Humans impact their environment through their habits, actions, and choices. We pollute water with trash and contaminants harming aquatic creatures, introduce invasive species which may have no natural predators, and use dangerous pesticides which can have unexpected consequence further up the food chain. By disrupting the plants and animals we also impact the larger ecosystems.
Select from the resources below those that are most applicable to your classroom and students’ needs to build your own lesson on human impacts on the environment. Didn’t find what you are looking for? Check out the Human Impacts on the Environment collection page for more materials.
- Human Geography
- Physical Geography
- Earth Science
- Invasive Species
- Endangered Species
- Human Footprint
- Population Density
Students will be able to…
- Define what is meant by “human footprint.”
- Describe how invasive species change habitats.
- Explain the role humans play in harming endangered animals.
Choose a Hook:
- [10 minutes] Display the visual Industry on the Mississippi River. Ask students to describe the visual by sharing their impression of how industry may have affected communities and environments along the Mississippi River. Then have them brainstorm how a visual showing a pristine portion of land along the Mississippi River might compare to this one.
- [5 minutes] Kickoff with the Kahoot! to assess what students already know about how humans have impacted the environment.
Choose activities to explore how humans impact the environment.
- [50 minutes] Population Density in the United States. Have students create their own map showing population density in the United States and then compare it to the MapMaker Interactive with the land cover data layer. After creating and comparing the maps, have them discuss how population densities differ throughout the United States. Ask students to consider the relationship between these population densities and the environment.
- [30 minutes] Mapping Our Human Footprint. Have students explore how the human footprint impacts the environment by using the data sets and interactive maps in this activity to compare geography and human population.
- [60 minutes] The Tremendous Travels of Trash. Examine the impact of pouring water down a household drain. While a tremendous amount of trash ends up polluting the ocean, it is not the only contaminant that impacts the ocean. This activity will help students understand that water washed down the drain eventually empties into bodies of water.
- [45 minutes] A River Puzzle. Have students trace land use from source to mouth along a river’s course and determine any negative impacts of human actions on a river.
- [60 minutes] Protecting Earth’s Wildlife. Discover why the okapi (Okapia johnstoni) and the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are endangered. In this activity, students will choose one of these animals, investigate how human activities have caused a decline in their populations, and build a presentation on what they’ve learned.
Read about how invasive species impact the environment:
- [20 minutes] Invasive Species. Are all non-native species considered invasive species? Explore this encyclopedia entry to learn about how invasive species such as the Burmese python in Florida and the water hyacinth in Africa have impacted the habitats where they live. As they read, ask students to consider what they can do to help eradicate invasive species.
- [10 minutes] Eat an Alien Invader. Invasive species are changing ecosystems around the world. Use this activity to discover if humans can help conquer these invaders at their dinner table.
- [20 minutes] Ecosystem Invaders: Spartina. Have students read and discuss this article to discover how the introduction of one species, Spartina alterniflora, has changed the San Francisco Bay’s ecosystem.
One way we learn about human impacts on the environment is through the pioneers who came before us, like Rachel Carson. Dig deeper into the work Rachel Carson did in educating others about the impact of the pesticide DDT with the article Taking Flight.
Choose an assessment:
- [5 minutes] Ten Question Kahoot on how humans impact the environment. If you used the Kahoot! as a hook with your class, debrief by asking if they improved and why.
Associated Standards: National
NGSS MS-ESS3-3: Earth and Human Activity
- Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.