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Created by


Jun 25, 2021


55 minutes


6th, 7th, 8th


Social Studies, Justice

Resource Language:


Regional Focus



Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides

Cities, Trees & Inequality


This lesson is about the distribution and density of trees in urban areas and how that relates to environmental justice. 

Step 1 - Inquire: Students explore a spreadsheet, map, and two graphs showing urban forest cover and its connection to wealth and race.

Step 2 - Investigate: Students watch two videos and take notes on the benefits of trees.

Step 3 - Inspire: Students complete a written reflection noticing the distribution of trees near their homes.

Accompanying Teaching Materials
20 minutes

  • Students examine the spreadsheet linked on slide 7 of the slideshow.

    • Students write down noticings and wonderings on slide 7.

    • Select students share their noticings and wonderings with the entire class.

  • Teacher shows slide 8 and says, “Today we will look at where trees are in cities and what that does to the temperature.”

  • Teacher shows slide 9, pointing out the map in the bottom left. Teacher says, “You can see the little green dots in the inset map here in Los Angeles show that certain areas of Los Angeles have more trees than others. This area of dense green dots is up in the hills northwest of downtown LA in a richer neighborhood.”

  • Teacher shows slide 10 and explains that the richer areas of cities have more tree cover.

  • Teacher shows slide 11 and says, “Now this is a tough graph to interpret. But let’s look at it for a while.”

    • Students turn and talk to try to make sense of this graph.

    • Students will realize that richer areas of cities (from left to right on the graph) are less densely populated, more forested, older, and whiter.

20 minutes
  • Teacher says, “Now we know one major benefit of urban trees is that they lower the temperature. Remember that, in general, richer parts of cities are cooler than poorer areas of cities. We saw that in the Providence, RI-MA urbanized area there is a 5.4°C (9.7°F) difference in temperature between the poorest and richest census blocks.”

  • Teacher creates groups of 2-3 students.

  • In groups, students write down as many benefits of trees as possible while watching two videos.

  • Teacher shows videos on slides 14 and 15 in succession.
  • Students write directly in the slideshow on slides 15-22.
  • Willing students share out their lists with the rest of the class.

15 minutes
  • Students complete a written reflection.

  • Guiding questions on the assignment include noticing how many trees are near their homes and if they notice any connections between wealth, race, and age.

Teaching Tips


  • This is an engaging lesson because it is so personal. Students will think about tree cover where they live and how that relates to demographic data.

  • Students will practice their data analysis skills.

Additional Prerequisites

  • It is necessary to share the slideshow with your students before beginning the lesson. All students will be writing in the same slideshow.

  • The videos list the benefits of trees pretty quickly. It might be hard for students to type fast enough to keep up. You could play the videos at 0.9 speed or replay parts of the videos as necessary.

    • The following is a list of benefits of trees. Students will create a similar list while they are watching the two videos outlining the benefits of trees.
      • Reduce nearby outside temperatures

      • Reduce amount of energy used for heating and cooling buildings

      • Absorb carbon dioxide, thus mitigating climate change

      • Filter urban pollutants and fine particulates

      • Provide habitat, food, and protection to plants and animals

      • Provide food for people

      • Increase biodiversity

      • Provide wood that can be used at the end of a tree’s life

      • Improve physical and mental health of people

      • Increase property values

      • Create oxygen

      • Provide shade for people and animals

      • Control stormwater runoff, protecting water quality and reducing the need for water treatment

      • Protect against mudslides

      • Help prevent floods

      • Improve air quality

      • Increase attention spans and decrease stress levels in people

      • Improve health outcomes in hospital patients


    • Teachers can use the glossary at the end of the slideshow at any point throughout the lesson to help students understand vocabulary.

    • The spreadsheet and the graph on slide 11 might be tricky. Encourage your students to turn and talk to one another for help.

    • Many students will not have a good understanding of Celsius. Easy reminder: Multiply the temperature in Celsius by 1.8 to get degrees Fahrenheit. Example: 2.5°C x 1.8 = 4.5°F (The temperature difference between poorest and richest census blocks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.)
    • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
      • Dimension 2: Economics
        • D2.Eco.1.6-8 Explain how economic decisions affect the well-being of individuals, businesses, and society.
      • Dimension 2: Geography
        • D2.Geo.2.6-8 Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions, and changes in their environmental characteristics.
        • D2.Geo.5.6-8 Analyze the combinations of cultural and environmental characteristics that make places both similar to and different from other places.
        • D2.Geo.8.6-8 Analyze how relationships between humans and environments extend or contract spatial patterns of settlement and movement.


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