By: Mallory Swafford

Feb 23, 2023 | 9 minute read

How to Empower Students

How to Empower Students

It can be difficult to visualize your impact on the climate crisis as an adult, let alone as a young student just beginning to learn about climate change. Students frequently feel they lack the ability to make a change in their own schools, let alone in a global capacity. SubjectToClimate has compiled a list of resources for teachers to learn how to empower their students and amplify their voices. Below, you will find videos and lessons that show students that they can make a difference, especially when it comes to climate change.

If You Adults Won't Save the World, We Will

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Social Studies, Civics, Social-Emotional Learning, Climate Action

Resource Type: Video

In this video, teenage climate activist Xiye Bastida narrates a letter to her grandmother about hope, resilience, and climate activism. Students will hear Xiye's personal story, her vision for the future, and an inspirational call to action. This video is a great introduction to climate change for middle to upper-grade students. It is inspiring, empowering, and makes you want to get out and put some work into making the world a better place. The video makes action feel attainable: if one teenager can make a difference, why can’t your students?

I recommend using this video as an "introduction to making a difference". Students may not have seen a real-world example of a young person setting out to make a significant change to society as a whole. This resource is a great introductory piece to help students jumpstart their brains and feel empowered to start a meaningful project. Get your students hyped up and ready to use their voices by listening to another student who has accomplished this goal.

The Disarming Case to Act Right Now on Climate Change

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Civics, Justice, Social-Emotional Learning, Climate Action

Resource Type: Video

In this video, Greta Thunberg explains why she walked out of school and organized a strike — compelling listeners to take urgent action to address climate change. Students will learn about greenhouse gas emissions, the 2015 Paris Agreement, extinction rates, and other issues surrounding this sustainability crisis. This resource is a fantastic example of collective action taken by one person. Greta Thunberg started a global movement as a student making the idea of action and real change attainable to students of varying ages.

I recommend using this resource as an example of how students can make a genuine difference. This will not only empower students to feel capable of making an impact on society, but will also get them excited to move forward in the classroom. Taking initative may look like organizing a strike of their own, working to bring more renewable energy to their school, writing to government officials, or starting an educational campaign for their community.


Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Justice, Social-Emotional Learning, Engineering, Climate Action

Resource Type: Video

This film intertwines the stories of three people as they fight to make the world a better place. The film tells the stories of Rajendra Singh, an Indian man fighting to protect the Ganges River; Eriel Deranger, an Indigenous woman who is struggling against tar sands development in Canada; and Jay Harman, an Australian man who uses nature to inspire his inventions and creations. This is an exceptionally powerful resource that simultaneously captivates and inspires its audience. It brings up great discussion points and presents opportunities to talk about how different places and cultures are being affected by climate change.

Use this as a starting point for a larger discussion in the classroom. Students may relate these stories back to themselves by answering questions such as “Did you see yourself in any of the people in the video?” and “Can you relate to any of their struggles?” You may also build empathy and SEL components by asking “How do you think these people feel about the climate crisis?” or “Does watching this video inspire you to want to make a change?”

What YOU Can Do about Climate Change

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Economics, Civics, Climate Action

Resource Type: Video

This video highlights the differences between individual actions as a consumer and collective actions as a society when it comes to solving climate change. It shows how individual consumer actions are often emphasized over systemic, political, regulatory, and corporate actions. The video offers solutions for individuals to implement as they work toward collective goals.

This is a great how-to video that provides guidance on making small differences throughout your daily life. It shows that not every action has to be an extensive or widespread effort — small, consistent actions have their place as well. Every student can find at least one action that they feel would help to make a difference on any scale. After engaging students and getting them excited to make some changes, it's time to get to the grindstone. This video is a great way to show individual actions that can be taken on a daily basis. Have students brainstorm how they can implement these actions in their daily lives, or how they can share these actions with the adults in their lives. 

Empowering Women: Why Women Are Crucial to Solving Climate Change

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Civics, Justice, Climate Action

Resource Type: Video

This video discusses the inequalities women face and how addressing them is a critical step in responding to climate change and reducing emissions. The resource underscores the importance of empowering women as climate leaders to help fight climate change. Bridging the gender gap and supporting girls' education can inspire productivity in all sectors of the economy.

This resource is great because it shows a different perspective on addressing climate change. Sometimes we can feel as if we are repeating ourselves over and over again, but this is a fresh perspective on how climate change can be addressed by focusing on gender equality. Teachers may use this in the classroom as a jump starter for a project that tackles climate change that may not be a traditional project. This would be great in a social studies classroom when talking about gender equality and the real-world effects it has on not only marginalized communities, but also society as a whole.

Climate Commitments: School Board Resolution Toolkit

Grade: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Social Studies, Civics, Climate Action

Resource Type: Project

This toolkit provides action steps for students to present and pass a climate resolution through their school district's school board. The toolkit includes a template that will guide students as they write their resolution. This is a wonderful how-to resource that can help students make a difference in their own district! It has a template guide to help students navigate the steps of getting a climate resolution accepted at the school board level. 

Teachers can use this as a culminating activity. This is a great and empowering opportunity for students to make a difference in their districts and definitely makes a fantastic final project. Consider using this resource to have students conduct their own research in any discipline: science-based if looking at data trends, social studies/civics based if looking at the social impacts, or even ELA based if working on speech or writing skills. After compiling their findings, students can present their research at a school board meeting. Depending on your subject, you can tweak this culminating activity to reflect the standards you are addressing while still using the resource to empower students to make a difference in their communities. 

Say What?: Effective Speech Writing

Grade: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: English Language Arts

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

In this SubjectToClimate lesson, students discuss three effective strategies for talking about climate change, then write and present a speech using those strategies. With a full lesson plan document, a Google Slideshow, a step-by-step student worksheet, and a teacher answer key, this resource makes it easy to deliver a high-quality lesson with very little prep.

This is another excellent how-to resource that discusses making a difference in the fight against climate change. The lesson offers students a blueprint for constructing a persuasive speech on climate change that can be used in a wide variety of ways. This resource walks students through effective talking points and offers ways to use them that are likely to get results! This is a great resource to use as a culminating activity. Whether students present their speeches to the class, the administration, or on a larger political platform, it is a great opportunity for students to show what they have learned about climate change. 

While it can be daunting to start a project with the end goal of making a dent in the climate crisis, the resources given here are great first steps. The resources will help empower students by showing them  individuals who have made a change and helping them fine-tune their talking points in a way that is more likely to effect change. When students are given examples to learn from and build upon, they oftentimes feel more confident in their ability to make an impact as well. 

About the Author

I graduated in 2014 from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale with a zoology degree. I worked in the field of zoology until 2018 when I decided to make the switch to education. I now am certified to teach first through sixth grades in general education. I am endorsed in middle grades science and I expect to finish my master's in high school biology this year. I love teaching science and am excited to work with the Subject to Climate team!