Lesson Plans

Writing & Communication Activities

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The Antarctic Peninsula, where about three million pairs of penguins breed, is one of the most quickly warming areas on the planet; its average temperature has increased by five degrees Fahrenheit over the past 75 years. Many scientists believe that this warming will endanger some penguin colonies in two ways: dwindling food and loss of nesting habitats. On the rocky shores of Deception Island, where the penguins breed, they need cold, dry land for their eggs to survive, but rising temperatures have introduced rain and pools of water to nesting sites. And because of the rapid loss of sea ice, krill — the tiny crustaceans that serve as penguins’ main source of food — can’t sustain the large colonies they need to thrive. The penguin population of Baily Head, in the northern part of Antarctica, seems to have dropped from 85,000 breeding pairs in 2003 to 52,000 seven years later, a decline of almost 40 percent. Scientists fear that as warm water shifts farther south along other coastal regions, larger populations of penguins could face a similar decline. Image by George Steinmetz. Antarctica, 2017.

Communicating Climate Change: What's at Stake?

Losing Earth” reveals that how you present information can be as important as the information you present. The way we communicate the science behind, predicted consequences of, and proposed solutions to climate change directly impacts public perception, policy decisions, and ultimately the future of our planet. These activities challenge students to develop the skills necessary to communicate clearly, persuasively, and creatively some of the most critical knowledge on Earth.

Activity Ideas

Communicating Science

Climate change is one of many scientific issues widely debated among the general population, but too often with little understanding of the actual science behind it. Your students will prepare explainers about a socially or politically contentious science topic for a lay audience using the science that they have learned in class.

Get the Memo

"Losing Earth" depicts many battles for healthier U.S. environmental policy playing out on the Senate floor. Dig into the attached primary resources to explore these crucial congressional hearings. The June 23, 1988 Senate hearing “Greenhouse Effect and Global Climate Change” and May 8, 1989 hearing “Climate Surprises” allowed scientists to explain the threat climate change posed to the Earth. The attached assignment asks students to craft a memo for a Senator explaining what the scientists presented at one of these hearings. For detailed instructions, see the printable PDF attached below.

Take to the Headlines! Writing an Op-Ed

Get your class weighing in on the climate change conversation. Writing an opinion piece for a local or national news publication allows individuals within a community to share their perspective on current issues and contribute to public discourse. Need ideas? Read a piece of reporting about how people are tackling environmental issues across the globe! See the attached resources below for current, global reporting on climate change to get you started. Referencing the challenges and/or solutions described in the article, write a persuasive article about how people should tackle environmental issues.

National Geographic Climate Change Resources (Scroll down to "Clips from Years of Living Dangerously")

Writer's Workshop: Making Your Words Urgent

In section 2.5 of “Losing Earth,“ “You Will See Things that You Shall Believe” (46-47), Nathaniel Rich describes the extreme weather that people across the United States experienced in the summer of 1988 with a mix of data and imagery. He writes, “It was the hottest and driest summer in history. Everywhere you looked, something was bursting into flames.” As a class, review this short chapter and analyze how Rich applies different writing techniques to build urgency. Where do you see metaphor, different sentence lengths, hyperbole and more? How do these techniques contribute to the urgency scientist Jim Hansen expresses as he prepares to testify before Congress in June 1988?

  1. Make a list of lines that pop in this section, and note the literary devices used in each line.
  2. Discuss which techniques most effectively communicate how the weather in summer 1988 differed from that of other summers in the United States.
  3. Review the photos and captions by photojournalist George Steinmetz in “Losing Earth” to explore the more recent impacts of climate change around the world.

Use your observations from Steinmetz’s photos, as well as your own research about the impacts of climate change in your communities, to create a poem, essay, or speech that intentionally utilizes different literary devices to express the impacts of climate change that feel most urgent to you.

Educator Notes: 

The activities listed above are designed to build on students' exploration of The New York Time Magazine's "Losing Earth," which was written by Nathaniel Rich and includes photography from George Steinmetz. For support facilitating the exercises above, or with connecting a journalist to your classroom, email education@pulitzercenter.org to connect with a member of our staff.

You can find more related educational resources at www.pulitzercenter.org/nytclimate.

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