5 Ways to Teach About Air Pollution

Elizabeth Wade

Sep 22, 2021

If you’re looking to start off the school year with some new resources that easily integrate into your lesson plans, then look no further! The topic of air pollution fits into a number of different subjects, including history, social studies, science, and math. Air pollution is also a significant concern for the vast majority of people on the planet because it can cause many health conditions. In fact, according to the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, approximately 18 percent of all human deaths in 2018 were caused by exposure to air pollutants released by burning fossil fuels. Reducing air pollution will not only benefit human health, but it will reduce the amount of toxic pollution affecting other species and help combat climate change.  


So, how can you integrate content about air pollution into your lessons? Here are five ideas:



1. Interactive Exploration

Grade Levels: 6-12

Subjects: Science, Earth Sciences, Biology, Geography


For an interactive experience, students can use this air quality map to explore real-time air pollution and air quality measurements worldwide. Your class can identify where air quality is the best and worst or see how your local air quality compares to other areas, then develop hypotheses to explain those observations. Can your students spot any trends in the data or determine if any events (such as wildfires, power outages, or travel restrictions) might be influencing the results? How might more extreme weather be impacting the levels of ozone or particulates?  

Not finding enough data for your area? Here’s another interactive map with real-time data that you can explore. These two resources are great for science, geography, and social studies classes!


A world map with color-coded pins representing the air quality in different locations.

This interactive map is perfect for blended learning, virtual learning, group work, etc. 



2. Video and Class Activity

Grade Levels: 6-12

Subjects: Science, Earth Sciences, Social Studies


Need a video or activity about how air pollution and heat can affect students and their communities? In this video, a student athlete recounts her experience with extreme heat and air pollution. The accompanying worksheet (available in PDF and Google Sheets) allows students to measure and map out air pollution levels along freeways in Oakland, CA, providing an empirical complement to the video’s personal narrative. Students will apply their knowledge and think critically about the ways that local and national policies can have immediate impacts on communities. This video and worksheet could be implemented for virtual learning or for in-person group-work, and the content could be tied into geography, science, civics, and social studies lessons.


Screenshot of the top of a worksheet titled "Mapping Air Pollution in Oakland, CA Classroom Activity." Beneath the title is a space for a name and the date, and beneath that is a map of Oakland. Under the map, it says "Discussion Questions: Answer using data from the lab in complete sentences. 1. What is the lowest recorded value for Nitric Oxide (NO) on the map? What is the highest recorded value?"

The worksheet is a Google Doc that is easy to assign on Google Classroom. Creating a new copy for every student will make it easy for you to track their progress. No device? No problem! Print the worksheet. 



3. Watch and Discuss

Grade Levels: 6-12

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Economics, Civics, History


Even though air pollution affects all of us, it does impact some people more than others. This video resource about air pollution near “cancer alley” in Louisiana provides students with a concrete example of one community that is significantly more affected by air pollution than other localities. It also relates the health conditions caused by air pollution to the disproportionate effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on Black communities. The video links this disparity to systemic racism and discriminatory practices, such as redlining. In a class discussion, students could use their critical thinking skills to explore the potential solutions to this problem.   


A screenshot of a Vox Youtube video titled "Cancer Alley." Behind the words "Cancer Alley" and the word "Vox" are two maps of the same place, split down the middle and stuck together so as to create one complete map.

Keep your students up-to-date on trending climate topics.



4. Student-Directed Initiative

Grade Levels: 6-12

Subjects: Science, Earth Sciences, Math


Once students see how air quality can affect their health and the planet, they might be interested in developing an idle-free school campaign to reduce vehicle emissions near their school. This resource walks them through gathering and analyzing data, planning their campaign, and implementing their plan. This could be a whole-class activity or an initiative for an environmental club. Students will use their planning, data collection, data analysis, collaboration, communication, and artistic skills in this activity.


A photograph of a person standing in a parking lot next to a sign that says "Idle Free Zone. Turn Engine off" and "Turn your key, be idle-free." The person is smiling and wearing a black polka-dotted shirt that says "awesome." In the background, cars, trees, and mountains are all visible.

A simple, school-wide initiative that your class can make happen!



5. Inquire, Investigate, Inspire!

Grade Levels: 6-8

Subjects: Science, Math


Looking for a lesson plan that combines math, science, and art skills? This mini-unit allows students to apply their science and math skills to collect and analyze data and create graphs and charts. Students then use their artistic skills (either digitally or by hand) to visually present their data to others. This resource provides opportunities for group work, virtual work, creativity, and collaboration and may take between two and four hours to complete.     


Example poster that says "Air Aware: Keep your lungs safe-- know the numbers" with a bar graph, a graphic of an air quality meter, and a chart, as well as accompanying text for each graphic.

StC Lesson Plans promote students to Inspire, Investigate, and Inspire. Here is an example of an awareness poster from this mini-unit.

As teachers, we understand how valuable your time is, and we know the challenges you face finding new content that fits into your subjects’ standards and curriculum. Take advantage of these teacher-reviewed and scientist-approved resources about air pollution, and bring some new articles, lesson plans, videos, interactive resources, and activities into your classroom today! Look for additional resources that help you integrate climate change into your curriculum on our website.

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