Welcome to the COMMUNITY CLASSROOM lesson plans for TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, a compelling documentary narrative of Wangari Maathai, the first environmentalist and first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya to address the challenges of deforestation, soil erosion and lack of water by the simple act of planting trees. By empowering rural women who struggle daily with these challenges, the Green Belt Movement grew into a nationwide grassroots effort to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy. The film explores the courageous journey of Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, which has resulted in the planting of over 40 million trees in Kenya and expansion of their work and influence worldwide.

These two lessons examine how environmental issues such as deforestation are intricately linked to many other social issues, and how organizations such as the Green Belt Movement use certain strategies to mobilize citizen action toward social and environmental justice. These lessons are directed toward grades 9 through 12, and college students for use in the following subject areas: social studies, environmental studies, political science, women’s studies, international studies, world history, government and civics.

Lesson 1: From Roots to Branches: The Interconnectedness of Environment, Culture and Social Justice
Grade Levels: 9 to 12, College

In this lesson, students will examine how Kenya’s history as a colonized nation has contributed to their challenges with deforestation. Historical footage documents the extensive clearing of the land, and the displacement of the tribes and tribal life, which took place during the period of British colonialism beginning in the 1880s. They will also learn that the clearing of forested land continued when Kenya returned to self rule beginning in 1963. Students will then identify how this environmental degradation is related to other social, political and economic problems that affect the country’s marginalized citizens. Students will recognize that the core of the Green Belt Movement’s civic action extends beyond environmentalism.

Download From Roots to Branches: The Interconnectedness of Environment, Culture and Social Justice >> (PDF, 204K)

Lesson 2: The Green Belt Movement: Evaluating Citizen Action and Environmental Change Strategies
Grade Levels: 9 to 12, College

In this lesson, students examine the community organizing/civic action steps that the Green Belt Movement (GBM) took to address Kenya’s deforestation and to tackle the issues closely connected to this environmental issue, including women’s rights, equitable economic development, political governance and the sustainable management of scarce resources. Students can use this investigation to help reach an overall understanding of the strategies that “change makers” and organizations use to address the issues they attempt to impact—leading them to the research of two activist organizations of their choice.

Download Evaluating Citizen Action and Environmental Change Strategies >> (PDF, 272K)

TAKING ROOT Video Module 1: Kenya and Wangari Maathai

This module portrays the story of Wangari Maathai, the first environmentalist and first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Short clips examine her personal philosophy, leadership of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, and her ability to empower rural women to mobilize around Kenya’s issues of dwindling natural resources, widespread poverty and oppressive government practices.

Watch the Kenya and Wangari Maathai video module >>

TAKING ROOT Video Module 2: The Green Belt Movement

This module builds on Video Module 1 by showing how Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt movement mobilized citizens to stand up to their government and demand social and environmental justice. Short clips depict the strategies and tactics that rural women, Maathai and other activists used to protect critical public lands, fight for human rights and protest political corruption.

Watch the Green Belt Movement video module >>

Additional Handouts

TAKING ROOT Teacher and Student Handouts (PDF, 196K)
TAKING ROOT Recommended National Standards (PDF, 124K)

Related Resources

More resources for engaging audiences through viewing TAKING ROOT are available in the TAKING ROOT Discussion Guide and TAKING ROOT Action Guide.

TAKING ROOT Discussion Guide (PDF, 660 K)
Planting Ideas Action Guide (PDF, 2.8 MB)
Wangari Maathai Timeline


COMMUNITY CLASSROOM is an educational resource providing new documentary video content and accompanying curricular materials, lesson plans, and homework assignments, to high school and community college instructors and youth-serving community-based organizations. Content is grouped into subject specific segments that correspond to lesson plans and educational activities. All Classroom materials are designed with key education standards in mind.

Educational content was developed with guidance from the COMMUNITY CLASSROOM National Advisors: PBS Teachers, KQED Education Network, American Association of Community Colleges, National State Teachers of the Year, National Council for the Social Studies, National Association for Multicultural Education and National Council of Teachers of English.

TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai premieres nationally on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Independent Lens on April 14, 2009.

TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai was produced by Lisa Merton and Alan Dater.

COMMUNITY CLASSROOM is a product of the Independent Television Service with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Learn more about the film >>

Share your thoughts and opinions on the film in Talkback >>

Visit COMMUNITY CLASSROOM for learning materials from other Independent Lens films >>

Tell a Friend top

Home | The Film | Wangari Maathai | Planting Trees | Behind the Scenes
Learn More | Get Involved | Classroom | Talkback | Film Credits | Get the DVD | Site Credits
TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai home page Watch Preview