Dr. Wangari Maathai: The story of a leader in social, environmental, and political activism and first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize
In this lesson, students will explore the life of Dr. Wangari Maathai and engage in activities to research her contributions and her grassroot movement to develop sustained social, environmental, and political change. Students will be tasked with researching Dr. Maathai’s personal and progressive accomplishments. They will use this information to practice decision-making to select a quote that best reflects Dr. Maathai’s leadership and legacy.
Guiding Question: How can we best describe someone’s legacy?
30 minutes recommended
Dr. Wangari Maathai was born in Kenya in 1940. She is the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. She is the founder of the Green Belt Movement, a grassroot organization responsible for assisting women in planting over 20 million trees. Dr. Maathai is a change maker that led initiatives to address social, environmental, and political issues. In this mini lesson, students will be tasked with researching Dr. Maathai’s personal and progressive accomplishments. They will use this information to practice decision-making to select a quote that best reflects Dr. Maathai’s leadership and legacy.
Before beginning the lesson, students should understand the term "grassroots"
prerequisite term definitions:
do now video:
- Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai (trailer from documentary)
- do now brainstorm, chart, and guided questions activity sheet
- activity I leadership, legacy, and KWL charts
- activity II biographical guide activity
- tablet/computer and/or
- paper copies and pen/pencil
Students will watch Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai and record 1-2 key components that describe Dr. Maathai’s activism and her impact on Kenya and the world. Then, with a partner, students should discuss the key components that they recorded. This will help introduce students to the factors that inspired Dr. Wangari Maathai’s activism.
Introduction & Do Now (4 minutes):
- Brainstorm a list of uses for trees. Then, have students watch Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai and record 1-2 key components that describe Dr. Maathai’s activism. (activity sheet)
- Then, with a partner, students should discuss the key components that they recorded.
- This will help introduce students to the factors of deforestation, a key issue addressed by Dr. Wangari Maathai.
Activity I Leadership, Legacy, and KWL Charts (6 minutes):
- Introduce the activity to students by asking students to explain what they believe defines leadership and an individual’s legacy. Students may use the charts activity to record responses. The teacher should post the following prompts on the board:
- How do you define leadership? What makes someone a leader?
- How do you define legacy? What is meant by a person’s legacy?
- The teacher should begin by modelling a response to one of the questions.
ex: When I think of the word leadership, I think about a person that encourages me to try.
- The teacher can ask students to individually, with a partner, or as a whole group, respond to the questions. The teacher can write responses on the board and as a whole class, create a one sentence description to explain leadership and legacy. The students can record their class description on the activity sheet.
- Share with students that they will be completing a KWL chart about Dr. Maathai.
- Have students complete the Know section prior to beginning the lesson activities.
- Tell students that the article that they will be reading was published in tribute to Dr. Maathai after her death. Ask students to identify the source, potential bias, and how articles may impact a person’s legacy. Discuss their thoughts as a whole class.
- Indicate that students should read the article while focusing on personal accomplishments and successful grassroot movement activism that resulted in change.
- Students should record 2-3 new learnings, and 1 remaining question that they have after reading the article.
- Then, have students share their KWL details with a partner. The teacher should ask for 1-2 students to share something from their KWL chart and discussion.
- Finally, the teacher can lead a discussion asking students to apply their new understanding of leadership and legacy to what they have learned about Dr. Maathai to the questions:
- Based on our class description of leadership and legacy, would you describe Dr. Maathai as a leader? Explain your answer using specific vocabulary used in the lesson.
- Based on our class description of leadership and legacy, how would you describe Dr. Maathai’s legacy?
- Inform students that the article that they just read can be used with the biographical guide activity and internet to research the contributions and accomplishments of Dr. Wangari Maathai, a leader in social, environmental, and political activism and first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Students should complete the biographical guide with information that responds to the prompts and outlines the contributions and accomplishments that help to create Dr. Maathai’s legacy.
- Using their research, and learning about leadership and legacy, students should complete the sections of the activity that ask them to:
- identify their view of Dr. Maathai’s work
- use the internet to select a quote, said by Dr. Maathai or another person, that they believe best reflects her leadership, accomplishments, and legacy as a change maker for progress
- explain, in a few sentences, why they selected this quote
- The teacher can have students share their quotes and reason for selecting with a partner, in small groups, or as a whole class.
Summary & Informed Action:
To conclude the lesson, inform students that they should submit the completed exit ticket prior to the end of class. Students will create a brief written response to demonstrate understanding of the lesson.
Exit Ticket Prompt (2 minutes):
- Based on the information that you received today, did Dr. Maathai effectively address issues and create lasting change? Why/not? Explain.
- How can you apply Dr. Maathai’s example of leadership and legacy to your own life?
- Students can use their biographical guide, research, and selected quote to create a visual representation for the leadership and legacy of Dr. Wangari Maathai.
- Visual representations can be computer or physical artifacts that include an image of Dr. Maathai or an image that reflects her activism, their selected quote, and a concluding statement that describes her legacy.
- Students can create posters, stamps, videos, and artifacts. For computer-based representations, students can use free canva.com templates (poster, Instagram post, YouTube commercial)
- The teacher may use the video Women Who Changed The World - Dr. Maathai in place of the article for ELL students or students working on reading comprehension.
- The teacher may modify the biographical guide by providing fewer sections and/or more guided research by including specific resource links for each section of the activity.
D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.
D2.Civ.5.9-12. Evaluate citizens’ and institutions’ effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.