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KS3 lessons on climate change – 6 engaging activities for students

We hear from Forestry England how a discussion of trees can be the springboard for some powerful lessons on climate change

Forestry England
by Forestry England
Geographical landscape
DOWNLOAD A FREE RESOURCE! KS3/4 geography – Sample scheme of work, threshold concepts and knowledge development

Amid the headlines generated last year by COP26, we here at Forestry England began hearing from a number of teachers that their classes were feeling anxious regarding their future.

The challenge is to enable students to understand and appreciate the urgency of the climate emergency, and then channel that interest and energy into practical explorations and curriculum- linked activities.

Your first step should be to cut through the noise and put into perspective the global dimension of climate in relation to its local impact. Tackling climate conversations from a personal perspective can make ideas and concepts much easier to grasp.

Begin by exploring what we actually mean by ‘climate change’. Discuss those headlines your students will have seen regarding rising sea levels, deforestation and melting ice caps.

Next, talk about changes that are happening much closer to home. Perhaps an incident of flooding, concerns over air quality, reported declines in biodiversity – choose whichever topic is most relevant to your local area.

Why trees?

Trees play a vital role in tackling the climate emergency, by absorbing carbon dioxide and storing it as carbon in the form of wood. They can also play an important role in reducing flooding and keeping our air clean.

You can introduce your students to the role that well-managed forests play in tackling the climate emergency by watching our video, ‘We are for the climate’.

Whether your school is located near a forest or not, trees can still be used to spark useful discussion. The cross-curricular activities below, for example, can be completed sequentially over a number of weeks.

Remember that it’s important to reassure your students that actions they take now can have an important positive impact in future.

1. Get outside

Take the students outside and ask them to hug a tree in the school grounds or your local area – it’s a fun way to introduce the topic. Discuss the tree’s natural and seasonal processes. How does it function? Where does it store carbon? What role does it play in absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen?

2. Talk it through

Lead a discussion on how planting more trees can help ease local issues. Topics that could be covered here include sustainable timber, wildlife habitats and the wellbeing benefits of spending time in green spaces.

3. Self-reflect

Ask the students to calculate how much carbon a specific tree can store, using our carbon capture activity sheet. Then ask students to research how much carbon they use themselves each day or week – our carbon footprint analysis table can provide a good starting point.

How many trees would you need to plant to offset this carbon, both individually and for the whole class?

4. Carry out an audit

Discuss whether there’s enough land to keep planting more trees to sequester our carbon needs. What else does your class think we could do collectively to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

Split students into smaller groups and ask them to walk around the school, carrying out an audit (available via of small changes that can be made to help reduce carbon emissions. Focus on areas such as energy, water, food, sustainable materials, waste, transport and biodiversity.

5. Weigh up the solutions

Review the groups’ audits during an open discussion, encouraging students to consider which suggestions are most cost effective versus those that will have the biggest impact. Don’t forget to consider negative outcomes and mitigation tactics.

6. Draft a pledge

Use the information your students have gathered to draft a class pledge to tackle your school’s carbon footprint. Make sure it’s achievable and measurable, so that your class can see what difference they’re able to make.

Reassure your students that as individuals, we can have valuable impact – but that collectively, we can achieve so much more.

Forestry England’s climate change resource hub contains a range of free, curriculum-linked KS3 resources, including videos, case studies and student investigations; find out more at or follow @ForestryEngland

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