things like convenience foods that are packaged with a lot of cardboard and actually contain very little food. We talked about how it is not only more conserving of energy and resources to pay attention to packaging, but that we can buy more food if we pack our own lunches. We talked about how walking or riding our bikes vs. traveling close distances in cars would help cut down on air pollution. We talked about not using too much water and to be careful with pesticides and fertilizers.

After we were done, I asked them to write on the strip anything they could personally do to help the environment. 

To close, I asked each student to share their strip and then I attached it to the chain. Sometimes they preferred that I read the contribution. I stopped and held the chain up and simply told them that it signified how we are all connected. I started to staple the chain from end to end on our classroom wall, when someone broke the silence. "Shouldn't it be a circle?", I heard. This brilliant idea lead more discussion on how it is a continual circle that should not be broken through extinction or the destroying of natural resources. A circle! That was brilliant!

I hung the circular chain on one of my literature card stands. My last words were "Like a chain, everything in our world is connected. Nature has been designed with perfection and balance and will seek it, regardless of what we do. We have to be educated and understand this perfection and balance. We are all connected."