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Movement Milestones


This lesson introduces students to a history of environmental justice in the US. Students will explore important events that helped shape the environmental justice movement. Through a guided gallery walk, they will engage with a variety of print and media content, considering each event's significance and the role activism has and continues to play in the movement for environmental justice. Finally, students will reflect on issues they feel particularly inspired by and imagine what role they can play as an environmental justice activist in their community.

Essential Questions

  • What can we learn from environmental justice history? What communities have been at the forefront of environmental justice? What do they have in common?

  • What is the role of activism in the environmental justice movement?

  • How does environmental justice history inspire us to change the course of history in our own communities?

Learning Objectives

  • Students will discuss a selection of  important environmental justice movement milestones and identify issues and actions taken 

  • Students will analyze historical information, and collaborate on developing a historical timeline

  • Students will reflect on the history of environmental justice and examine what it means today

Learning Standards

Please contact us for the state learning standards for this lesson. 



60 minutes

Learning Tasks

Warm-Up (6 min):

Goal: Students are introduced to a brief foundational history of environmental justice before exploring and analyzing its history more in depth


Load the A Brief History of Environmental Justice video on a projector or computer:

Warm-Up Tasks:

Step 1 (1 min): As a class, review the definition students collaborated on for ‘environmental justice.’

Step 2 (4 min) As a class, watch the short video

Step 3 (1 min): Take some responses from students about the video

Activity 1 (45 min): Movement Milestones History Walk 

Goal: Students are introduced to key moments from the environmental justice movement. Students will analyze a particular milestone from history using articles, images, and video documentation about certain historical events

Activity 1 Prep:

Movement Milestones Activity

1 laptop or tablet

Set-up the space or classroom for a history-walk. Identify five stations, each will contain a different milestone from EJ history. Place a collection of articles and photos (or a laptop depending on station) at each station. If the station requires articles, make sure there are enough for 2-4 students to engage with at a time.

Hand each student a Gallery Walk Worksheet and something to write with.

Activity 1 Tasks:

Step 1 (2 min): Divide students into five small-groups (depending on class size this will look different). Hand each student a worksheet, and assign each group a station to begin their history walk.

Step 2 (25 min): Give each group 5-7 minutes at each station, leaving time to complete their worksheets. Each group will have the opportunity to visit every station, but will only complete the worksheet for 3 out of the 5 stations.

Step 3 (5 min): Give each student some silent reflection time to fill out the last section of their worksheet

Step 4 (10 min): Come back together as a class to have a group discussion about the activity and what students have learned thus far. Use these questions to guide your discussion:

  • What was compelling to you about these moments in history? 

  • Who is most affected by environmental injustice? What do these communities have in common? How do they differ?

  • Is there anything we can add to our definition of environmental justice?

Note: If time permits, go over any vocabulary words that students jotted down during the activity. Facilitators should also use the curriculum glossary as a reference. 

Wrap-up (10 min):

Goal: Create space for students to feel inspired by each other and the ways that they can take action in their communities. 

Wrap-up Prep:

Gather everyone in a standing circle for a toss-and-share using a ball of string

Wrap-up Tasks: 

Step 1 (8 min): Once in a circle, one person starts by holding a ball of string. Everyone will go around and say something they feel inspired to do, and once they share they will pass the ball of string, holding on to the end. This will create a web within the center of the circle. Here is a picture for reference

Step 2 (2 min): Once everyone has shared, the facilitator can ask students to reflect on what the web represents.

Supplemental Lessons


Excerpt from NRDC, The Environmental Justice Movement, published March 17, 2016

Excerpt from NRDC website, Toxic Air Pollution in the Houston Ship Channel: Disparities Show Urgent Need for Environmental Justice, published August 31, 2021

Excerpt from EarthJustice, Cancer Alley Rises Up, published September 14, 2022



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