Educator Spotlight: Language Arts Goes Green

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Shakenya Humphries, this week’s Educator of the Week, makes language arts compelling by connecting readings and writings to real-world challenges. Shakenya teaches language arts at Washington School for Girls in Washington, D.C.

Photo courtesy Shakenya Humphries

Activity: Water Rights and Responsibilities 

Grade Level: 6-7 

Time Commitment: Around 2 weeks

Connecting Reading and Writing to Living
Some students who live in inner-city schools struggle with language arts because they are not given reading material that feels real to them, or that they can relate to. They take these boring standardized tests that provide reading samples such as, “Let’s Talk About The Model T,” and that usually doesn’t have much relevance to their lives.

I wanted to pick nonfiction material that would interest my students, so I teamed up with our science teacher, Ms. Walker, who planned a field trip to help clean up the Anacostia River. That visit was the culminating piece of the project.

Leading up to the trip, I brought in as much information as I could about water issues—not only to give background, but also to show that these challenges are global. For example, I used the Nat Geo lesson, Conflict on the Danube, to make connections between the issues facing Europe and those facing the D.C. metropolitan region.

Kennedi smiles when she and other students find some wildlife. Photo courtesy Shakenya Humphries

When your water source shares borders (like both the Anacostia River and the Danube River), who should be responsible for cleaning it? How do the actions of people upstream affect those living downstream? Can water really be property? These types of questions were challenging for my students and kept them engaged.

When the students visited the Anacostia River, they brainstormed how they could make the river better. They narrowed down their list to about ten different ideas, and the students eventually decided to start a recycling program at the school. One student named Alyssa led the charge and became an especially strong advocate for recylcing.

Photo of the Anacostia River courtesy Shakenya Humphries

Tell me more about your philosophy for choosing engaging topics in language arts class.
I want students to feel like what they’re learning about in language arts is tied to something that matters to them. If they don’t realize how important a topic is, I try a different angle. I give them as many options for entryway as possible.

How did your students respond to the “Water Rights and Responsibilities” lesson?
It was amazing to see them dealing with adult issues and feeling as though they could come up with solutions. They were so confident. By the end, the students felt connected to water issues and empowered to help their community.

There were also kids that didn’t recognize the beauty of nature until we brought them out there. When you live in a city, it’s really easy to bypass the natural environment and not notice how powerful it is. I saw some light bulb moments around that.

At the end of the field trip, students reflected on and drew pictures of things that stood out to them. Here’s a taste of what they came up with:

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Do you have a favorite book, blog, or quote that inspires you in your teaching?

The heart has reasons that reason cannot know. – Blaise Pascal

Sometimes education can try to compartmentalize kids’ spirits, but it really can’t. It’s important to let students’ natural inclinations guide them toward what they’re really interested in.


blue nominateDo you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!

The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.


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