This article by Elizabeth Joy Levinson is a free download from the Autumn 2018 Green Teacher magazine. This is how it begins:
RECENT RESEARCH has shown that narrative structure has a powerful impact on the human brain. Studies in neuroscience and narrative structure support this idea; some researchers are finding that narrative structures such as those used in fiction and poetry can have a much stronger impact than simple facts; when we read or hear the sensory details of someone else’s experiences, we respond to them neurologically as if they were our own experiences.1 Furthermore, studies have found that when reading literature with important messaging about behavior, students have begun to engage in more positive behaviors as suggested by the literature read in classes.2 Other areas of criticism such as feminist theory and Marxist theory have helped to raise awareness about how narratives can maintain oppressive structures, but there hasn’t been much discussion about how narratives can either reinforce or reinvent our relationships with animals.3 Moreover, it has been said that the ecological crisis that we are facing today will not be solved through science and technology,4 and there has been a growing interest in using the humanities to tackle these challenges.
This research provides educators with new opportunities to explore both narrative writing and ecology as means of building literacy skills, meeting Common Core Standards, and potentially impacting how students and their communities view their relationships with animals and the environment. Anecdotally, I have found that students become more engaged in writing lessons that focus on animals, and though I am an English teacher, I imagine that giving students an opportunity for creative expression may help those who struggle with ecological and biological studies in the science classroom.
In the last few years, I have experimented with and researched ideas for different activities in the secondary classroom. I would like to share some of the more successful lessons I have used so that other educators can explore them with their students. While these lessons were designed with high school students in mind, I think they could easily be adapted for middle and upper elementary grades.