Lindsay Teeples-Mitchell
Elementary Education, English Language Arts, Language, Grammar and Vocabulary, Reading Foundation Skills, Reading Informational Text, Speaking and Listening, Cultural Geography
Material Type:
Activity/Lab, Case Study, Homework/Assignment, Lesson, Lesson Plan, Reading, Teaching/Learning Strategy
Upper Primary, Middle School
  • Arctic
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate Change
  • Environment
  • Global Issues
  • Homelessness
  • Hunger
  • Iceland
  • Icelandic Arts and Culture
  • Indigenous Health
  • Indigenous Rights
  • Local Issues
  • Poverty
  • Student Activism
  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Tourism
  • Youth Violence
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Media Formats:

    Education Standards

    Student Activism and the Sustainable Development Goals

    Student Activism and the Sustainable Development Goals


    Objectives of this mini unit:

    1. For students to explore the "universal call to action" laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and consider how they may respond to that call;
    2. Build background knowledge about specific issues impacting the Arctic including: indigenous rights, indigenous health, biodiversity, tourism and marine pollution;
    3.  Build background knowledge about specific issues impacting their local communtiy (using Michigan as a case-study) including: hunger, homelessness, poverty, youth violence and the environment;
    4. Create an action plan to address needs within their local communities driven by their unique passions, interests and skills;
    5. Consider the importance of impact vs intention when engaging with community action projects

    Overview of Mini Unit

    "What we cannot imagine cannot come into being." - bell hooks 

    Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

    Intended Audience: 6th - 8th Social Studies/English/Humanities

    Common Core State Standards and Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards on slides 56-58

    (see link above)



    Educator Introduction and Welcome


    If you’ve managed to find this set of resources, it may be because you are someone who recognizes that despite being raised in a culture where we value and emphasize our individual goals and rights, we are actually interconnected in ways that we do not allow ourselves to consider. It may be because you recognize that combating the most pressing issues in our world will take all of us to “buy in”. It may be because you are interested in helping your students think critically about issues directly and indirectly impacting them. It may be because you are driven to challenge students to evaluate the need in their communities and find sustainable and ethical ways to transform our world using their unique skills, passions and interests. Or, it may be because you recognize young people are not only the future leaders of our world but are currently brimming with innovative and insightful opinions and ideas about issues that influence and affect them right this second if we only take the time to listen. Regardless, we’re glad you’re here!

    Dettifoss, Iceland

    The pandemic continues to offer a rare opportunity to contemplate the deep inequality present in our system and confront the suffering of those living next door and across the world. Decades of efforts to stabilize and address issues impacting our world have been halted and upended by the crisis we have experienced over the last two years. Research has shown this to be especially true in the Arctic region (i.e. lands and waters under Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States’ (via Alaska) authority where the impacts of global warming compounded with the pandemic have left many, in particular, indigenous groups, in peril. It is for this reason that Lesson Three uses the Arctic as a case-study for students to explore as “global” issues. Instead of adopting a fatalistic perspective though, we simply need to reframe this moment as an unprecedented opportunity to recognize the interdependence of our species and do something about it. bell hooks famously wrote: “What we cannot imagine cannot come into being.” This set of lessons asks students to critically evaluate issues already articulated by various governmental organizations (and those not yet understood) and use their imagination to creatively dream about the world they want and then go make it happen.

    Finally, this is just a note to say that juggling IEPs, recess duty, grades, conferences and still remaining committed to providing relevant and meaningful curriculum is a daunting task. That said - your efforts are seen and appreciated, and your work matters! Thanks for showing up. 

    If you have any questions, comments or critiques of the lessons below, feel free to contact me at:


    Lindsay Teeples-Mitchell

    Lesson 1: Exploring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

    In 2015, the United Nations (UN) designed a blueprint of seventeen ambitious global goals to fulfill by 2030 which ranged from achieving gender equality to ending hunger classified as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 193 countries adopted the framework, thereby accepting the “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere” ( Due to the broad scope of the framework, the Commission further articulated various targets to ascertain whether or not the proposed goals had been attained. 

    Skútustaðagígar, Iceland

    While countries continue their efforts to meet these goals, there is still a great deal of work to be done to deliver by 2030. Concerned about meeting the deadline, the UN Secretary-General called for a “Decade of Action” which expressed the need for 1) global action to secure stronger leadership to achieve the goals, 2) local action to implement and embed the goals into institutions and 3) action by the people which called on all stakeholders, including young people, to be innovative in their efforts to “generate an unstoppable movement pushing for the required transformations.” 

    Using this call for action, these lessons in this unit ask students to explore the SDGs and consider opportunities to address the needs of their local communities and seek to align the global framework with what they see around them. Lesson Two asks students to interpret infographics, and consider the benefits of visually representing data when communicating information.


    Time Required: ~75 min

    Lesson 2: Deep Dive - SDG Exploration + Infographic Analysis

    Infographics are visual representations of information meant to communicate data quickly. Naturally, infographics are rampant on social media, which is why teaching students to interpret and critique infographics is essential to ensure their digital literacy. Infographics are often presented informally, and may use a combination of graphs, maps, pictures or charts to present information to visualize complex information clearly. While infographics are most often utilized in STEM classrooms, they should play an important role in humanities classrooms as well, as they ask students to use evidence to support their argument - just with fewer words! In an age where millions are now questioning science and scientists, knowing how to communicate the “story” of the data, and explain why an issue matters to our society is imperative for those interested in a more just, equitable and sustainable future.


    Hraunfossar Waterfall, Iceland

    This lesson asks students to analyze various infographics dealing with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and communicate their research.  
    Thanks to The California Academy of Sciences for the excellent resources and ideas for additional lessons and follow up activities, and Facing History for Exit Ticket activity. The link offers lessons for students to create their own infographics - an excellent opportunity for a math collaboration!


    Time Required: ~100 minutes 

    • PART 1: Framing our Thinking (15 minutes)

      • Quick Write (5 min)

      • Class Discussion and Definition (5 min)

      • Facebook Breakups Infographic Analysis (5 min)

    • PART 2: Group Work and Infographic Analysis (10 - 15 min) 

    • PART 3: Deep Dive - SDG Analysis (40 min: initial exploration (10 min), “deep dive” (30 min))

    • PART 4: Share your Findings (and wrap up/Among Us)! (10 - 20 min)

      • Exit activity: Compass Point (5 min)

    Lesson 3: Exploring Local and Global (Arctic) Issues

    *** Please note that you can access the entire Local Issues folder and Arctic Issues folder here. In these folders, attribution of sources found on the “issue” cards can be found via the footnotes provided in the Google documents. The cards can be printed back to back and laminated for ease of use.

    ****Some questions on the Community agreement document are not relevant if you use the “jigsaw” discussion method. Still, it may be worth a general class discussion to set expectations.

    Using a jigsaw discussion, group work and note-taking, the purpose of the next two lessons is to help students learn more about local and global (Arctic-related) issues and teach their peers about them. 

    Hólar Turf Houses, Iceland

    Please note: Lesson 3 is designed to be broken up over two days: approximately one 70-minute class period to explore “local” issues and one 60-minute class period to explore “global” (Arctic) issues. 

    A special thanks to We Schools for inspiration for this lesson.


    Time Required: ~120 minutes - 70 minutes for local/ 60 minutes for global discussion

    • Warm up: Categorization Race activity (10 minutes → 5 for envelope, 5 for part two)

    • Initial group Investigation (15-20 minutes)

    • “Jigsaw” group discussion (30 minutes)

    • Full-class discussion (10 min)

    • Exit Ticket (5 minutes)

    Lesson 4: Mapping my Community

    Optional Materials Needed:

    • Walking shoes, sunscreen, hat, water

    • Field trip permission forms

    • Clipboards (1 per student)

    • Cameras to document

    ***Please note that slides 79-91 offer a follow up activity on Impact vs Intention before students engage with their community action project. There are also suggestions for possible interdisciplinary collaboration ideas for inspiration.

    Today, you will hit the streets with your students! The purpose of this lesson is to encourage them to examine their local communities and consider where and how they can use their unique interests, passions and skills to make a difference.

    Jack Gantos Map
    Jack Gantos Map

    Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Workshop uses Jack Gantos as a mentor text in her Grade 6 curriculum. I have used it many times over the last few years during our narrative writing unit; however, recently I used it during this activity and loved the results!  

    To look for inspiration for his novel Heads or Tails, Gantos created a neighborhood map as seen here. Depending on time limitations, accessibility concerns, or a need to differentiate for your learners, this could be a great way to still engage with this lesson if you are not able to take a class field-trip.

    There is also a great deal of opportunity to collaborate with your colleagues on this lesson to create an interdisciplinary unit examples of which may include: 

    • ELA: expository (research-based writing to explain the causes of issues students saw on their walk), persuasive (e.g. need for community mural to beautify area), business letters (e.g. writing to local representative about the need for more accessible sidewalks)

    • Math: ratios (e.g. comparing grocery stores to fast food restaurants in given radius or between similarly-sized populations with differing socio-economic statuses), using this data as fractions, decimals and percentages to write a PSA explaining their findings, using frequency tables (e.g. number of days of inclement weather to propose need to support homeless), creating mock budgets to examine what it would feel like to live below the poverty line

    • Social studies: exploring local activists working to create change in the community, civics unit focused on youth engagement to empower students to address local issues, explore history of red-lining in your community and bring in voter’s rights advocates to speak to the class.

    •  Science: “citizen science” unit where students sample and test for local bodies of water and share results, observe local wildlife patterns to ensure health of various species, beach litter monitoring and clean up, litter analysis focusing on decomposition 

    • Art: using “found” objects, Zines showcasing local issues or activism, “the community I want to see”, creating local mural

    Hosting a celebratory event showcasing the learning and achievements of students has always been a remarkable success. We have brought in motivational speakers, and even advertised for student-led events to build community both in and out of our classroom walls.  

    Finally, this type of work mandates thoughtful consideration beforehand to ensure students’ intentions don’t negatively impact those they are seeking to help. Learning for Justice offers an excellent resource for middle school students that may be worth using to frame this work.

    This lesson will explain the walking field-trip option.

    A special thanks to We Schools for inspiration for this lesson.


    Time Required: The expected time for this activity is 90 minutes; however, depending on differentiation (e.g. media analysis (newspapers, local news, social media) or how you choose to run this activity (i.e. explore and make map as homework, etc), this could be expanded over multiple days. 

    A Special Thanks - Takk fryir!

    It feels like an impossible charge to attempt to express my gratitude to the Fulbright Commission and United States Department of Education, as the scope of the program we experienced defied any hope or expectation that I may have held. I do know that without the generosity, energy and vision of Fulbright Iceland Director, Belinda Theriault, and staff, Viktor Steafansson and Hrafnhildur Össurardóttir, our experience would not have been comparable.

    Group Photo Fulbright Hays Iceland 2021
    Fulbright-Hays Iceland Group Photo (2021)

    To my fellow colleagues and travel companions: Lily Albright, Amy Barsanti, Lisa Carotenuto, Ellen Craig, Sophia Donnelly, Laurie Eldridge, Bill Hilt, Cheri McNeely, Caitlin McKinnon, Kim Mellor, Jenn Myers, Karen Richey, Anya Rose, Anne Schaefer, Sara Sharer -- your wisdom, creativity, humor and passion continues to inspire me. What an incredible crew! I am so grateful to be working in partnership across the country with such incredible individuals.

    Although a few months have passed since returning home, I remain inspired, changed, motivated, restored, humbled and grateful. Words cannot express my deep appreciation to the myriad hands, hearts and minds that went into cultivating this incredible experience for us - Takk fryir from the bottom of my heart!