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Environmental Writing Projects: Empowering Students, Documenting the Natural World

Originally appears in the Summer 2009 issue

No matter where you teach, whether it is in a huge metropolis or a small village, guiding students to explore the natural world in their own community is a powerful way to teach writing. Bringing students outdoors, into their local neighborhoods and parks, helps them to discover their own creative voices and practice observation and writing skills.

For teachers interested in multidisciplinary approaches to teaching English and Science in grades 6 to 12, an environmental writing project can help students explore hands-on environmental science and develop literacy skills. Through an environmental writing project, students select a local environmental issue to study, visit the site or sites affected, interview local experts and community members engaged in the issue, and then develop a book or portfolio of writings related to the issue. Some of the writings may be essays and articles based on interviews with environmental professionals, activists and city employees. Nonfiction writing can be combined with nature poetry written by the students about the places they are studying. If you have the funding, a small booklet can be created of the collective student work and displayed in your community to educate others about the issues students are working on.

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Jan D. Wellik is Founder and Executive Director of Eco Expressions, a nature writing program for youth. She currently teaches Environmental Science at Platt College in San Diego, California, and is the author of Nature Writing Field Guide for Teachers, which provides writing activities useful for environmental writing projects. It can be ordered online at: <>.