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The Earth Day Reading Mystery is the perfect middle school ELA lesson ahead of April 22.

Earth Day Lesson for Middle School ELA – Earth Day Reading Mystery

I’ve always thought Earth Day deserves a lot of attention in the classroom! April 22 is a time for students to reflect on the current state of the planet, and consider the actions – both big and small – that can have a significant impact on the planet. If you’re looking for a creative Earth Day lesson for middle school ELA students, I have a brand new reading mystery you might want to try out in your learning space!

I find that reading mysteries make great stand-alone lessons at any time of the year, but they can be especially useful if you’re looking to connect a learning task to a specific seasonal event – like Earth Day! The Earth Day Reading Mystery challenges students to read closely, examine a piece of text for evidence, make inferences, and work collaboratively. Best of all, it’s ready to simply print and go!

How the Activity Works

Before your students jump right into this Earth Day ELA activity, it’s important to get everything set up. Reading mysteries are really low-prep, which is one of the things I love most about them! All you need to do ahead of time is review the activity to make sure you are prepared for the lesson, make enough copies for your class (I like to reduce paper by creating one package of material for each small group of students), and organize any other details, such as the poster on your door!

Get students excited about Earth Day with the Earth Day Reading Mystery - perfect for middle school ELA!

1. Build Anticipation

It’s no secret that I love to incorporate seasonal activities into middle school ELA whenever I can. Why should our elementary colleagues have all the fun!? I especially find that when I get excited about a learning task, my students tend to buy in!  With this in mind, the Earth Day Reading Mystery is a lesson for middle school ELA that I like to save for a couple of days before April 22. I find introducing the topic a little bit in advance gets students thinking about Earth Day, and might create natural opportunities for your students to explore ways they could take further action on the day itself. Who knows – your students might be inspired to participate in a playground clean-up, create environmental awareness posters, or even do some research on endangered animals!

To begin, I recommend putting a poster on the door to build anticipation. Two different poster designs are available in this resource pack, so you can choose the one you like best! Then, get ready to greet your students!

2. Set the Scene

Once the class is settled and ready to go, it’s time to share the background story for this Earth Day lesson for middle school ELA …

When staff and students at Evergreen High School arrive for class on Earth Day, they are shocked to see that the normally cluttered school grounds are free of litter! As they look even more closely, they also realize that rows of newly-planted pine trees are now neatly sprouting in the school’s front field. Most curiously, the custodian and principal have also discovered that a low-hanging electrical wire has been cut – deliberately, it seems – severing all power to the school.

As news reporters begin to arrive, Principal Douthwright makes the shocking decision to cancel school for the day. As students and staff mill around outside, they can’t help but wonder who is behind this unusual act? Could it be Lyla Green, a passionate climate change activist and parent of one of Evergreen High School’s most eco-conscious students? Or perhaps it was Mrs. Rosewood, the enthusiastic Horticulture 101 teacher? Maybe it was even Principal Douthwright himself?

It’s very important that everyone begins with the same information. With this in mind, I like to read the background story out to the whole class. I like to provide them with a group copy to refer to, and also project the slide show as I give instructions. Alternatively, you can have more independent middle school ELA students break out into small groups and carefully read the backstory together. Either way, by the end of the introduction, you’ll want to organize your students into small groups (I find four is usually the “magic” number, but you can divide your students according to the needs of your particular class) for the next stage of the activity.

3. Comb through the Evidence

From here, it’s time for your students to carefully examine all the evidence to determine who created the big Earth Day surprise! This evidence includes a variety of different information to help students solve the mystery, such as:

  • A tree-planting pamphlet
  • Information about a lights-out initiative handout
  • Email exchanges
  • Posts from an environmental blog
  • An Earth Network social media page
  • A texting conversation
  • A newsletter from the Horticulture 101 class
  • …and more!
Earth Day Activity Reading Mystery

As they comb through the evidence, students will identify clues to help them solve the mystery.  What I really love about the Earth Day lesson for middle school ELA is that the provided evidence shares real-life facts about the environment as they read! This can set the stage for future class discussions once the activity is over, and might even be the springboard for further Earth Day activities in your classroom!

Students comb through a variety of evidence to solve the Earth Day Reading Mystery.

4. Record the Evidence

Engaging reading activities, like the Earth Day Reading Mystery, support the development of essential literacy skills. These include several important foundational reading skills, including close reading, critical thinking, text evidence, and making inferences. During the reading portion of this task, each group should appoint a recorder. This person can use a provided graphic organizer to keep track of what they learn about each potential suspect.

It is important that students collect detailed evidence during the recording task. This way, they are prepared to justify their final theories with support (and rule out some suspects altogether). 

A provided graphic organizer helps students keep track of the clues in the Earth Day Reading Mystery lesson.

5. Group Sharing, Review, and Reflection

Finally, you can wrap up this Earth Day ELA lesson by asking your middle school students to share their theories about who planted the trees, cleaned up the school property, and cut the power – supported by specific evidence from the readings, of course. Once each group has had a chance to share and defend their final suspect, it’s time to review each of the potential suspects, and identify the correct answer! I like to use the provided slides to go through all the evidence related to each subject, and explain why it supports (or does not support) the final deduction!

The Earth Day Reading Mystery - a new lesson for middle school ELA.

There you go! I hope your middle school ELA students really enjoy solving the Earth Day Reading Mystery!

Looking for another great Earth Day activity to try out with secondary ELA students? Check out my lesson on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch!

Want to make reading mysteries a regular part of your ELA classroom routine? Check out the full-year Presto Plans Reading Mysteries program! It offers 40 engaging reading mysteries that can be used all year long, as well as seasonal and holiday-centric activities for middle school ELA.

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