a CMM Institute initiative

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

Environmental Awareness Activities 3:
Connecting to Others

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

close guide

Goals:
● Students draw connections between their own lives/experiences and those of people they do not know.
● Students get exposed to, and practice with, injustices that individual actions cannot fix.
● Students practice directing empathy, outrage, etc. into learning or action.

Day 1 involves presenting an imagined but realistic scenario. In some cases, students may have personal experience with the scenario while in others it will be more about empathizing with a situation that other kids are in. Each scenario is accompanied by an article or supporting material about the real life issue. Teacher tip: be thoughtful about how you frame these scenarios based on the real-life experiences of your students. Never assume that these are distant and detached issues, as students or their families may have personal experiences with them.

Day 2 is about examining feelings related to the real life situation. Encourage students to really notice their own feelings as opposed to trying to project onto others

Day 3 is about imagining how others might feel, and/or how you might feel when taking on a different perspective or even in this situation. Teacher tip: to help get out of projection mode, ask “what clues or signs made you think that person felt that way?” or “how else could you imagine feeling?”

Day 4 is about how this issue might affect others and beginning to brainstorm actions you
could take as individuals or as a class.

Day 5 is open to brainstorm about or do some action related to what has come up. These could be additional questions for investigation, connected to a curricular unit that’s coming up. They could be short, small actions. Or they could lead into larger projects if desired and possible. Teacher tip: for big ideas you can’t tackle in class use a “parking lot” or “bike rack.”

Optional Supporting Text Set: https://newsela.com/text-sets/200358

17. New Pair of Jeans

Your friend needs a new pair of jeans, but she’s feeling confused. Her aunt gave her $10 for her birthday. She saw a pair of jeans at a store on sale for $10 that she liked, but her older cousin told her some things that bothered her. Her cousin said that sometimes it wastes a whole lot of water to make a new pair of jeans. Your friend’s cousin told her about a brand that doesn’t use so much water, but it costs way more than $10.

Your friend also found some cute jeans for $5 at a store that sells used clothes. But she is afraid someone might make fun of her for getting used jeans. How could you help her?

Guiding Questions
Narrative

Your friend needs a new pair of jeans, but she’s feeling confused. Her aunt gave her $10 for her birthday. She saw a pair of jeans at a store on sale for $10 that she liked, but her older cousin told her some things about those jeans that bothered her. Her cousin said that sometimes it wastes a whole lot of water to make a new pair of jeans. Your friend’s cousin told her about a brand that doesn’t use so much water, but it costs way more than her $10. Your friend also found some really cute jeans for $5 at a store that sells used clothes. She gets a lot of her clothes there, and it sounds like it would be good for the environment too. But your friend is afraid someone might make fun of her for getting used jeans. How could you help her?

Day 1 ~ Notice

Notice what is hard about this decision. Have you noticed that different kinds of clothes cost different amounts of money? Have you noticed people throwing away clothes that are still good?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

How did it feel to listen to this story? If you have been in a similar situation and are willing to share, how did it feel? If you have ever been made fun of, like this friend, for wearing used clothes, how did it feel? How does it feel to know that wearing used clothes can be good for the environment?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

Why do you think the friend is feeling nervous about wearing used clothes? How do you think her cousin would feel about different decisions she might make? How do you think your friend would feel about each decision? How do you think your friend’s mom would feel if she bought the $5 jeans and saved the rest of her money, or gave it to her mom?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What effects would the different choices have on the people in the story? What about on the animals that live in water nearby? How do you think having to make this choice would affect your friend or make her feel?

Day 5 ~ Do

How could we help make it easier for the friend to make a choice? What could we do to change people’s opinions about used clothes?

close guide

18. Water Rationing

You and your family are excited to grow a garden this year! Your grandmother gave you some seeds, and you can’t wait to plant them this weekend.  But on the way home from school your friend tells you that your town made a new rule. No one can use hoses outside, and each house can only do laundry on certain days of the week. They made this rule because it hasn’t rained in a long time, and the town is running out of water. It used to rain a lot every spring, but the climate is changing and it isn’t raining as much. Now you probably can’t grow your grandma’s seeds because of the new rules.

Guiding Questions
Narrative

You and your family are excited to grow a garden this year! Your grandmother gave you some seeds, and you can’t wait to plant them this weekend. But on the way home from school your friend tells you that your town made a new rule. No one can use hoses outside, and each house can only do laundry on certain days of the week. They made this rule because it hasn’t rained in a long time, and the town is running out of water. It used to rain a lot every spring, but the climate is changing and it isn’t raining as much. Now you probably can’t grow your grandma’s seeds because of the new rules.

Day 1 ~ Notice

Notice how often you usually turn on the water in a day, and what you use water for.

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

Have you been in a situation like the one with the seeds? If so, how did it feel? How do you think it would feel to be excited to grow something, and then find out you can’t? How do you think it would feel to know that your town was running out of water?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

Imagine how you would feel in this situation if you were in charge of the laundry and doing the dishes, but could only do it on certain days. Imagine how it would feel to be a farmer, who needs water to do their job. Imagine how it would feel to be someone else whose job depends on water, or to be the person in charge of making the water rules.

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What do you think or know can happen when there isn’t enough water? Who in your community might have a really hard time without water for a day? What can you do to help reduce the amount of water that is used in your house or your school?

Day 5 ~ Do

Help your school or family use less water using ideas that you brainstorm. How can you get others excited about your ideas? If water is already tight in your community, what kinds of ideas are already working and what else could help?

close guide

19. Exhaust from Cars

At a school nearby, a lot of kids have asthma, way more than at another school just a few miles away. Some people in the neighborhood start to do research and find a few things that make can asthma worse.

One was pollution from cars. They know that people need cars, but they figured out that if people in cars and buses turned off their engines while they are not moving it could help a lot with the asthma.

Guiding Questions
Narrative

At a school nearby (substitute “our school” if appropriate), a lot of kids have asthma, way more than at another school just a few miles away. Some people in the neighborhood start to do research and find a few things that make can asthma worse. One was pollution from cars. They know that people need cars, but they figured out that if people in cars and buses turned off their engines while they are not moving it could help a lot with the asthma.

Day 1 ~ Notice

Near or in your school do you notice any of the things that the people in the story noticed? Notice if a lot of your friends have asthma. Notice whether people tend to use buses and give each other rides, or whether everyone is alone in their cars. Notice whether people have their cars on when they are not driving.
Are people starting to ride bicycles to work instead of driving cars?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

How did you feel listening to this story? Did it remind you of any of your own experiences? How do you think the kids at that school feel when they are trying to play at recess but are having trouble breathing?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you think the kids’ families and teachers feel knowing that they have so much more asthma than another school close by? How do you think people driving cars would feel if they knew they could help by just turning off their cars when they’re not driving?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What do you think or know can happen if lots of people have asthma? How would it affect recess? What small changes in the community or school could affect the kids with asthma?

Day 5 ~ Do

Help your school become a more friendly place to kids with asthma. How can you help people carpool?

close guide

20. Too Hot To Play

It’s finally summer and you are so excited to play outside! The first few weeks of summer are great and you have a really good time with your cousins. But then a week comes when it is way too hot to play outside. Grown ups say that it’s dangerous to run around, and that you need to stay inside. What’s weird is that one of your cousins, who lives just outside of your city, told you that where she lives it’s fine to be outside. Even though you live pretty close by, it’s way hotter where you live. That’s because cities trap heat. All the buildings and roads heat up a lot more than dirt and trees. Your grandma has lived here for her whole life and she says it never used to be like this. She could always be outside in the summer when she was a kid, but now the summers are getting warmer and warmer.

Guiding Questions
Narrative

Urban Version: It’s finally summer and you are so excited to play outside! The first few weeks of summer are great and you have a really good time with your cousins. But then a week comes when it is way too hot to play outside. Grown ups say that it’s dangerous to run around, and that you need to stay inside. What’s weird is that one of your cousins, who lives just outside of your city, told you that where she lives it’s fine to be outside. Even though you live pretty close by, it’s way hotter where you live. That’s because cities trap heat. All the buildings and roads heat up a lot more than dirt and trees. Your grandma has lived here for her whole life and she says it never used to be like this. She could always be outside in the summer when she was a kid, but now the summers are getting warmer and warmer.

Rural/Suburban Version: It’s finally summer and you are so excited to play outside! It’s warm
of course, but not too hot to play. But then you hear from your cousin that he’s been inside all week! He doesn’t live very far from you, but he lives in the city and you don’t. Even though you live pretty close by, it’s way hotter where he lives. That’s because cities trap heat. All the buildings and roads heat up a lot more than dirt and trees. Grown ups say that it’s just too dangerous for him to be running around when it is this hot, and that he has to stay inside. She could always be outside in the summer when she was a kid, but now the summers are getting warmer and warmer.

Day 1 ~ Notice

Notice the differences between your situation and your cousin’s. Think about how often you play outside during the summer, and how hot it is.

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

How does it feel to know that even living so close to each other, the two people in the story are having very different experiences? How do you feel when you think about the cousin in the story?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you think the cousin is feeling in this story? How do you think the grown ups who have to make you/your cousin stay inside are feeling?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

What questions are you wondering about when you think about this situation? Are there things you could try to learn about that might help you know how to make a change?

Day 5 ~ Do

If some ideas arise that could be actionable at your scale, you can work on them. Or just take this time to learn more.

close guide

21. Fire Evacuation

Wildfires are part of the cycles of many ecosystems, but over the last few years they have been happening more often and are lasting longer. Imagine that your cousins’ neighborhood has been destroyed by a forest fire. They lived in an area that had a drought, which means it didn’t rain for a long time, so all of the plants were dried up. Then a spark from a little fire at a factory set off a huge fire that moved really fast.

They had to leave school in the middle of the day and drive as far as they could. When they came to your house,  all of their clothes smelled like smoke. They packed some clothes and toys, but most of their stuff got destroyed and they’re not sure when they’ll be able to go home.

Guiding Questions
Narrative

Wildfires are part of the cycles of many ecosystems, but over the last few years they have been happening more often and are lasting longer. Imagine that your cousins’ neighborhood has been destroyed by a forest fire. They lived in an area that had a drought, which means it didn’t rain for a long time, so all of the plants were dried up. Then a spark from a little fire at a factory set off a huge fire that moved really fast. They had to leave school in the middle of the day and drive as far as they could. When they came to your house, all of their clothes smelled like smoke. They packed some clothes and toys, but most of their stuff got destroyed and they’re not sure when they’ll be able to go home.

Day 1 ~ Notice

Notice how it feels to listen to this story and to imagine how it would be in real life. Imagine what your home would sound like, smell like, feel like if suddenly four or five more people who had escaped a fire had to move in. What do you imagine would be different?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

What feelings do you have when you imagine this scenario? How might it feel to have to share your toys, your room, maybe your clothes? What would it be like to bring your cousins to school and help them settle in? Have you or someone close to you been in any similar situations in real life? How did you feel?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you imagine your cousins would feel in this situation? What about the grownups (your parents or whoever you live with, your aunts and uncles)? What if you had to suddenly leave to escape a fire– how might/did you feel? What would you bring with you?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

Sometimes forest fires just happen. If the forest is healthy, dead/dried up trees and plants burn, while living/wet plants don’t, so the fire can go out on its own. Then there is room for new plants to grow. But if a forest is already sick because of pollution or not enough rain, a fire can burn everything down. What do you wonder about when you hear that? What other living things would be affected by a big fire? What do you imagine the forest looking, smelling, sounding like after it’s all over?

Day 5 ~ Do

What could you do to help prevent forest fires or droughts? What could you do to help kids like those in this story? What more might you want to learn before taking action? If actionable ideas arise, you can work on them. Or just take time to learn more.

close guide

22. A Home for Bees

Bees can be scary. If they get scared they might sting, and some people are allergic to bee stings. But most of the time, they’re busy working. They go from flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar to make honey– normally flying about two miles from their hives during the day. They also help fruits and vegetables grow. Some foods need the pollen that bees carry in order to grow.

Unfortunately, bees are not doing so well right now. A lot of them are getting sick and dying. Scientists are starting to figure out that it might have to do with chemicals that people sometimes use to kill weeds. Or it might be that there just aren’t enough flowers for the bees to get their food. They fly so far to find flowers, that they’re too tired to get home.

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

Start to pay attention to where you see bees and where you don’t. Look at the photos of bees and notice where they tend to be. Do you think they prefer leaves or flowers? Do they like plants, or areas made by humans?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

How do you feel when you see a bee? How does it feel to know that they are in danger?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you think other people in your family would feel if they learned what you know about bees? How do you think the bees feel when they fly around all day and can’t find any food, or get stuck?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

If you did something to help the bees, like planting some flowers around your school, who else would that effect? How do you think people would react if they saw more flowers around? How do you think they would react to more bees?

Day 5 ~ Do

What could you do to help the bees? If you think people around you might be afraid of bees, how can you help them be less afraid?

close guide

23. Favorite Foods

We all have favorite foods, foods our families always make, and foods we hate! Did you ever think about the fact that all of those foods come from plants and animals? Even hot Taquis are made from corn, peppers, and limes.

Some of the foods we love can only grow in certain climates (climate means the average weather in an area over a long time. What is our climate like?). Sometimes when people have to move to a different climate, or the climate in their area changes, they can’t get the foods they love anymore.

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

What are some of your favorite foods? Talk as a class about favorite foods, connecting each back to the plants or animals that are the basic ingredients. Focus on foods made by family members or that feel connected to special occasions or events. Invite students to share the smells, tastes, textures.

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

How do you feel when you eat one of your favorite foods, especially the ones that members of your family make for special occasions? If you’ve ever made or grown food for others, how does it feel to make/grow food for people that you care about?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How do you imagine that the people who are around you feel when they make/grow/give you food that makes you feel good, that helps you grow, that’s good for you? How do you imagine it would feel or how does it feel when they can’t do that because of time, money, or because they can’t get the ingredients? How might it feel if something about nature or the environment made it harder to get the foods you care about most?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

How does it feel to get to decide what kinds of foods you grow/make/eat versus not to have those choices. Thinking about our favorite foods and ingredients, what could we do to make it easier for us or people in our community to get or grow the foods that make us feel our best?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for whatever actions are most accessible/ reasonable in your setting. Some ideas include choosing one thing to grow as a class, learning about what grows in your climate/community, connecting to efforts related to food access and food sovereignty.

close guide

24. Bears Wide Awake

You might already know that grizzly and brown bears hibernate during the winter. That means that in the fall, when there isn’t a lot of food in the forest, they go into their dens and basically go to sleep. All winter, they don’t need food because they spend summer and fall eating to build up a lot of fat. Then in the spring when it gets warm, they come out.

But as temperatures and the climate change they are getting confused. Warmer falls mean they’re staying awake longer. Then it gets warm earlier in spring, which signals them to wake up. Sometimes they’re so early that the plants they need to eat aren’t growing yet. And when the mamas come out early, they give birth to cubs too early. That means the baby bears are smaller than they should be and it’s hard for them to survive.

Guiding Questions
Day 1 ~ Notice

What do you picture in your mind when you listen to what is happening to the bears? What else do you know or want to know about grizzly bear and hibernation?

Day 2 ~ Notice and feel

Have you ever been woken up really early when you weren’t quite ready? Or did you wake up and no one was there to help you with breakfast yet? How did you feel?

Day 3 ~ Imagine others' perspectives

How does it feel to know that humans are causing these temperature changes that affect the bears? Bears don’t know that this is happening– they sense when to hibernate and wake up based on signals from nature. How might it feel for them? How might it feel, for a bear or a person, to not be able to take good care of your baby without quite knowing why?

Day 4 ~ Effects on others, brainstorm action

A lot of people might say, “that’s sad for bears, but I have to worry about my own family and about humans first. I can’t worry about everyone.” Do you think this problem for bears affects people in any way? Do you think people should care? Why or why not? What else would you want to learn about this problem?

Day 5 ~ Do

Open for whatever actions are most accessible/ reasonable in your setting. Some ideas include learning more about hibernation, grizzly bears, etc; picking a small action that reduces your class’s carbon footprint; or creating posters/PSAs that teach others about this issue.

close guide