Writing Climate Literacy: Approaches from Middle School ELA and Teacher Education - National Council of Teachers of English
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Writing Climate Literacy: Approaches from Middle School ELA and Teacher Education

This blog was written by NCTE members Gail Harper Yeilding  and Shelby M. Boehm.


According to a study by Pew Research Center, Gen Z and Millenials have been more active against climate change than previous generations. Teen Vogue’s No Planet B contends that “a new movement of young people is rising to meet the challenge of climate catastrophe,” providing examples of the climate justice movement led by BIPOC and queer individuals.

We write as two English educators interested in thinking alongside our students about climate justice through literacy. Gail is interested in climate literacy because of her love of nature, proclivity towards recycling, and particularly racial injustices witnessed around environmental concerns in her school community. Having always loved the outdoors, Shelby has been thinking about climate literacy since joining her high school’s recycling club; however, recent extreme weather (including Hurricane Ian which made landfall in her hometown in 2022) has further motivated her interests. We agree with Karen Costa that all courses are climate courses, and we’ve taken up this call in our current contexts. Gail is currently teaching seventh-grade English language arts in Alabama. Shelby is teaching an English teaching methods undergraduate course focused on secondary writing pedagogy. Below, we share ideas around integrating climate literacy into such contexts.

Teacher Education: Place-Based Writing

While this climate literacy activity could take place in a variety of contexts, Shelby arranged an outdoor class experience for her teacher candidates this semester, which included a tour of the campus arboretum from a local botanist. As part of this experience, students learned about how climate change has changed the arboretum in Illinois over time. Students also considered other resources, such as a podcast about the “mother of environmental justice,” Hazel Johnson, who was a climate activist in Chicago (Respair Production & Media 2023). In preparation for a persuasive writing unit inspired by Jessica S. Early’s book Next Generation Genres, students considered these localized climate change issues by creating a public service announcement (PSA) to be displayed on the college’s campus. A form of place-based writing, the PSA is a genre that “support[ed] students in making sense of and engaging with the world they live in” (Early 2022). Along with this important goal, teacher candidates also engaged in multimodal literacy practices and considered community-based resources for teaching and writing instruction. Organizations (especially nonprofits) are often eager to partner with students for learning experiences. In our classes, we’ve had success calling on librarians and media specialists, social workers, nonprofit agencies, and administrators, for example, to engage learners in a variety of experiential learning opportunities.

Middle School: What Sort of World Could Be?

Future City is a national STEM competition that generates student-led designs for how our cities might be designed for much of what Mirra and Garcia (2023) describe in Civics for the World to Come. Dr. Cheryl Seals in Auburn University’s Engineering department works with K–12 students and involved Gail who is now partnering with her school’s Science teachers. Mirra and Garcia describe world-building commitments that align with this competition by asking students to share an artifact that demonstrates students’ super power and answering questions such as what genre the future will be and if everyone had free rent and utilities, what sort of world could be? Find more information here: www.futurecity.org.

While we hope you’ll consider how these activities could work in your context, we also provide additional resources that can support climate literacy writing in secondary English and English teacher education. We’ve organized resources into categories, including middle school, high school, and higher education/teacher education; however, we hope that you’ll recognize these categories can blur according to pedagogical needs and students’ interests. Climate literacy is urgently needed, and because younger generations are more apt for such conversations, teachers who present opportunities for writing about the climate crisis can support imagining and enacting an ecological civilization.

Middle School

Climate Generation

Six units geared toward grades 6–8 based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Next Generation Climate.

Middle School Curriculum

A climate literacy curriculum developed by Stanford University. Supports middle schoolers in learning the differences between weather and climate.

World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky and Frank Stockton

Here, two great authors tackle tough questions in a book for all ages, in line with tough questions and statistics to support a real need for climate action, particularly in the way that we eat.

“Build Your Stack: Climate Crisis and English Language Arts” by Richard Beach and Allen Webb

A starting place for adding climate literacy K–12 texts to classroom libraries or curriculum.

High School

No Planet B: A Teen Vogue Guide to the Climate Crisis by Lucy Diavolo (Editor)

A compilation of approaches to climate justice by youth activists.

Weir Farm, Write Out Activities

If you are looking for an arts-based approach for some of these concepts, Weir Farm is a great place to start. Weir Farm is a National Historic Park, and park rangers have put together video prompts that challenge students throughout Write Out, October 8–22.

Climate Lit

Literature and other texts for informing young people’s climate literacy.

Project Drawdown

A website and book, with video lectures by top scholars in the field of climate literacy.

Climate Action Project

A great resource and competition designed by Koen Timmers, Belgian researcher, author, and speaker.

Learning through Storytelling: Inspiring New Warriors to Conquer Hunger and Malnutrition

A passion project of author Roger Thurow and Auburn’s Hunger Solutions Institute, with curriculum designed for secondary ELA classes by Gail. Currently this is a link to the Google Classroom, with a website forthcoming by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Higher Education and Teacher Education

FAO Online Learning Academy, Sustainable Development Goals

Courses on climate literacy topics, such as food security.

Civics for the World to Come by Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia

Describes civic education approaches, with specific offerings around climate literacy.

Teach Boldly: Using Edtech for Social Good by Jennifer Williams

Approaches to integrating technology into teaching, including around environmental justice.



Early, Jessica S. 2022. Next Generation Genres: Teaching Writing for Civic and Academic Engagement. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Mirra, Nicole and Antero Garcia. 2023. Civics for the World to Come: Committing to Democracy in Every Classroom. New York: Norton Professional Books.

Respair Production & Media. 2023. Help This Garden Grow (blog). https://www.respairmedia.com/help-this-garden-grow.


Gail Harper Yeilding is a seventh-grade English language arts teacher who recently completed her doctorate in English education at Auburn University. She can be reached by email or on Twitter.

Shelby M. Boehm is an assistant professor of English education at Illinois State University. Prior to this role, she taught high school English in Florida. She can be reached via email.

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.