SISL > Teaching Activities > Finding the Personal Voice of Sustainability

Finding the Personal Voice of Sustainability

Kevin P. Saari, Oakland Community College
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This is an acting exercise that could be used with theater students, or any course in which the instructor wishes the students to explore a more personal connection to sustainability and environmental concerns. The students will take an article, or excerpt of an article, and rewrite it into a 1st-person monologue which they will perform (either from the written text or memorized). The students and instructors can discuss the reactions of the students to the material and what they have learned from exploring the material from the inside.

Learning Goals

On the most basic level, it makes the topic of sustainability a personal matter. Students will deal with the "I" of the issue and not just deal with it factually. On a broader level, the work could be presented to an audience, or developed into a more wide-ranging work.

Creative writing, Acting, Public Speaking.

Context for Use

This activity is best suited for high school and college students. It could be performed as an in-class exercise, briefly, or developed over multiple class sessions. Minimum would likely be one hour. No special equipment is needed, and all the students need is an article on sustainability, paper, a pen, and their imagination. It would be useable in a variety of other situations.

Description and Teaching Materials

The students will either provide or be assigned a very short excerpt (2-3 paragraphs) or brief article on a sustainability topic. Each student should have a different article. When the teacher has confirmed that each student has an article or excerpt, the students should be given the following instructions:

Part 1:

1. Rewrite your excerpt or article, but put yourself into the article.

2. Add the "I" or "me" viewpoint whenever possible. If the article is about a lake, you could rewrite it as if you are the lake. If the article is about the effects of industrial pollutants on the body, rewrite it as a person affected by these things. Be creative. The goal here is to get "inside" the subject of the article the same way actors get "inside" the character.

3. The end result should be a 1st-person narrative or story that is about 2-3 paragraphs long (basic monologue length, essentially).

The teacher should take some time to discuss the activity. Have the students read and evaluate each other's work and provide feedback. Have a discussion with the entire class about the exercise and what they learned–both about acting and the topic of the article. Make sure to discuss how the personal and big-picture concerns are connected. The students can rewrite or revise their work.

4. The students should memorize and perform their work as a traditional 1-2 minute monologue for the class.

5. The students will thereafter have discussions in pairs, groups, and the entire class about what they learned (personal feelings on sustainability, what they learned about the issue, and so on). The discussions should cover sustainability choices and decisions based on the work they have done; for example, what they learned from their work and from the work of others, and what changes or new ideas they might implement in their own lives as a result of the work.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This exercise should be done over multiple class sessions. The writing work, the discussions, and the preparation work can be done all at once or spread out over multiple sessions (for example, taking a period of time in each class to check in on the work and have discussion). The performances will take the usual amount of time allowed for performance and evaluation per the teacher's usual methods. A class session should be allotted for discussion and wrap-up.


The work itself can be evaluated as the teacher would normally evaluate a student monologue. Most important is that the actual writing itself should not be graded; the students should feel free to explore the material without risk and dig into it deeply.

The teacher may wish to suggest to the students that they have a performance night and invite an audience to view the work. The audience could be given a survey form to fill out and return, gauging before-and-after attitudes, or the actors could stay after the show to discuss the work and the issues raised with any audience members who wish to stay. Other school departments/teachers could be involved as well.

References and Resources