Environmental Experience in Pictures

Time needed

40 minutes

Why do it?

Many students understand “the environment” as something that only exists in the wilderness. They may also understand what people “do” there as limited to recreational sports. This activity will draw out the variety (or homogeneity) of the students’ relationships with the environment.



  • Print photos and tape them on the wall. Leave enough space between them for students to group their own drawings around each photo and still have each group remain distinct from the next.


  1. Ask each student to draw a picture that represents her own environmental history. This could be a drawing of the student’s neighborhood, a special place, or meaningful activities done in the environment. Encourage students to be specific with their drawings: have them add important details with arrows or words, and ask them to show the unique features of the place.
  2. Ask the students to share their drawing with the person sitting next to them. Have them use their drawings to describe what their relationship to the environment was like when they were children and what it is like now.
  3. When most pairs have finished describing their drawings, ask the students to tape their drawings up on the wall underneath the photo that they think best matches it. Students may form new categories if they do not see photos that match their drawings.
  4. Gather the entire group to view the photos and drawings. Ask for volunteers to explain why they put their drawings where they did. Draw attention to any photos that have few or no drawings taped by them. You may also want to ask for more information about drawings that seem unusual or particularly interesting.
  5. Reflect briefly on which photos have the most drawings taped by them. If most students’ drawings are clustered around photos of the wilderness and of people engaging in recreational sports, note that this understanding reflects the mainstream view of the environment in the USA, but that the environmental justice movement sees the environment differently. Or, if the drawings show a wide variety of environmental histories, highlight that the environmental justice movement also understands the environment in many different ways.
  6. Share the definition of the environment used in the environmental justice movement: the places where we live, work, play and learn.
  7. Ask students to consider the impact of their understanding of the environment on policy and environmental values. Use the questions below as a guide for discussion:
    1. How do you think your conception of the environment would differ if you were less exposed to wilderness? To very urban areas? To suburbs?
    2. If we understand the environment as “the places where we live, work, play and learn” as opposed to a solely recreational space, what does this mean for environmental stewardship? What could it mean at a policy level?