8 creative ways to teach students about the climate crisis

Ideas & resources for teaching students about the impacts of human activity on the environment and solutions to tackle it

20 October 2021

The climate crisis already has obvious links to Geography and Science topics. However, it doesn’t need to be confined to these subjects – it can be part of a creative curriculum too.

These suggestions are relevant for primary teachers, and may also be relevant to subject teachers in Geography, Science, History, and English at secondary level.

1. Get involved in COP26

The UK is hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 31 October – 12 November 2021, providing a great opportunity to kickstart conversations with your students about climate change.

Transform Our World are holding an online Youth Summit where young people will learn about practical action and explore how to harness the power of youth voice. It will include teacher CPD too. You can download their schools pack here and download a planner for the events here.

2. Use our Teaching for Creativity Resources

Two of our Teaching for Creativity resources focus on the environment:

Nature inspired design for KS2/KS3 – artist Seyi Adelekun links sustainable design practice to Design Technology with a focus on biomimicry. The resource encourages students to turn to nature to find solutions to problems, while learning the creative habit of being collaborative – one of the five Creative Habits of Mind.

This is a positive, solution-focused method of teaching about the climate crisis; asking students to consider not only how to learn from nature but how we can use materials that are more ecologically sound. It could be taught within DT or Science topics.

What are the links between colonialism and the environment? for KS3 - Climate Museum UK’s Geography resource focuses on the impact of colonialist activities in Jamaica and Nigeria, exploring the consequences on both biodiversity and the people who live there.

By focusing on the creative habit of being inquisitive, this sequence supports a creative Geography curriculum, and could also be adapted for Art & Design, Drama or English subjects, with the final outcome of the resources being a ‘Letter to Power’.

3. Visit an exhibition or take part in a workshop

Climate Museum UK offer workshops, events, and participatory art projects to schools and communities. They can do short talks, bespoke workshops and pop-up museums, using a library of books, games, a museum of handling-objects, and a range of creative activities such as story cubes and designing climate-friendly houses with Lego. For further insights from Climate Museum UK, you can read their report written as part A New Direction’s Listening Projects: How culture and creative learning might respond to the Earth emergency.

Keep an eye out for exhibitions to visit, such the Antarctica 3D films screenings for schools from the Science Museum, who also have a free KS3 exhibition on technologies being developed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Arctic culture and climate from the British Museum explores how communities who live in the Arctic have developed respectful relationships with the natural world, and how the melting ice will have huge impacts on their way of life. It is available online rather than an in-person visit, and the 360-degree virtual tour includes interactive features alongside a self-guided walk through of the space. You could look at this as part of the Design Technology, Literacy, Geography or History curriculum.

Studio Cultivate’s PlayGreen workshops exploring the story of tea, dinosaur fossils, and Shakespeare plays are a ‘hybrid of outdoor theatre and garden exploration’, using play to build meaningful relationships with the natural world. They deliver the workshops in outdoor spaces and each is designed to be a participatory experience unique to the location. They can even tailor the workshops to your own school campus.

4. Use climate change as a literacy topic

If you teach English, you could assign a texts such as The Promise or The Last Wild for your class to read. The Guardian has a list of books for younger children, and you can find a list for older students on Teen Vogue.

For poetry units, you could use the theme of nature to spark discussions on the topic. Use this resource from the Poetry Society as a starting point, and consider using news articles when looking at factual and non-fiction formats.

Another of our Teaching for Creativity resources – Speeches that changed the world by Butterfly Theatre – shows how you can weave the subject of the climate crisis into other subjects at KS3 such as English and History. Although it focuses on historical figures and dramatising their speeches, you could use the techniques and activities to expand on speeches from climate activist Greta Thunberg.

5. Encourage students to enjoy nature and look after it

This could be through a creative research project where you set the theme of nature and using natural materials, or creating pieces taking inspiration from artists such as Andy Goldsworthy.

The Horniman Museum has a resource about turning trash into treasure – offering a creative way to explore recycling and how waste is harmful to the environment. Spark Arts for Children also has a creative learning toolkit with further suggestions of activities about nature and recycling.

Being in nature is the best way for young people to build a connection, so if you are able to go on a physical trip you could visit Kew Gardens, nature reserves in Epping Forest, or your local park. You might want to design a school new garden space with the students, making sure to consider sustainability. The London Curriculum’s Wild About London resources for KS2 aim to connect students with green spaces across the city.

If you can't get out into nature together, encourage your class to take part in 'nature challenges’ as homework, such as RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, or the National Trust’s 50 things activity list. They might even want to take inspiration from Michael Rosen and write performance poems based on what they have seen and experienced.

Through enjoying nature, you can start discussions with students on why it is important to protect the natural world, and get them to start thinking about how we can do this.

6. Use resources from organisations that champion fighting climate change

WWF has created classroom resources for primary and secondary to learn about climate change that end with a creative activity to imagine a positive future. Oxfam have resources that focus on the human impact of climate change which include a science investigation, games, and quizzes.

Teach the Future, a group set up by secondary school pupils, has a network for educators interested in climate education. The network runs on Slack and provides a space to discuss and exchange resources and ideas.

Transform Our World has a searchable bank of resources themed around topics including the Sustainable Development Goals, Values and Wellbeing, and Food and Consumption. You can find more ideas in this list from Campaign Against Climate Change – including some blog posts with tips on how to introduce the topic to your students depending on their age.

7. Use creative activities in Science and Geography or STEAM weeks

For STEAM activities, check out the resource bank from Encounter Edu, who focus on addressing environmental and societal issues. Resources cover topics such as considering plastics, oceans and the Arctic. They also include activities which use Google Expeditions for an immersive experience.

The Geographical Association has a KS3 resource that uses Bangladesh as a case study for the impacts of climate change in urban areas. The final homework task of designing a home to help deal with the effects of climate change, or designing a campaign poster to raise awareness, could also be done in class and form part of a larger school-wide campaign. They also have helpful background information for teachers and tips for starting points, such an experiment to test rising sea levels.

8. Sign up to a scheme that commits to school-wide change

There are schemes available to support schools in becoming more sustainable and ecological friendly, such as Eco Schools and the Green Schools Project. Putting students at the centre of change enables them to learn about the climate crisis while also putting practical solutions into action. They are encouraged to advocate for this through planning and organising events and challenges.

Your school could also commit to going carbon zero by 2030. Sign up to Let’s Go Zero to find out more, including regular ideas and a tool to monitor progress.

You can also find more educational resources from the arts and culture sector by searching for ‘environment’, ‘nature’ or ‘climate change’ on our LookUp platform.

Feature image credit: Felipe Trueba via The Conversation