Reporting on Environmental Racism

In this upper-grades activity, students use basic news reporting skills to explore the impact of environmental racism.
Grade Level


Students will:

  • Explore the terms environmental racism and environmental justice.
  • Use print sources and fellow students' knowledge to collect information about environmental racism.
  • Use the newsgathering questions Who?, What?, Where?, When?, Why? and How? to record notes.
  • Make inferences and draw conclusions about environmental racism.
  • Create a mock newscast to share their findings with others.


Environmental racism refers to the fact that communities of color are more likely to bear the brunt of environmental degradation than white communities. Environmental justice seeks to provide fair treatment to all people, regardless of race, culture, gender or income.

By creating a mock news broadcast to cover an instance of environmental racism, your students will build understanding of the news values that shape media coverage, while exploring the concept of environmental justice.


Suggested Procedure

Tell students that today we are going to learn about some of the basic values and techniques that drive and shape the news coverage they see on television and the Internet.

Ask if any of your students know the "Five W's" of news reporting. Explain to them that every news story strives to answer the basic questions of Who?, What?, Where?, When?, Why? and How? Ask students to make notes as you discuss these elements: students will soon be asked to create their own news stories.

Ask students if they know what makes a story newsworthy. They may identify key elements of newsworthiness such as timeliness, proximity, human interest, impact and so on. Fill in any elements the students do not mention, and remind students to make notes as you discuss.

Tell your students they are going to create a mock news broadcast on environmental racism. Explain the concepts of environmental racism and environmental justice. Invite students to list examples from community, state, and global incidents. For example, the cleanup of Hurricane Katrina, toxic waste sites near poor and minority communities, asbestos or peeling lead paint in poor schools, the shipping of hazardous materials from developed nations to developing ones, etc. Encourage students to share their opinions and feelings.

Divide students into teams of four and give each group a copy of all four case studies from the University of Michigan. Tell students they are producers and reporters in a television newsroom, looking for stories to cover on the evening news. Each student in the group should read one of the case studies, and then students should come together to discuss the case studies they read. Students will select one case study as the subject of their news report – or, if they have personal knowledge of another instance of environmental racism, they can report on that topic instead. (For instance, a student who lives near an industrial site or waste dump may want to tell her own story.)

Tell students to script and create a mock television news report on their example of environmental racism. One person should be assigned to play the reporter, and the other three should play "sources" – fictitious people who provide additional insight on the problem. Remind students to keep the "Five W's" and the elements of newsworthiness in mind while writing their scripts.

Each group will perform its news story for the entire class.

Recommended Resources


Extension Activity

If you have access to a computer lab, students can do their own research to find cases of environmental racism. Encourage them to look for instances in their own city or state, so they can draw on their background knowledge of the area. If you have access to digital video recorders, your students can create videos in which student presenters report on an environmental problem – with suggestions for possible solutions. Post the results to YouTube or to a vlog.