a CMM Institute initiative

Developing compassionate, caring and responsible citizens for better social worlds.

Environmental Awareness Activities 1:
Noticing Surroundings

How to Use CosmoTweenz Environmental Awareness and Action scenarios

In dropdown panels like this one, you will find:

  • relevant definitions
  • a brief guide to each of the three scenario categories
  • citations and links to relevant research and background information about environmental
    awareness and environmental issues
  • 24 environmental awareness and action scenarios, each of which
    • has background information
    • comes with five sets of guiding questions
    • corresponds to an illustration

The same five characters reappear throughout– feel free to name them!

Most scenarios in category 1 and all in category 3 have accompanying narratives

Most scenarios in categories 2 and 3 come with a link to a relevant news article, many of which are found on NewsE/LA1.

The scenarios are aimed at helping young people bridge their sense of awareness and perspective-taking from people to other living things. They are arranged in three categories: Noticing Your Surroundings, Making a Change at Home or at School, and Connecting to Others. We want to be honest in representing environmental issues as complex without inducing hopelessness. The scenarios aim to expand empathy and give young people opportunities to act. You can move through them in whatever order supports you best, and use as many or as few as you like. Each scenario is meant to be discussed over the course of five sessions of about 10-15 minutes each, with the fifth being expandable. Some examples of formats for discussion include:

  • spending 10 minutes of circle time on this each day, moving through a card in a week
  • using the scenarios/activities weekly, taking five weeks or a unit to go through one scenario
  • using the cards to support or lead into a specific curricular unit

The more you and your student/s use CosmoKidz Environmental Activities, even for a few minutes, the more you will build a routine and the accompanying skills together

During the discussion time, we suggest that

  • teachers have reviewed the chosen scenario ahead of time, looking out for ways that the scenario relates to students’ personal experience in productive and/or traumatic ways
  • the relevant illustraton is visible to students (projector, tablet, etc.) if possible.

We also recommend that each classroom/teacher develop their own consistent routine for discussion (pair share vs whole group vs small group), using it throughout the year.

1. NewsELA membership required.

Relevant definitions
We hope these scenarios act as a tool and not a prescription. To that end, here are some guidelines and

definitions to help:

Observation: When we ask people of any age to “observe” they often look for what they expect, or seek evidence to back up their assumptions. But when we say “observe” or “notice” here, we want students to pay attention to what is actually going on. What do they see, hear, smell? What surprises them? What do they miss the first time?

Feelings: Here is a great opportunity to practice specific language. Encourage students to go beyond “good” or “bad”. You might ask, “what did it feel like in your body?” or brainstorm examples such as sweaty hands, a fast heartbeat, etc. Try asking “what kind of good?” Did they feel peaceful, energized, excited? Or “talk about another time that you felt similarly.” Was it the kind of “bad” you felt after hurting a younger sibling, or when you were sick?

Perspective taking and “others” : The line between empathizing and projecting is thin. While we are asking students to try to imagine what something might feel like to another, we never want to assume that we know someone else’s experience. It can be helpful to start by asking “how do you think you would feel?” and to remind students that they can’t know how others feel without asking. Some students or their loved ones may have personal experience with scenarios on the cards. Prioritize giving those students a chance to share first if they want to . Use your judgement about whether to skip a card if it may bring up past trauma.

Taking Action: There is always something we can do. And some problems have been caused by and may need to be fixed by large institutions or those with power. The idea is not to take large action on every card. We often included prompts like “what else would you want to know about this?” Sometimes learning more is a great step to take. And we hope that some cards may help you launch projects or units that are already in your plans. Use these to get students excited about nonfiction reading and writing, research, persuasive essays, etc.

Finding Balance: We wrestled a lot with the question of complexity. Sometimes we lie to children about the complexities of the world to protect them, leaving them confused and distrustful later when they learn more. Sometimes in trying to be honest, we overwhelm. We tried to strike a balance. Research shows benefits from connection to nature, both for individual outcomes1 and in terms of environmental action.2 The sense of empowerment that young people can get from making changes at the classroom, home, or school level can create momentum that carries through their lives3. And, our most severe environmental problems cannot be solved by individual behavior changes. We included cards at all three of these levels in the hopes of striking a balance. And we trust that you will use the mix and balance of cards that makes sense in your context, which you know far better than we do.

Looking for more resources? You can always check the CosmoKidz website for up to date posts with relevant articles, resources, and notes from other educators!


1 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013916508319745

2 https://naaee.org/eepro/research/library/sense-place-environmental-education

From the CosmoKidz TM logo educational series, produced by the CMM Institute

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● Students practice the skill of noticing (seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling) what is there rather than what they expect.

● Students notice and realize that there are living things everywhere, even in urban environments.

● Students build a sense of wonder, connection, and curiosity about the natural world.

Day 1 is about simply giving the instruction to go out and notice. You might scaffold a bit by talking together about what observation is, or using the illustration to practice.

Day 2 is about sharing observations and feelings. Try to focus the conversation on sharing what people noticed and felt, rather than judging or analyzing the observations.

Deepening questions:

How did it feel in your body?

What surprised you?

What was the first thing you noticed?

What changes did you notice?

Day 3 is about imagining how others might feel, and beginning to analyze for patterns. It’s important not to speak for others but rather to try to empathize.

Deepening questions:

What is making you think that?
What clues could help us figure out if that is really what’s going on?

Day 4 is about effects on others, including the non-human living things, or effects of a wider community’s actions.

Day 5 is wide open to brainstorm about or do some action related to what has come up. It could be as simple as spending some time outside together, bringing a plant into the classroom, watching a hawk camera online, thinking about ways to help others slow down and connect to nature, or something more targeted at helping the natural world.

Deepening questions:

What more would you like to know?

Who or what could help us learn that?

What is making you excited?

1. Noticing Plants

Sometimes we are so busy playing or getting to where we need to go that we don’t even realize that we live in nature. Whether we live in a city, in a small town, or in the country, there are plants growing nearby.

There might be plants along the road, flowers in a crack in the sidewalk, or a tree giving us shade that we never think about. It can feel different to start noticing and paying attention to the nature around us.

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

On your way to school, while waiting for the bus, or at recess (any time you are outside) start to look around you. Maybe you can walk more slowly or even stop. Use your eyes and your nose to see if you can notice any plants you didn’t before. If you can get close, you might want to smell them. What do your plants look and smell like? Do you notice any ways that the plants helpyou (shade, a landmark, a food)?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What did you notice? How do you experience noticing something that is not making a noise? How do you feel when you spot a plant that is hard to see, or when you notice something beautiful that you never were aware of before?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you imagine other people are feeling around these plants? What do you imagine it is like to be a plant?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What do you think would change if everyone did the kind of noticing that you did? How can you help other people to be observant too?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for the class to decide on something that they would like to do based on their observations and/or effects on others

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2. Noticing Trees

Sometimes we are so busy playing or getting to where we need to go that we don’t even realize that we live in nature. Whether we live in a city, in a small town, or in the country, there are usually a few trees growing nearby. And sometimes they are very old! Every year, a tree adds another layer, so the older a tree gets, the thicker its trunk is.

Some years, if there is not a lot of water, it only grows a little. Some years it grows a lot. Imagine how big you would be at age 50 if you kept growing every single year. Did you know that trees actually make oxygen, which we need in order to breathe? Do you think the air is different when there are a lot of trees around?

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

On your way to school, while waiting for the bus, or at recess (any time you are outside) start to look around you. Maybe you can walk more slowly or even stop. Use your eyes to see if you can notice any trees you didn’t think about before. If it is safe to get close, you might want to touch their bark or take a picture. What do your trees look and feel like? Do you notice any ways that the trees help you?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What did you notice? How did you feel when you moved a little bit more slowly? How did it feel to touch trees? When you start to pay attention to the trees, what else do you notice or wonder about (birds, colors, leaves?)?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you imagine other people are feeling around these trees? How do you think you or others would feel if there were no more trees? What do you imagine it would be like to be a tree?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What do you imagine would change if there were more trees or fewer trees around? Is there a change you’d like to see at your school or in your neighborhood? How can you protect the trees that you have?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for the class to decide on something that they would like to do based on their observations and/or effects on others

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3. Noticing Insects

Sometimes we only notice insects and bugs when we are afraid of them or when they show up in an unexpected place. Sometimes they bite or are scary, but more often they are just living their lives, or doing interesting things.

Spiders weave beautiful webs and catch annoying insects like mosquitoes. Caterpillars turn into butterflies, which have four hearts! And pill bugs or “roly polies” help turn dead plants into healthy soil.

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

Go outside (with your class or at home) and choose one area to examine. You could even use a circle of string to mark it and keep you focused. Use your eyes to see if you can notice any bugs. If it is safe, you might want to touch them gently. What do your bugs look and feel like? What are you wondering about them?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What did you notice? How do you feel when you stay still to look at such tiny things? How does it feel to start noticing things and asking questions?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you think other people are feeling around these bugs? How do you imagine the insects might feel around something as big as you?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

Is there a change you’d like to see at your school or in your neighborhood? Is there more you would like to learn or do relating to bugs and insects?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for the class to decide on something that they would like to do based on their observations and/or effects on others.

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4. Noticing Animals

Whether we live in a city, a small town, or in the country, we live in nature.  There might be squirrels, birds, or cool insects nearby that we don’t even pay attention to. For example, people used to get rid of birds of prey that lived in cities, like hawks, but now they are returning and making their homes in places as crowded as New York City! It can feel different to start noticing and paying attention to the nature around us. We might find animals, or signs of animals such as footprints, the sound of a bird, even poop!

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

On your way to school, while waiting for the bus, or at recess (any time you are outside) look around. Move slowly if you can. Use your eyes, ears, and nose to see if you can notice any animals or signs of animals. What sounds do you hear? What animals do you see? Where do you notice these animals surviving? What do you notice other people doing when they see or hear these animals?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What did you notice? How does it feel to notice something that is not a person or yourself? How do you feel when you spot an animal or a sign of an animal that is hard to see?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

What did you notice? How does it feel to notice something that is not a person or yourself? How do you feel when you spot an animal or a sign of an animal that is hard to see? How do they move (fast, slow?)

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

How do you think other people are feeling around these animals? Are they stomping on insects because they are afraid? Are they nicer to some animals than others? If so, why do you think that is the case? Why do you think they move the way they do?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for the class to decide on something that they would like to do based on their observations and/or effects on others

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5. Colors and Heat

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

As you go through your day, try touching (safe) surfaces of different colors that are outside (brainstorm examples as a class such as the school building, a railing, parked cars, tree bark). Notice the different temperatures of darker and lighter surfaces in the sun and in the shade.

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

How did the different surfaces feel? What patterns did you notice? How did you feel when you touched warmer and cooler surfaces? What other differences did you notice?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

What colors and materials do you imagine would feel best to you or someone you care about in the summer/on a hot day? In the winter/on a cold day? How do you imagine it feels to wear dark colors or have dark fur (animals) when it is hot vs. cold?Light colors? How might people, animals, and plants, use colors to adapt to different conditions?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

Think about situations where being colder or warmer could be helpful. Based on the patterns you noticed and observations you made, is there a group of people, animals, or plants that you could help?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for the class to decide on something that they would like to do based on their observations and/or effects on others.

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6. Your Special Spot

Guiding Questions
Narrative/Instructor Directions

Prep your class for the following. Everyone is going to go outside together. Once there, make sure every student has a spot. They could be as spread out or close together as the space and your students’ regulation allows. The noticing will be done individually, then you’ll come back together either outside or back in the classroom to talk about it. This works particularly well if it can be repeated a few times (in three different seasons, once a month, or even every few weeks) so that students can notice change.

Day 1 ~ Notice

Be still and quiet, and begin to notice with your senses. What do you hear, smell, sense, and see? Try to notice living things, both plants and animals. You might notice animals moving more once you are still. Are there things you can safely feel, very gently, such as leaves or grass? (Do not try to touch animals!) Pay attention to what you find to be beautiful, special, or unique about your spot. If you are in your spot for a second or third time, what changes do you notice?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

How does it feel to be still and notice? How do you feel when you notice something that no one else does? How are you feeling about your particular spot? Is there anything that you would like to do to make your spot even more special, more beautiful, or to take care of it?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

Sometimes homes and natural places suddenly get destroyed. How do you think you would feel if suddenly a big change happened that messed up your spot, or harmed a plant or animal that calls it home? What if you suddenly couldn’t go to this spot anymore?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

Can you think of any other people in your community or far away, who have lost a place that is important to them? Has this ever happened to you or someone you knew? How does/did it feel? How do you imagine it might feel or might have felt for those other people?

Day 5 ~ Do

What kinds of things could we do to help prevent people from having to leave places that are important to them, or to help people who have had to leave?


Educator note for “Do”: Think about anyone from victims of natural disasters, to climate
refugees, to indigenous people, to maybe just kids who had to move for any reason. See what

comes up, or help direct attention in areas where students can have an impact. They might

welcome a new classmate or learn about places that their own families left. If you know that

students in your class have recently been displaced and experienced trauma, use your own

judgement about how or whether to use this card at all.

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7. Asking About Seeds

Guiding Questions
Instructor Directions

Educator note: Prepare by collecting a variety of seeds. The least expensive way to do this is
with dry beans from the grocery store or donations of seeds that are no longer viable from a
garden or hardware store.

Day 1 ~ Notice

Feel and look at the seeds. Notice their shapes, sizes, colors, how it feels to touch them. Do they have a smell? Notice what you are wondering as you touch them.

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What did you notice about the seeds by touching and looking at them? Every one of those seeds could turn into a whole plant. How does it feel to imagine all of them as plants that make food?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

Have you or someone you know ever planted a seed? How did it feel to care for it and help it grow? How did the food that came from it taste? If you have never done this, imagine how it might feel. What if we suddenly lost all of our seeds?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

Based on what you noticed and wondered, what more would you like to do with seeds? What would you like to experience or try to find out?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for the class to decide on something that they would like to do based on their observations and/or questions. You might sprout seeds in plastic bags taped to the window, do seed experiments, plant some outside, or try to find the seeds in some of your favorite fruits/veggies.

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8. Leaves Are Different

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

At recess, at home, or wherever it is safe, collect different shapes and sizes of leaves. Think about leaves from both trees and plants. Pine needles are also leaves. Some foods we eat have leaves that we often throw away (like carrot tops or onion skins) so you could even collect leaves in your kitchen at home.

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

Give students an opportunity to touch and smell? Do they feel, smell, and look the same or different? How does it feel to touch, smell, and look at them? Do any of them remind you of something else from your life?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

Why do you imagine leaves come in so many shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and scents? How might the world look, smell, feel, sound, and taste different if leaves were all the same?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What else would you like to do with these leaves? What new questions do you have about leaves that we could investigate together?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for the class to decide on something that they would like to do based on their observations and/or questions. You might make art projects with or based on the leaves, connect to a science unit, connect to the value biodiversity or human diversity, or simply bring them back outside to decompose and become part of nature.

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