Letters to reduce plastic waste
In one of our unit inquiries on 'Sharing the Planet', we explored water as a resource and our access to it. As we investigated our oceans and water streams, we learned just how polluted and clogged they are with plastic waste. This plastic waste, which includes water bottles, Q-tips, toothbrushes, and straws, is one of the biggest and most long-lasting polluters. In fact, according to the WorldWatch site, we learned that Americans use an estimated 500 million straws every day!
Inspired by Ms Craats’ metal straw initiative, where she encouraged fellow TK teachers to place an order for metal straws, I ordered 50 straws and gave one to each of my students in grade 3-1. Each straw came with a letter that explained how and why plastic straws are harmful to the environment.
My students were thrilled to receive their metal straw, and were very eager to read the letter. I used a persuasive style, which was one of our writing focus objectives, to encourage them to think about when and how they could use their new environmentally friendly straws. I then spent a few days scaffolding (or building on) this activity to help students decide on whom they could write their own letter to. The objective of this letter would be to encourage the use of metal straws.
I offered an additional metal straw, with an envelope and stamp to anyone who completed a letter to someone else. We talked about the ripple effect and how we could get the message beyond the TK community. My students wrote to their grandparents, cousins and friends living in other countries. One of them even said enthusiastically, “my grandparents have 12 grandkids so I’m sending them one metal straw and then they can buy one for each of the grandkids!”
A few students took on the task of writing to big businesses such as Starbucks and KFC. Two of them, Sakurako Inoue and Chris Yan, mentioned that they have a Starbucks outlet in the building where they stay so they were going to hand their letter personally to the Starbucks managers on the weekend. Another student of mine, Kristy Seah, mailed her letter to KFC’s head office.
After examining what exactly made the initial letter a persuasive one, students researched their own arguments in support of using metal straws. They developed their ideas, gave examples, researched their facts and arguments, edited their work and wrote neatly.
For one of my students, Fantine Spoor, the reason to stop using plastic straws was even more compelling. She said, “I don’t want my baby sister to eat fish that already has chemicals and plastic in it - that’s what is happening to the sea life in the oceans. We need to stop putting plastic into the oceans. No one needs to use a plastic straw again.”
Be the change you wish to see in the world and be inspired by the students in grade 3-1!