Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades 3-12, students explore BrainPOP resources to learn about Wangari Maathai, a global leader for women’s rights and conservation. Using what they learn about the problems Kenya faced after gaining independence in 1963, students take on the role of Maathai, writing and presenting a speech offering her solution to the problems, and why it will be effective.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Brainstorm the benefits of trees.
  2. Use the Make-a-Map tool to identify problems facing Kenya after its independence and how planting trees was an effective solution.
  3. Assume the role of Maathai, writing and presenting a speech about her solution to solving Kenya’s problems.
  4. Write a campaign slogan promoting Maathai. (extension activity)



chaos deforestation environmentalist harass oppressive topsoil


Lesson Procedure:

  1. Write “Benefit of Trees” on a whiteboard or other display. Ask students to brainstorm reasons to plant trees. Write their ideas as they come up with them, or invite a volunteer to jot them down. Make sure students recognize the many and varied benefits of trees, from releasing oxygen into the air to providing food and shelter.
  2. Tell students that today they will learn about Wangari Maathai, a global leader for women’s rights and conservation. Point out that Maathai was the first African American woman and first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
  3. Show the movie Wangari Maathai on an interactive whiteboard or other large display to the whole class once through without pausing.
  4. Next, if you have access to multiple computers or devices, have students open the Make-a-Map feature. Or, if limited computers or devices, distribute the Cause and Effect graphic organizer.
  5. Students are to watch the movie again within the Make-a-Map feature. As they watch, tell them to construct a concept map that shows the problems facing Kenya after its independence, and how planting trees would help solve these problems. If limited computers, you can show the movie again to the whole class as they take notes offline on a Cause and Effect graphic organizer  
  6. Have students put themselves in the shoes of Wangari Maathai. Tell them it is 1963 and Kenya has just won its independence. Explain that they are to write a speech persuading the people of Kenya to plant trees as a solution to the problems the country is facing and why this is a solution. Remind them to use details from their concept map or graphic organizer to write their speeches. Encourage students to review and edit each other’s speeches. Allow time for this process and for revisions.
  7. Finally, have students present their speeches to the class.

Extension Activities:

Working in small groups, have students create campaign slogans convincing different groups of voters to elect Wangari Maathai to Kenya’s Parliament.  If limited access to computers or devices, you can print out the activity for students to complete offline. Suggest that students divide and conquer by having each student focus on one group of voters, or they can work together to create each slogan.  Have groups share their slogans with the rest of the class.