To the Teacher
It can feel overwhelming and hopeless when we think about what needs to be done to address the climate crisis in the little time we have left.
But as Dr. Jane Goodall wrote in The Book of Hope: “Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I’m not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement.” This activity has students take action by collectively creating and performing a song.
This article from the Child Mind Institute on Kids and Climate Anxiety may be helpful as you prepare for this activity.
Note: The process described below can also be used to create songs about other issues on students’ minds.
In a circle or go-round, invite students to share their thoughts and feelings about the climate crisis, using prompts such as:
- What do you know about the climate crisis?
- How do you feel about it?
Teachers can share their own experiences and feelings as well.
After everyone has shared, name what it is that may trouble students about the climate crisis and acknowledge their feelings. Convey to students:
- It’s okay to feel anxious or sad about climate change.
- Feelings pass, and there is space for both positive and negative feelings at the same time.
- Taking action is a way towards healing and hope.
Write a Song
With the class, write together a short song reflecting students’ thoughts and feelings about the climate crisis. This will model for them how they can compose on their own and express their feelings and thoughts through music.
Before you or your students insist that “I can’t compose,” please read the simple steps to writing a song outlined below. It doesn’t have to be a long song. You could even take an existing song and change the lyrics to make it about climate. But try composing a song together with your class first!
Composing is about making choices. What choices are we making? Here are some steps to help you on your way.
1. Choose an inspiration for the song. In this case, it can be about climate change in general or a specific climate challenge affecting your community.
2. Choose the mood(s) of the song. Do you want it to be motivating? Or maybe it needs to be reflective? Or angry? Or sad and then uplifting?
3. Have one of the students come up with a beat. There are so many who can do this! There is no right or wrong. You can also use the Garageband app or an existing beat.
4. Brainstorm lyrics. There will be revision.
- Choose if you want the words to rhyme or not.
- Choose if you want the lyrics sung (melody), rapped, or spoken.
- Start with a 4-line chorus or refrain. (That can be the entire song!)
- Give sentence starters for the class to finish. For example, “We need to _____ or, The time is now to ________, What happens when ______.
Once your class chooses the mood and inspiration, that will guide choices about other aspects of the song, including:
- tempo (how fast or slow the song is)
- dynamics (how loud or soft)
- articulation – that is, whether you want it short and bouncy (staccato) or smooth and connected like a lullaby (legato)
- instruments you use (it could just be body percussion like clapping, patting, snapping, beat boxing).
5. Map out the song. You don’t have to know music notation. You can just make a map and write it down. Here is an example of the song map one class created.
6. Sing. Rehearse as a group, record yourself and listen back, and revise if need be. Perform for others or possibly share with the community.
In a circle or go-round, invite students to reflect on what this experience was like for them:
- What was it like to express your thoughts and feelings through making creative musical choices?
- What was it like to do this as a group rather than individually?
Discuss next steps on what individuals, the class, and/or the school or larger community can do to address the climate crisis.
Visit Roots & Shoots to use as a model. Create some accountability for action. (For instance, how can you reduce plastic, recycle in school, use your own utensils instead of throwaway plastic utensils, write letters to companies or politicians…)
The class might also choose to learn and perform more songs that address climate change. Here are songs in different musical styles about climate change: