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close this bookEnvironmental Education in the Schools: Creating a Program that Works ! (Peace Corps, 1993, 499 p.)
close this folderActivities, activities and more activities
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentUsing the senses
View the documentMusic/rap/dance/drama
View the documentRole plays and other simulations
View the documentThe reading and writing connection
View the documentPoetry
View the documentCartoons, fantasy, and creative
View the documentGuided imagery
View the documentDemonstrations
View the documentInvestigations and experiments
View the documentThe case for case studies
View the documentMoral dilemmas
View the documentConcept mapping and webbing
View the documentField trips
View the documentDebates
View the documentSurveys
View the documentGames
View the documentGetting outside
View the documentResearch/guest speakers
View the documentValues and attitudes
View the documentThinking about thinking skills
View the documentCooperative learning activities
View the documentLiven up your classroom
View the documentThe interdisciplinary connection
View the documentScience/technology/society
View the documentTaking action for the planet


"A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom."

-Robert Frost

Since the dawn of time, the natural environment has inspired people to express their feelings in poetry. Poetry is also a creative outlet for expressing feelings about any aspect of the environment, including how people feel about environmental problems such as deforestation, air pollution, and population.

Poetry can also help build language skills and the ability to express ends in wisdom feelings through writing. There are many ways to help your students appreciate poetry and write poetry. To start off, you might want to have your students write simple verse, such as Japanese haiku or cinquain. Both help capture impressions of nature and the environment using adjectives and expressive action verbs.

A HAIKU is a Japanese form of verse with three lines. The first and third lines have five syllables and the second line has seven. One idea behind haiku is that it captures the writer's first reaction to something in nature, such as a sunset, a waterfall, or a flying bird. Here's an example of a wind haiku:

Gentle, caressing
Soft breeze plays among birch leaves
Friendly wind blowing
CINQUAIN is another type of poetry that your students can try. The word comes from the French and Spanish term for five. Cinquain consists of five lines, each of which has a special purpose. Here's the basic form of cinquain

* first line states the title in two syllables
* second line describes the title in four syllables
* third line describes action in six syllables
* fourth line expresses a feeling in eight syllables
* fifth line restates the title in two syllables.

Here's an example of cinquain poetry

Warm and flowing
Makes flowers and limbs sway
Always touching and surrounding

Rippling, raging
Swirling funnel of death
Struggling against the violence

There are, of course, many other types of poetry, including rhyming poetry, limericks, free verse, and so on. We've included three examples of poetry about the environment. The first is rhyming verse that focuses on water pollution, the second explains what picture poetry is all about and how your students can create their own, and the third is an example of a diamante-- a poem shaped like a diamond. We've also included a poetry activity that includes a reference sheet of different poetry styles.


1. AWAY WITH WASTE, reprinted from Ranger Rick's NatureScope: Pollution--Problems and Solutions published by the National Wildlife Federation (1990).

2. PICTURE POETRY, reprinted from Ranger Rick's NatureScope: Trees Are Terrific published by the National Wildlife Federation ( 1985) .

3. SHADES OF MEANING, adapted from Project Learning Tree, published by the American Forest Council and the Western Regional Environmental Education Council. Includes examples developed during an environmental education workshop held in Botswana in December 1991.

4. POETRY TRAIL, reprinted from Focus on Forests: A Resource Manual for Intermediate and Senior Teachers on Forests and Forest Arrangement, published by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Toronto, Ontario ( 1989) .


OBJECTIVES: Describe some of the ways people pollute waterways. Describe some of the effects of water pollution.

AGES: Primary. intermediate

SUBJECTS: Science, language arts, art

MATERIALS: Story on the following page, drawing paper, crayons or markers, construction paper (optional), stapler (optional), glue (optional)

By listening to a rhyming story about water pollution in one community, your kids can discover how pollution can affect waterways. They'll also discover that the waste we wash "away" can have harmful effects later on.

Before reading the story, ask the kids to name some of the ways they use water (for drinking, bathing, brushing teeth, cleaning clothes and dishes, and so on). Then ask them what happens to the water that drains out of their washing machines and dishwashers or washes down their sinks. (Don't worry whether the kids know the answer at this point. You'll be discussing what happens to household water with them after they hear the story.) Explain that many people never think about what happens to the water they use in their households each day. They also don't think about what happens to the water that runs off their streets and yards.

Next tell the kids you're going to read them a story about a town called "Away" and about how people in the town polluted the water in a nearby bay without realizing what was happening. Tell the kids to listen carefully to the story to find out just how the water in the bay became polluted. Also tell them to listen for the word "away." Each time they hear it they should make a "hitch-hiking" motion over their shoulder with their thumb to represent something going away.

After you read the story, discuss it with the kids. Ask them if waste from Away simply disappeared. ( no) What happened to the waste? ( it ended up in the bay) Then go over the verses in the first half of the story to be sure the kids understood what was happening in each one. Use the information under "Where Did It Go?" on the next page to help with the discussion.

Afterward pass out crayons or markers and drawing paper and have the kids draw pictures of the story. They might draw the people in the town, the bay when it was polluted, or the bay when it was cleaned up again. If you're working with older kids, you might want to have them create their own picture books of the story. Pass out copies of page 189 and have the kids draw a picture to go along with each verse of the story. Then have them glue their pictures on sheets of construction paper, copy the words of each verse onto the pages, and staple the pages together.


DOWN THE DRAIN: When most people in the U.S. rinse something down their drain, flush their toilet, or do a load of wash, the waste water goes to sewage treatment plants to be purified. These plants remove dirt, biodegradable material such as food waste, and many other pollutants from the water before the water is dumped into waterways. But most plants can't remove all the chemical pollutants. For example, chemicals that are used in paint thinners and phosphates that are used in many detergents pass right through some sewage treatment plants.

OFF THE STREETS: Oil, dirt, litter, and anything else that's on the streets washes into storm drains. In most areas of the country, these drains empty into a series of underground pipes that eventually
dump directly into waterways.

INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION: Factories that make chemicals, paper, medicines, steel, and many other products can create a lot of pollutants. At one time, industries could legally dump waste into waterways. But pollution control laws now limit the materials that industries can dump in surface water. These controls have greatly reduced water pollution. However, not all the types of industrial waste are regulated. In addition, some experts feel that some of the regulations are not strict enough to protect aquatic systems.

TRASHING THE WATER: When trash gets thrown overboard it can create an ugly mess--both in the water and on shore after it's washed up. Trash can also harm or even kill wildlife. For example, thousands of sea birds and marine mammals die each year after eating or becoming entangled in plastic debris floating in the ocean.


This is the tale of a town called Away -
A town that was built on the shore of a bay.
A town where the folks didn't think much about
What they dumped in their water day in and day out.

For one thing, a sink was an excellent place
To get rid of messes and not leave a trace.
Cleansers and cleaners and yesterday's lunch
Went away down the drain with a gurgly crunch.

At everyone's house there was laundry to do.
Day after day, how those laundry piles grew!
Load after load was washed, rinsed, and spun
And away went the water when each load was done.

On Main Street each day there were sidewalks to sweep.
The litter and dirt were swept into the street.
And then when it rained, everything washed away
Into drains in the roads that dumped into the bay.

A mill there made "stuff" for the townfolks to use,
But a pipe from the mill churned out oodles of ooze.
And the ooze, well it goozed from the pipe to the bay
Where it bubbled and glubbed as it drifted away.

When the weather was warm, it was always a treat
To sail on the bay and bring picnics to eat.
But when folks were finished, they'd toss all their trash
Overboard and away with a plop and a splash.

Then folks started seeing that things weren't quite right;
The bay had become an unbearable sight.
Beaches were covered with garbage and glop
That rolled in with the waves - and the waves didn't stop.

The fish in the bay all seemed sluggish and sick,
The algae was everywhere - slimy and thick.
The birds near Away were all suffering too,
'Cause the fish they were eating were covered with goo.

So a meeting was called to discuss the sick bay
And townspeople came from all parts of Away.
And during the meeting one person proclaimed,
"I know who's at fault: We all should be blamed."

"For years we've washed chemicals, dirt, and debris
Down our sinks, off our streets, and out pipes - so you see,
Although we all thought that our waste went away,
It all ended up going into the bay."

"Now the bay is a mess - full of trash, soap, and goop,
The water's turned green - like a bowl of pea soup.
And our wildlife is sick from the garbage and grime;
The bay needs our help, right now while there's time."

The folks were all silent - they knew it was true.
And they realized now what they all had to do.
It was time to get busy - the bay couldn't wait.
If they didn't act now, it might soon be too late.

So they signed an agreement that very same minute
To care for the bay and to stop putting in it
The stuff that had made the bay icky and ill,
Like soaps that pollute and the ooze from the mill.

They also agreed to stop dumping their trash
Overboard and away with a plop and a splash.
And all of their efforts have been a success:
Today the bay's clean and no longer a mess.

And that is the tale of the town called Away -
A town where the people, to this very day,
Remember a saying that's simple and plain:
Nothing just goes away when it's washed down the drain. <


OBJECTIVES: Describe what picture poetry is. Write a picture poem about trees.

AGES: Intermediate, advanced

SUBJECT: Language arts

MATERIALS: Chalkboard or easel paper, drawing paper, pencils, crayons or markers

Trees are terrific subjects for poems. And picture poetry is especially fun for kids because the poem's words form a picture of what the poem is about.

Before you get started, copy the picture poem on page 191 onto a chalkboard or large piece of easel paper. Then ask the kids if they can think of words that describe trees. (List the words they come up with in a place where everyone can see them.) The list might include the words towering, huge, musty, mossy, slippery, gnarled, twisted, knobby, rough, bumpy, smooth, witchlike, dead, skinny, and so on. (You might want to take the kids outside and let them look at several trees and feel their bark.)

Now tell the kids that when we hear or read descriptive words that make pictures in our minds, we say that the words are a form of imagery. For example, have the kids imagine "an old tree by the side of a road." Ask them what they imagined. Then have the kids try to picture "a gnarled tree whose long branches bend over a road like huge arms." Ask them how the second tree they imagined was different from the first. Explain that the second sentence created a more precise image because it described the tree in more detail and used more descriptive words.

Next explain that words can also be written so that they form a picture right on the page itself. Then point to the picture poem you copied. Ask the kids if the poem would be as much fun to read if it were just written across the page instead of in the form of a picture. Talk about how some of the words (for example, flutter, float and drift) are written in a way that describes their meaning.

Now have the group make up their own tree picture poems. Be sure to explain that the words in their poems can rhyme if they want them to but that they don't have to rhyme. Also, the lines don't have to be a certain length, and punctuation isn't necessary. The kids just have to form a picture with the words that they write.


OBJECTIVES: Use a poetic form to explore a spectrum of ideas related to natural resources.

AGES: Intermediate

SUBJECTS: Language arts, humanities

MATERIALS: Paper, pencils

Ask the students to write a diamante (a poem shaped in the form of a diamond) having something to do with natural resources and that demonstrates that words are related through shades of meaning from one extreme to the opposite extreme. For example, "birth" and "death" are two words that can serve to represent opposites. Any words the students choose will have either literal or metaphoric meanings related to natural resources, or both.


green bright

shining growing blooming
heat motion sun food
fading slowing dimming
brown old

The words chosen should match the following pattern of parts of speech:

adjective adjective
participle participle participle
noun noun noun noun
participle participle participle
adjective adjective

Suggested pairs of words with opposite meaning might include:
















OBJECTIVE: Write various types of poetry in a forest setting.

AGES: Intermediate, advanced

SUBJECTS: Language arts

MATERIALS: Clipboards, pencils, activity sheets, thesaurus

Take the class outdoors. Designate four different writing stations within the area. It could be four spots within an evergreen forest, in a grassy field, under the willows, in a woodlot, or in a city park. Provide each student with a copy of the activity sheet on page 195. Divide students into four groups and send each to a different writing station.

At each location, have students use one specific sense to explore the area and develop a list of descriptive words based on that sense. For example, if they choose the sense of touch, a student may write down words like "rough," "sharp," "warm," or "cool." Then have them write one of the types of poems listed on pages 193-194 using this vocabulary (The poetry may be directly or indirectly associated with trees and forests.) Encourage students to use a different sense and a different poetry style at each station.

At set times, rotate the groups so they have a chance to write at all the stations. Once all stations have been visited by all groups, share some of the poems as a class. Have your students pick at least five new words from a thesaurus and write a poem that summarizes the day's experiences.


Using slide film, take several pictures at each station. Have students prepare a forest slide show based on these pictures and their poetry.


ACROSTIC: Verses where the first letters of each line name someone or something or convey a special message. For example:












= birds


ALLITERATION: Verses where all the words begin with the same letter.
For example:
Two tall trees try to touch tenderly.
Five freaky frogs fight fearlessly.

HAIKU: A form of Japanese poetry that follows a structured pattern.
For example:

Line 1: 5 syllables Soft wings fluttering
Line 2: 7 syllables Bright colors flying through air
Line 3: 5 syllables Lovely butterfly

WINDSPARKS: Verses with the following pattern:

Line 1: "I dreamed"
Line 2: "I was" someone or something
Line 3: Where
Line 4: Action
Line 5: How

For example:

I dreamed

I dreamed

I was poison ivy

I was a leaf

In the woods

Growing in the forest

Providing itches and rashes

Providing food for caterpillars



CINQUAIN: Verses with the following pattern:

Line 1: One word title
Line 2: two words describing title
Line 3: three words showing action
Line 4: four words showing a feeling about the title
Line 5: one word (simile or metaphor for the title)

For example:



Still, quiet

Monumental, majestic

Reflects, listens, shimmers

Towering, soldiering, guarding

Waiting for a splash

Whispering giants standing tall




Station No.:____________

Which sense have you chosen? (Check one)

_ Hearing
_ Sight
_ Touch
_ Smell

Some common descriptive words

Synonyms from a thesaurus






Which type is it?