poisoned waters

What Can Students Do?: Raising Environmental Awareness


Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

  • Become familiar with and understand the environmental water pollution issues featured in Poisoned Waters
  • Explore in greater depth a particular aspect of water pollution and its possible remedies
  • Participate in group study and planning to create a presentation or school assembly on the sources of water and environmental pollution and possible remedies for the problems
  • Create posters, videos, PowerPoint presentations and/or speeches to teach and inspire students to become more aware of and to act on local pollution concerns and/or the potential for smart growth
  • Present their findings on the subject of water and environmental pollution


Materials Needed:

  • Internet access (see Steps #2 and #3 for adapting the lesson if you have limited Internet access)
  • FRONTLINE documentary Poisoned Waters
  • Copies of Student Handouts #1, #2 and #3


Time Needed:

  • Background and context: 2-3 minutes
  • Watching video segments: 15 minutes
  • Lesson: 15 minutes for discussion questions on Student Handout #1
  • Lesson: 50 minutes for researching the issues on Student Handout #2, plus a day or more of homework for preparing posters, PowerPoint presentations, videos, speeches
  • 30-45 minutes of class time to present and rehearse assembly presentations
  • School assembly: 30-45 minutes for a presentation of speeches, videos, PowerPoint presentations and/or posters that students have prepared to inform their schoolmates about the issues of Poisoned Waters


Note to Teachers

You may want to show Poisoned Waters and present these activities to students around Earth Day, but the lesson is also appropriate at other times of the year.

If you want to review the issues that prompted the first Earth Day, you can consult for background and interviews.




Step 1: Background and Context


Before viewing the film clips:

  • Ask students what they know about Earth Day and how they and the nation commemorate it each year. (Teachers can prepare themselves to lead the discussion by going to the Earth Day section of the Poisoned Waters Web site.)
  • Explain to students that the first Earth Day in 1970 was the largest public demonstration in our nation's history, with 20 million Americans—10 percent of the population at the time—out on the streets. The deep public concern for the environment that was exhibited on Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act.
  • Ask students if they believe environmental concerns still grab the public's attention to the same extent that they did in the 1970s. Encourage them to explain their responses.
  • Before they watch both film segments, ask students to look over the questions on Student Handout #1.
    • Tell students that, to engage them in the issues, they are about to see two film segments from Poisoned Waters
    • The first looks at the effect of agriculture, especially chicken farming, on pollution of Chesapeake Bay (Chapters 7, 8 and 9—30:00-44:00).
    • The second focuses on the environmental effects of chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors in many of our everyday products (Chapters 10 and 11—45:00-55:23).
  • After watching the film segments, discuss with students the questions on Student Handout #1.


Step 2: What Can Students Do?: Creating an Environmental Awareness Assembly

  • Give out Student Handout #2, and ask students to look at the topics in the left-hand column: Stormwater Runoff Pollution; Legacy Pollutants; Development Sprawl; Clean Water Act; The Business of Farming; and The Effects of Chemicals in Our Food and Life.
  • Divide the students into groups of three to five students, assigning each group to one of the topics in the left-hand column. (If the class is large, two groups can work on each topic.)
  • Give students in each group 30 to 40 minutes to inform themselves about their topics. The teacher should circulate among groups, answering questions and helping students to navigate Web sites. Tell students that the point of learning about their topic is so that they can then inform fellow students and the public about the issues through an in-class presentation or school assembly. (Note: If classroom access to computers is limited, students should complete this step outside of class.)
  • Allow students time outside of class to work individually or in groups to make posters, write speeches, prepare PowerPoint presentations and/or produce videos addressing their topics. Encourage students to look upon the activities as a way to empower them to learn enough to inform others and to bring about changes they see as necessary. Teachers should provide students with the assessment rubric (Student Handout #3) so that students understand the expectations, both for content and presentation. For content, students should be able to identify the history of the issue, the major conflict around the issue and some possible solutions or actions.
  • When students have prepared their topics, the teacher and students should brainstorm together to devise an overall plan and order of events for the presentation or school assembly. Then allow students 30 to 45 minutes in class to rehearse their presentations.
  • Present to the class or larger group the videos, PowerPoint presentations, speeches and/or posters that students have completed.


Assessment Recommendations:

  • Assess students' involvement in the discussion questions and activities.
  • Evaluate students' participation in their small group discussions and in the whole-class presentations at the end.
  • Evaluate each student's or each group's presentation of a video, PowerPoint display, speech or poster for the school assembly. (SEE ATTACHED RUBRIC: Student Handout #3)



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