Climate Conversations in your Classroom

Exploring and framing topics thoughtfully and intentionally is critical to the learning experience. The level of life-long engagement with climate change that we hope students will carry with them is directly affected by the conversations they have about climate change.  Conversations in your classroom can help students develop the soft skills they need to effectively engage the topic over their lifetime.

Recognizing this, the PEEL Project has divided learner objectives and lessons into two “types” of learning: hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills include information that is highly cognitive and rational, such as facts, data, and vocabulary. Soft skills, offer tools for interpretation and make sense of learning and feelings at a developmentally appropriate level.

In the PEEL project, soft skills can bracket a lesson that focuses more on difficult content. For example, when students learn that there is limited fresh water on our planet and that glaciers and ice are melting more quickly due to climate change, it can be challenging for students to internalize or digest this information. However, talking about emotions that arise in response to the information models for students that it is ok to feel uncomfortable with environmental realities. This is one way to soften the impact of learning of about climate change and give permission for students to feel what they need to in response to these global realities.

Another option might be to follow a lesson with an opportunity for students to express/discuss/articulate/artistically demonstrate how this reality makes them feel. Of course, even being aware of one’s feelings requires learning, so soft skills (feeling, identifying emotions, regulating emotions, talking about, writing about, etc.) take time to develop and normalize. Learning to recognize one's emotions while living with discomfort is a critical component of exploring climate change in a productive and healthy manner.

Debriefing is also an important part of classroom routines. Making time for discussion and space for students to sit with their learning in meaningful and mindful ways is important for all ages. This can be especially useful after an expert presents new learning or a particularly inspiring or heavy concept is explored. Debriefing can help students of all ages make the critical move information to personal action over the course of their learning about climate change.  

Below are samples of debriefing conversation starters.

Ideas for Starting a Debrief Conversation

  • "Hearing about _______________ made me wonder_______________"
  • "When I picture_____________, I imagine__________________"
  •  “This concept makes me feel __________ “
  •  “One person who I think really needs to learn about this concept is _________ because _________ “
  • “One thing I can do to improve awareness is….”
  • “One thing I can do to influence my circle of influence is….”
  • “One thing I am going to do differently is….”
  • “Now I know…..”
  • “This makes me wonder….”
  • "I can't help but wonder..."
  •  "If I could change one think, I would..."
  • "I'm [upset/angry/sad/interested/excited/_____] about this learning because....."
  •   "I feel hopeful about this because...."

Other conversation prompts:

  •  “Is anyone feeling a little unsettled or uncomfortable with some of the information you just heard/read? [pause]. Does anyone want to share what they think they’re feeling or what they feel uncomfortable with?” (discussion, written response, small group)
  • “Who is feeling inspired by our learning today? If there were no limits, what would you do with your inspiration?”
  • “What kinds of questions does this learning raise in you?
  • "What does this learning make you wonder about?”