Make an Outdoor Space Better for All

K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Students listen and respond to a read-aloud book about making a shared space better. They walk around their neighborhood parks observing plants, use of space, and ways to make the shared space better. They problem-solve about things they can do and then interview and survey others to get ideas and permission to take action. 

PrintTwo 40-Minute Class Sessions, plus time for a project

The learners will...

  • identify key ideas in a story and relate to their community.
  • name plants and trees in the immediate vicinity - helpful or troublesome.
  • list some of our responsibilities to nurture natural spaces. 
  • identify issues in the natural spaces and trouble-shoot what young people can do.
  • listen to and respect other points of view before taking action to make a space better. 

read-aloud copy of  One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceeesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia by Miranda Paul

Teacher Preparation 

Obtain necessary permission for students to walk around outside -- neighborhood or surrounding area. Note: if you know of an area where there is an environmental issue the youth can address, you might set it up for them to "discover." 


A related book about weaving with plastic bags (Mayan culture) Rainbow Weaver by Linda Elovitz Marshall


  1. Anticipatory Set

    Read aloud One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul (or play the YouTube version). Discuss the steps Isatou Ceesay took from her broken basket to selling purses. Note the problems she observed along the way and how she attempted to solve them.  

    Discuss the roles of different people in the community. From whom did she seek help, advice, approval, and solutions?

  2. Tell the students that like Isatou Ceesay, they are going to walk in the neighborhood or local community and observe what they can along the way, looking for beauty and problems. Brainstorm a list of what we might see. The list may include names of plants, areas of the school grounds and neighborhood, other people, colors, animals, pollution, cared-for and uncared-for spaces, trails, roads, gardens, etc. Tell them when they get back, they will discuss what they observed and what they can make better.

    Pose this question for think, pair, and share: Is it our responsibility or just nice to take care of nature?

  3. Walk outside with the learners and listen to their observations and encourage them to listen to one another and remember what they see. They might see plastic bags, as Isatou Ceesay did, or they might see another issue. 

    If you are separated, students may walk with their families and record their observations in Google docs or a video conference. 

  4. Discuss some things they observed and what issues they saw that could be improved. Write their ideas on large sticky notes. 

    Review all the ideas and ask the students to think about which one they care most about. It might be a polluted or neglected area or a potential new use for an area. Work together to put their ideas in order (move the sticky notes) from what they'd like to address most to least. Discuss the possibilities and barriers of each. 

  5. Look at their top idea, maybe it is to plant flowers in a messy area of the school grounds, for example. Discuss WHO else they should talk to about taking action. Tell them that when we volunteer or take action for the common good, we have to be aware that there are different points of view and other people who can help. 

    Brainstorm a list of people and what they need to ask. This may include local organizations, school administration, parents, other students, community leaders, neighbors, other people at the school or in the community. Talk about how they gather information from others. It could be a phone call or letter, an interview, a survey, or a request for supplies. 

    Facilitate the students gathering feedback from as many different perspectives as possible. They may ask for ideas at home too of who could help.

  6. Day Two (after perspectives of different people are gathered)

    Discuss what they learned from others. Compare the different points of view. 

    Questions for Reflection: Does everyone we talked to agree that the improvement should be made? What did people offer as ideas? What different perspectives are there? What are some problems that need to be solved and in what order? Are some perspectives better or more important than others? How do we treat everyone's point of view with respect? 

  7. Make a plan to take action to improve something in the environment. Work together to research and plan all the steps, then have each student take responsibility for their specific actions in their environmental stewardship project.

    Optional: Like Isatou Ceesay, their project may include making art from something in nature or to solve an environmental issue. 

  8. Take action and reflect on how it is going, who is doing what, and what went well.


Students draw a picture and label it to illustrate the action they took and its impact. Together, write a summary, edit, and print it on a poster. Display their drawings in a public place around the summary. 

Provide a way for others to respond to the project, such as a comment box.

Cross Curriculum 

A similar story to One Plastic Bag is Rainbow Weaver by Linda Elovitz Marshall. Read both stories and have students compare and contrast the stories: characters, settings, problems, and solutions. Look at maps to show the locations of the two settings.