Writing Activities for Engaging Audiences to Address Climate Change

Richard Beach, University of Minnesota, rbeach@umn.edu

Different Types of Writing about Climate Change

            Given the centrality of writing instruction in the English language arts classroom, there are a range of different writing activities for having students write about climate change. In this post, I describe five different kinds of writing: argumentative writing, place-base/environmental justice writing, narrative writing, writing based on use of digital tools, and writing based on role-play/video games about climate change (See the online resources, activities, and readings for Chapter 5 of our book on writing about climate change.)

Argumentative Writing

In using the following types of argumentative writing, students are developing arguments or claims related to identifying the effects of climate change and the need to take actions to address these effects (for curriculum on teaching argumentative writing about climate change); for analysis of argumentative writing about climate change, see the books:

The Troubled Rhetoric and Communication of Climate Change: The Argumentative Situation

Environmental Rhetoric and Ecologies of Place and Communicating Climate Change: A Guide for Educators (free download book from Cornell University Press). 

– Report cards. Students at St. Louis Park High School drew on The Youth Climate Report Card developed by the iMatterYouth organization, to create a report card grading of the St. Louis Park City Council on its efforts to address climate change.

– Position statements. Students in Carolina Friends School in issuing their Climate Change Declaration: As students at Carolina Friends School, we recognize (1) that addressing climate change is an embodiment of our commitment to stewardship; (2) that the United States produces at least 20% of the world’s CO2 emissions, and therefore as U.S. citizens we have a heightened responsibility to be vigilant in local, state, and national governments; and (3) that as students at a Quaker school, we must draw upon our history as organizers and our fortune of institutional support to be leaders on climate change.

– Manifestoes. In his Cultural Studies and Climate Change course at Western Michigan, University, book co-author Allen Webb has his students write “Climate Change Manifestoes” describing: 1) a history of the issue, (2) a prescription for change (3) a section which distinguishes its approach from other approaches, (4) a call to action, and (5) a specific vision of how a future society should be organized.

Guides for high school or college students who want to become involved in local area climate change activities and organizations, as did Ryan Powers informing students about groups such as Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Memos to school administrators, teachers, and parents in a community about why they need to support the creation of curriculum about climate change or make changes in their schools as part of the Green School Initiative

Posts of a class blog or social media; read blogs on climate change  As part of the Climate Tracker initiative, people employed social media and blog posts to communicate to the public and policy makers about climate change issues, for example the “Breakfree from Fossil fuels!” Students can post their writing to the Youth Voices site section on that includes writing about climate change exclusively by students.

News stories or op-eds for the school or local newspaper about local communities coping with climate change effects as well as mitigation actions associated with use of clean energy and conservation.

Legal statements/briefs. Students can also study court case addressing climate change from the point of view of a specific group or organization, and whether students have standing in a lawsuit against the government in climate change through iMatterYouth, Our Children’s Trust, or Sierra Student Coalition, or Youth Climate Action Now (YouCAN)., as well as follow the Federal Court Case: Our Children’s Trust Lawsuit.

Critiques of false claims/fake news in the media about climate change. Use of the Skeptical-science app: Access climate deniers’ arguments for refutations or use the Skeptical Science app (See “6 things we learned about changing people’s minds on climate”). Media Coverage of Climate Change. Wikipedia Problems with media coverage of climate change

Jeff Share: ETCCC. Blog post: Climate Change and Critical Media Literacy

Project Look Sharp: Media Constructions of Global Warming

Place-based/Environmental Justice Writing

In generating place-based/environmental justice writing, students are documenting and reporting on specific, local effects of climate change. This includes a focus issues of environmental justices related to how these effects adversely impacts low-income/diverse spaces throughout America and the world, for example, how droughts/sea rise are impacting poor countries (for examples: America’s Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau: Teacher’s Guide. The Library of America). For resources on environmental justice: UCLA Library: Climate Change and Environmental Justice resources:

Place-based writing. Students read non-fiction/news reports about specific places related to climate change causes/effects and then go to those places, for example, write about flooding in Minnesota rivers/lakes. For a presentation at NCTE on this topic see Russ Mayo: “Writing Sustainability: Bridging Eco-Literacy, Research, and Composition”.

For place-based writing, Using Amy Rosenthal’s book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, as a model, students write about, reflect on, and document their personal experiences and connections with nature. Climate Change: Mini-Memoirs: ETCCC. Blog post by Ellen Foley

Students can also engage in writing about visits to National Parks through the Write Out: Place-Based Making with Writing Project Sites and National Parks project.

-Study reports addressing environmental justice issues: Students can use the E.P.A.’s mapping tool, EJScreen to identify specific environmental data such as “traffic proximity” related to emissions and demographic data such as poverty and race for particular neighborhoods or regions. Based on the Mapping Your Neighborhood project, students can also use the National Institute of Health TOXMAP to identify power plants in their neighborhoods or communities that employ fossil fuels. Mapping the Environment with Sensory Perception. Students can use the Community Viz software to document local environmental impacts on their community or Trash Track to track the movement of trash as it left Seattle, Washington or Monitour to see the paths of e-waste across the world.

Narrative Writing

Students can also engage in narrative writing about climate change in which they create narratives describing people coping with the effects of climate change in the present and future. For example, the can engage in the Mapping the Stories of Climate Change project related to portraying stories about climate change effects on specific places on a U. S. map.

For ideas/techniques for creating their narratives, they can draw on reading cli-fi literature (Course syllabus: Introduction to Climate Change Fiction; see also Catherine Stine: Presentation at the 2018 NCTE session on climate change: “Thriller Climate SciFi: Teaching Climate Change to Middle  High Schoolers via Fiction” and Paradise Lost: Introducing Students to Climate Change Through Story, Oregon Writing Project.

Students can submit their own “climate change stories” for potential airing on the Climate Connect radio program produced by the Yale Climate Communications project as well as to the Climate Stories Project:

Love Letters to the Future about how people could cope in a future beset with climate change effects: Dear Tomorrow: Think of a person important in your life – your child, a friend, a family member or your future self. Imagine it is 2050 and they receive a message from you written today. Your message shares your thoughts about climate change and your promise to take action to ensure they have a safe and healthy world. 

create utopian worlds: Lindsey Ellis (Presentation at the 2918 NCTE session on climate change): Writing Utopias to Resist the Environmental Status Quo

Diaries about daily energy use or stories based on diaries about life in the future based on The Carbon Diaries 2015 (Lloyd, 2008) and The Carbon Diaries 2017 (Lloyd, 2010).

Writing with Digital Tools

Students can also employ digital tools to create multimodal/online writing that includes visual representations of climate change effects, for example: Creating Visual Narrative about Climate Change

– PSA videosList of videos about climate change. Students in the Climate Education in an Age of Media (CAM) project created short PSA videos designed to raise audience awareness about climate change. The Climate Cost Project: Students submit videos on the effects of climate change. Emily Polk describes in a video how her students write about communities’ struggles with climate change.

On-line multimedia posters (at a site such as Glogster) about a specific aspect of climate change, as created by Jessica Poling. See Hodgon, K. Digital posters: Composing with an online canvas. LearnNC

Digital storytelling/comics/graphics Free downloadable book on creating digital stories about climate change, The Changing Story includes examples of students’ videos about climate change. For examples of digital storytelling see Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction (free download) and the Imagine the Future (Project IF) at the University of Miami aims to engage adolescents in producing multimedia science fictions: A multimodal story about tornados and hurricanes. For projects/tools for creating digital storytelling:

Role-Play and Games Leading to Writing about Climate Change

Based on experiences of playing role-play and games about climate change (for Lists of games about climate change, students can engage in writing their own drama scripts for players engaged in formulating policies to address climate change. (see Use of drama and role-play activities related to climate change). (For an example of a script: Cool the Earth: Script for use with middle-school students).

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