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Introduction to Environmental Justice

(for high school learners)


In this introductory lesson, students will explore the topic of environmental justice. Students will consider their perceptions of the environment and begin to think about how their perspectives relate to and differ from their peers. Students will come together to define environmental justice, consider what a just society looks like, and begin to define activism for themselves.

Essential Questions

  • What is the environment and why is it important?

  • How do we define environmental justice? 

  • What is the difference between equality, equity, and justice? What does a just environment look like?

  • How do I define activism? What makes someone an activist?

  • How do I become an activist?

Learning Objectives

  • Students will identify their personal connections with the environment, and explore how they differ and or relate to their peers

  • Students will co-create a working definition of environmental justice

  • Students will consider what a just environment looks like 

  • Students will identify their own ideas of activism

Learning Standards

This lesson was created for high school learners. Standards will be sent with the lesson upon request.



45 minutes

Learning Tasks

Warm-Up (5 min):

Goal: Students begin to think about their environment and the places and spaces that they value and feel connected to on a daily basis

Warm-Up Prep: 

  • Hand each student a piece of paper and something to write with.

Warm-Up Tasks:

Step 1 (5 min): Prompt students to answer these three questions, giving time between each for reflection 

  • What does the term environment mean to you?

  • What do you love about your environment? What do you wish you could change about it?

  • What does a healthy environment mean to you?

Activity 1 (20 min): Defining Environmental Justice 

Goal: Students define environmental justice as a class. 

Activity 1 Prep:

Using a white board make a T-chart and label one side ‘ The environment is…’ and the other side ‘Justice is…’. This can also be done using large pieces of paper, if that is the case then plan to have three pieces of paper. Pass out sticky notes and writing utensils to each pair or table group, making sure that each student has at least four.

Activity 1 Tasks:

Step 1 (5 min): Have students write 1-2 post-it notes for each of the phrases “the environment is…” and “justice is…”  in partner-pairs or larger groups. Each post-it can be one word or full sentence responses.  

Step 2 (5 min): In pairs, students can come up to the board or to the paper and place their definitions reading them out to the class if they choose. The facilitator reads each group's definition aloud to the class.

Step 3 (10 min): Using the definitions each pair/group wrote, the class works together to build one coherent definition of ‘environmental justice.’ The facilitator writes the definition on the white board for the whole class to see. 

Note: Hold on to these ideas/definitions because they will need to be referenced in future lessons. You can find a spot to keep them in your classroom, or record what you write and print out copies for each student. We even suggest taking a picture of the post-it definitions for future reference. 

Activity 2 (20 min): Equity, Equality, Justice

Goal: Students brainstorm about how their definition of environmental justice applies to their own lives and communities. Students will identify the differences between equity, equality, and justice, and consider what a just environment might look like.

Activity 2 Prep:

Hand out print-outs of the Drawing Justice Template along with colored writing utensils.

Load the slideshow on a projector or computer: Inequality - Justice

Activity 2 Tasks:

Step 1 (5 min): Discuss each of the terms on the first slide of the slideshow (Inequality, equality, equity) and how they differ.

Step 2 (10 min): Using the Drawing Justice Template, give students 10 minutes to draw out a scenario that showcases the term ‘justice.’  Get creative! For instance, students can divide their paper into 4 boxes and create a comic strip, a word wall, or a storyboard.

Step 3 (5 min): Have a few students share, and reveal slide 2 and the definition for justice. 

Note: Students can keep their drawings or the facilitator can choose to hang them up in the classroom space.

Supplemental Lessons

For a history of the environmental justice movement, visit this lesson:

Movement Milestones Lesson 



Curriculum Suite © 2024 by Start:Empowerment is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 


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