Teaching Ideas

triangle 1


Metanoia - The Environment Teaching Ideas

triangle 11-minute Reflection Paper

Background: Student reflection has been used to assess student learning. This process has been called the Minute Paper because it should only take a minute or so for a student to complete (Angelo and Cross, 1993). The technique is useful for the instructor to determine if students are learning what is being taught, such as by asking: What is the most important concept you have learned? and What questions remained unanswered? The approach is used here to assess students’ attitudes toward the environment.

Instructions: Write no more than one sentence in response to the following prompts:

  1. Describe one thing you have done today that effects the environment.
  2. List one action you could do today to reduce your impact on ___________(insert topic).
  3. water use
  4. energy use
  5. food waste
  6. __________ (insert a topic relevant to your class)

Angelo, T.A. and K.P. Cross. 1993. Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.

2Think – Pair – Share on Sustainability

Background: In a think – pair – share activity, 1) a prompting question is presented to students and is first considered by each student individually for a few minutes, 2) students are then paired up, and 3) students take turns sharing their responses to the prompt to each other. The instructor may ask for sharing with the whole class.

Instructions: First ask the students to reflect on prompting question below: 

“Is driving to campus a sustainable activity?”

Second, after a few minutes, have students team up in pairs. If there is one person left, have that student join a pair. Instruct the students to share their response to the question by taking turns.

Third, after a few minutes, ask for volunteer students to describe their responses. The caveat can be added they must present their partners response, which benefits listening skills.

Optional: This exercise could be repeated by a new prompt, such as: “How could you change this activity to make it more sustainable?”

Barkley, E.F., K.P. Cross, and C.H. Major. 2005. Collaborative learning techniques.  A handbook for college faculty.   Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.

3Learning Teams to Dispel Myths about Climate Change

Description: Students assemble into groups in order to incorporate small group discussion or teamwork into your class, you direct the students to get into these learning groups. Groups of four work well to allow for active participation from everyone.

Use the website Skeptical Science for this activity < https://www.skepticalscience.com>.

Scientific skepticism is healthy. Scientists should always challenge themselves to improve their understanding. Yet this isn't what happens with climate change denial. Skeptics vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet embrace any argument, op-ed, blog or study that purports to refute global warming. This website gets skeptical about global warming skepticism. Do their arguments have any scientific basis? What does the peer reviewed scientific literature say?

  1. Assign each Team one of the common myths about Climate Change.
  2. Give the Teams 10-15 minutes to read about and discuss the topic, and form an argument to present to the class.
  3. Each Team reports to the larger class their argument related to that myth.

Comments: Students get to know a small number of their classmates well over the course of the term, and may come to see their team mates as study partners even outside the classroom. Using learning teams eliminates the time it takes to organize students into groups each time you wish to use group work.

  • Brookfield, S.D., & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Habeshaw, S., Habeshaw, T., & Gibbs, G. (1984). 53 Interesting Things to Do in Your Seminars & Tutorials. Bristol: Technical and Educational Services Ltd.
  • Jaques, D. (2000). Learning in Groups: A Handbook for Improving Group Work, 3rd ed. London: Kogan Page.

4Using Ted Talks to spark discussion

Go to the website: https://www.ted.com/search?q=environment

  1. Assign students to watch one of the videos prior to class.
  2. Have them break into groups and brainstorm what they thought of the video, the challenges that future generations face, and possible pathways to avoiding future environmental catastrophe.
  3. Have each group share with the class and facilitate a discussion regarding what differences we can make in our lives to help lessen our negative impact on the environment.

5Water Footprint Math

Background: Water is consumed by humans for routine domestic activities, in the products we use, and the food we eat. There are wide ranges in the amount of water used, especially for foods and products we purchase. Irrigation contributes to part of the wide ranges reported.

Instructions: The purpose of this assignment is to determine your water footprint for a day. Use the tables below to determine your daily water usage.


Bath 35 gal/ea
Brush teeth 2 gal
Dishwasher 15 gal/load
Shower 3 gal/min
Toilet 1.5 gal/flush
Wash clothes 40 gal/load
Wash dishes (hand) 20 gal


Apple 33 gal
Cheeseburger 634 gal
Chicken 500 gal/lb
Coffee 34 gal/1 cup
Egg 52 gal/ea
Hamburger 460 gal
Salad 21 gal
Soda 34 gal/17 oz
Steak 674 gal/6 oz
Toast 5 gal


Gasoline 0.75 gal/mile
Jeans 2,108 gal
Sheet of paper 3 gal
Smartphone 3,190 gal
T-shirt 659 gal

Sources: Watercalculator.org; water.usgs.gov

7Longer-term projects to consider in the future

  • student’s baseline consumptive behavior followed by a period of working to reduce water, energy, high-impact foods, and other materials. The project is relevant to student’s lives and engages the student in both personal reflection and analysis of the data.
  • Greenhouse Emissions Reduction Role-Play Exercise (https://cleanet.org/resources/42716.html). Students take on the role of important players in the climate change policy negotiation, including politicians, scientists, environmentalists, and industry representatives. This project places students in roles that they may not initially agree with and can help students to challenge their own assumptions.
  • Simulation of international Negotiations to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. (https://cleanet.org/resources/42692.html). This project has some great tips on how to bring the latest international debates and policy discussion into the classroom. Engages a variety of different learning styles via research, report writing, negotiating and presenting.
  • Adapting to a Changing World (https://cleanet.org/resources/49445.html). This project digs into issues of human and social dimensions to climate change and has a lot of resources and materials for easily integrating into a 50-minute class session.

Further resources for incorporating sustainability into the classroom and the curriculum

Buszard, D. and Kolb, J., 2011. Institutional innovation to deliver post-secondary education for sustainability. Sustainability: The Journal of Record, 4 (2), 80-4.

Dresner, S., 2008. The Principles of Sustainability. London: Earthscan.

Gough, S. and Scott, W.A.H., 2007. Higher Education and Sustainable Development: Paradox and Possibility. London: Routledge Falmer.

Sterling, S. 2004. Higher education, sustainability, and the role of systematic learning. In: P.B. Corcoran and A.E.J Wals, eds. Higher Education and the Challenge of Sustainability: Problematics, Promise, and Practice. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 49-70.

Timpson, W., et al., 2017. 147 Tips for Teaching Sustainability: Connecting the Environment, the Economy, and Society. Madison: Atwood Publishing.

Wals, A.E.J. and Jickling, B., 2002. ‘Sustainability’ in higher education: from doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 3 (2), 221-32.