How to use Environmental Awareness Activities

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Suitable for online or in-person instruction

ages 8-11

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!



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

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