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Day 2: Students learn about greenhouse gases and the power of language


Language Arts, Science, Social Studies  


7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12  

Title – Do Something about… the Environment 10-Day Unit
Day 2: It’s getting hot in here! – The Science of Global Warming
By – Jordyn Wells/Do Something, Inc./
Primary Subject – Science
Secondary Subjects – Social Studies, Language Arts 
Grade Level – 7-12

Unit Information:

      The following lesson is the second lesson of a 10-day

      Environment Curricula from Do Something, Inc.

      Other lessons in this unit are as follows:

Day 1: Introduction

      Introduction to global warming, energy conservation and how rising temperatures affect us locally

Day 2: Its Getting Hot In Here! – The Science of Global Warming

      Students learn about greenhouse gases and the power of language

(See the lesson below)

Day 3: The Consequences of Global Warming

      Students learn about the potential consequences of global warming

Day 4: If the shoe fits… Learning about Ecological Footprints

      Students examine their own energy consumption and conservation

Day 5: How Green Is Your School

      Students learn how schools can participate in energy conservation

Day 6: Energy Hog – Who’s using up all the energy?

      Students compare U.S. energy use to that of other countries

Day 7: Renewable Energy Sources

      Students explore different types of renewable energy sources

Day 8: Renewable Energy – How Do You See It?

      Students discuss the pros/cons of renewable energy

Day 9: The Politics of Energy Conservation

      Students debate the pros/cons of government involvement in energy conservation

Day 10: Presentation Day

    Students present their energy conservation projects

Lesson 2: It’s getting hot in here! –
The Science of Global Warming


  • To learn about greenhouse gases and how they keep the earth warm
  • To discuss the power of language to make difficult concepts more understandable


  • Geography Standard 18: Understands global development and environmental issues
  • Language Arts Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes
  • Language Arts Standard 2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
  • Science Standard 1: Understands atmospheric processes and the water cycle


  • Plastic cups
  • Plastic wrap
  • Water


  1. Heat it up:

    Give each student two cups and have them fill it with water that is the same temperature. Wrap one of the cups with plastic wrap. Leave both cups in a sunny place for a few hours. Have students take the temperature of the water in both cups. Have students predict which one will be warmer? Why? How do they think this experiment relates to global warming?

  2. Provide Background: Introduce students to the science behind global warming.

    Sunlight sends energy into the climate, most of which is absorbed by oceans and land. Heat is then radiated outward as infrared energy. Some of this heat is absorbed by what are called greenhouse gases, which exist naturally in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). Water vapor is also an important greenhouse gas, but human activity does not change it directly. When energy is absorbed, greenhouse gases transmit energy in all directions. Some of the infrared energy is emitted towards space while some is reabsorbed, further warming the earth. The greenhouse gases are often compared to a blanket around the earth which keeps the earth warm. Increased concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases cause more infrared energy, in essence creating a thick blanket around the earth that keeps heat inside. This, in turn, causes increases in the temperature of the atmosphere and Earth’s surface.

    Normally, the Earth maintains a balance in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ocean uptake (dissolving of CO2 gas into the oceans) and sedimentation (burial of plant and animal matter, which overtime becomes limestone, coal, gas, and oil) are two processes whereby CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere. This naturally occurring system readjusts to return the balance to normal states. However, the system is slow-moving and cannot keep up with the pace at which humans are burning fossil fuel, and thereby releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the clearing and burning of forests transform organic carbon into gas, which contributes to an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The constant need for energy causes a reliance on fossil fuels, which, in turn, means more and more CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

  3. Synthesize:

    In pairs, have students develop a chart that explains their understanding of the science of global warming. Rather than just having students create a two dimensional drawing, encourage students to go through their daily non-food trash and use the items they find to make the poster three-dimensional. You can extend this lesson by inviting students to talk about garbage and recycling. You might discuss with students what items are wasted most often in a school environment. What might be reused?

  4. Take Action:

    One way to raise awareness about the importance of energy conservation is to educate others about global warming. Discuss how using the metaphor of a blanket is helpful to have people understand in a basic way what is occurring with global warming (metaphor is described in the “Provide Background” section). If they choose to educate others, what powerful ways can students use language to help others understand the urgency? What metaphors or symbols will make people take notice?

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