Click to hide or show the feedback form

Bookmark and ShareBookmark


Lesson Plan: Environmental Racism

by Margaret Andersen, University of Delaware

I. Learning Objective(s)

Teaches basic communication skills (group work, oral presentation, writing, if you add a written component).

Lets students observe sociological process through the group dynamics that emerge in the exercise; it is important that they discuss how this happened following the completion of the exercise.

Shows students how sociological processes can be observed in community and organizational behavior.

Identifies in “real” interaction how collective behavior and social movements arise from collective grievances. 

II. Rationale for Objectives

Helps students explore the topic of environmental racism, but to do so by taking the perspective of social groups whose perspective may differ from that of their own.

III. Materials/Time

Time: Can be used as a one hour in-class exercise or adapted to fit over several days.

IV. Procedures


        (1) Introduction

Organize the class in several groups, each group representing a different set of interests regarding a proposed hospital waster incinerator. Groups can include: a community-based group of citizens opposed to the proposed facility; company owners from a waste-hauling business; hospital administrators; a national environmental organization (such as the Sierra Club); government representations (such as from the Environmental Protection Agency).

        (2) Activity

Working in their small groups, ask students to make a list of their objections or support for the proposed facility (give them one-half hour for this). Each group should also select a note-takes to write down all the points the group identifies; they should also elect a spokesperson to later speak for the group. After groups have completed their discussion, have each of the spokespersons present their case to the class as a whole (Allow 5 minutes per group). Then ask the class as a whole to vote on whether the proposal is accepted. Following the group discussion, ask the original groups to reconvene and discuss their reaction. What further avenues do the different groups have if they are dissatisfied with the results? How would they proceed?

        (3) Discussion

You can use this as the basis for a class discussion on numerous topics: the emergence of collective behavior and social movements; the role of government in resolving conflict; the relationship between government and business interests, and so forth. You could also extend the exercise by developing the group discussion over more than one class period so that students are given time outside of class to learn about actual events involving such disputes.

V. Evaluation/Assignment

Have students discuss in class what they learned from this group-based exercise-both about environmental racism and about the formation of group collective action.

VI. Supplementary Materials


Pellow, David Naguib. 2002. Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago.

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Using Chicago as a research site, Pellow examines how environmentally friendly actions, such as recycling, actually disadvantage minority and poor communities that are targeted as dumping sports for waste and incineration.