How to engage your students on environmental topics

Senior Learning Officer Sarah Duffy gives tips on how to empower young people to engage with environmental issues.


Today, we are seeing more and more young people make headlines as they take on the world’s biggest environmental issues, from plastic pollution to climate change. In order to take on these challenges, young people need to have the opportunities to learn about the environment in a way that not only inspires them, but that motivates and empowers them.


Zoos can offer a unique learning opportunity by providing a real-life context from which to engage with nature and wildlife from around the world. In order to make these experiences more relevant to learners, we can first use local examples to help connect children to wider global issues.


Getting Students Engaged in the Environment


Our Plastics: Impacts and Actions workshop does exactly that. Aimed at Key Stage 2 groups, the session introduces the ZSL #Oneless campaign and uses local rivers (particularly the Thames) to highlight how close we really are to the world’s oceans. During the session, learners investigate plastic pollution and how plastic waste produced on land can lead to problems for marine life. At the end of the session, we ask the group to consider actions they can take to help reduce plastic pollution, encouraging them to consider their own actions and the positive impact they can have.


As zoo educators, the impact we can have on learners is often limited to one interaction, so most opportunities to foster connections between themselves and the environment need to be presented in their everyday lives, for example, through environmental learning embedded within the curriculum and other aspects of school life.  Here are some top tips for helping engage young people with the environment:


  • Get outdoors and investigate!

Promote opportunities for enquiry-based learning through experiences outside the classroom by planning visits to local green spaces, carrying out litter picks, litter surveys and more.


  • Problem solve!

Identify environmental issues in your local area and allow time to work together and come up with solutions – such as planting wildflowers to encourage native wildlife or getting more recycling bins for the school grounds.

Not only will this provide a great wealth of opportunities to link with the curriculum, it will encourage the development of social and emotional aspects of learning through engagement of intrinsic values such as curiosity, creativity and unity with nature. 


  • Take action!

Young people need to be optimistic about the future and confident in their ability to affect change. Allowing them to put their problem solving powers into action within the school and wider community adds value to their learning and empowers them to take responsibility. Why not fundraise to create a new local nature space, create a plan to reduce plastic waste or set up food waste composting at school.

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Nature at the heart of global decision making

At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions. 

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