Climate Change Communication

Climate Change Communication

It can feel like the world is divided into two camps: people who believe in climate change and people who don’t. Of course, people’s beliefs are often complex, nuanced, and rooted in a variety of factors . The key to effective climate change communication is knowing and understanding your audience. This can be a challenging concept to teach to students; luckily, Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) has developed amazing resources for teachers to use in the classroom.  Learning effective climate change communication techniques can help students (and teachers) convey information about climate change to a variety of different audiences.

The following resources from YPCCC will help students: learn about people’s climate beliefs on the local, national and international level; understand effective climate change communication techniques; consider their own beliefs about climate change; and think about, analyze and interpret data on climate beliefs.  

Five Facts, Ten Words

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Chemistry, Math

Resource Type: Article

If you want to begin teaching students about climate change communication, this article is a great place to start. Climate change can be hard to talk about because it impacts so many aspects of our lives. Even still, some people don’t believe that it is real! The article simplifies the concept of climate change into five short and easy-to-communicate facts: “scientists agree, it's real, it's us, it's bad, and there's hope.” Each of the five facts is bolstered with photographs, graphs, charts, and compelling explanations. 

Before sharing the article, teachers could ask students to write down five facts that they believe people should know about climate change. Then have students discuss and compare their five facts in small groups and share their findings with the class. Teachers can lead the class in a discussion about the exercise and whether it felt difficult to distill the entire climate crisis into just five facts. After the discussion, have the students read Five Facts, Ten Words and write a short reflection on the similarities and differences between their five facts and the five facts in the article. As a class, discuss why YPCCC’s five facts are an effective communication tool. As an extension activity, students can design their own infographics using the five facts and the data included in the article and display them in a common area.

Six Americas Super Short Survey (SASSY!)

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies

Resource Type: Interactive Media

This quick four-question survey places respondents in one of six categories based on the person's attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and policy preferences about climate change. Students can read the “About” section to learn more about how the survey was designed and then take the survey themselves. A helpful section on group scoring shows teachers how to score a group of students in order to compare their collective results with the national results.

Statistics classes could discuss how YPCCC determined the kinds of questions to include in the survey to group people into six categories. Language arts, psychology, science, and communications classes could discuss why collecting data on public opinion is an important component of climate action. After students take the survey, compile the class’s results and ask the students to predict how their group results will compare with the national results. After viewing the real data, students can discuss what surprised them about the results and why. 

Meet Global Warming's Six Americas

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th

Subjects: Social Studies, Social-Emotional Learning

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

In this text, students will learn how YPCCC uses the results of the Six Americas Super Short Survey to divide Americans into six groups based on their views on climate change. Each group is characterized by common traits, beliefs, and communication styles. The resource includes easy-to-read student pages as well as an educator page with helpful tips for using the resource. 

This interesting resource gives teachers a unique opportunity to show students that there are often more than two sides when it comes to complex issues like climate change. It also introduces students to communication strategies, a concept that they may not have encountered in the real world. Advisory or life skills classes could use this article in a discussion about respectful communication. Students could discuss why people have certain beliefs and why they might feel attacked if someone disagrees with them. After reading and discussing the article, advanced students could complete this role-play activity to practice communicating with people who have different beliefs about climate change. 

Decoding the Data

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Math, Social-Emotional Learning

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

In this activity, students interpret graphical data from the YPCCC's Six Americas Super Short Survey and answer questions about the information. The activity includes a PDF for educators that contains lesson objectives, tips, and an answer key as well as a fillable PDF for students.

Teachers will appreciate that this activity requires students to think critically about the data as well as the data collection method. Students will look at graphs and charts and consider questions such as: “what are two things you wonder based on what you notice?” and “what kind of data would you need to collect to answer one of your ‘wonders’?” Students will be intrigued by how the Six Americas groups have changed in size over the years, proving that people can and do change their minds about topics such as climate change.

The activity can be differentiated according to the students' skill levels. Some students can complete this activity independently while others might benefit from working in small groups with mixed abilities. Teachers could also lead the whole class through the activity to provide scaffolding and enable more discussion after each question.

Yale Climate Opinion Maps

Grade: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Civics, Geography, Math

Resource Type: Interactive Media

This interactive map of the United States displays data from YPCCC’s Climate Change and the American Mind project. Students can see the degree to whichpeople in the U.S.  agreed with  a variety of climate change statements at the national, state, congressional district, metro area, or county level. The statements include belief-based statements such as, “global warming is affecting the weather” as well as policy-based statements such as, “require fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax.” Students might be surprised to learn that there is overwhelming support for statements like, “schools should teach about global warming” even though climate change education is lacking in most states.

This resource offers an abundance of well-organized information that teachers could use in a variety of ways. Teachers could have students choose a statement and reflect on the differences between the data for the local county, state, and national responses. Geography and social studies classes could discuss the role of industry and the economy and how it affects certain states’ responses to the statements. Psychology and communications classes could discuss reasons for the discrepancy in data that occurs for the two behavior-based statements. Consider pairing this resource with YPCCC’s Climate Opinion Factsheets which gives students the opportunity to see the same data in the form of a customizable factsheet for a given geographic area such as a county or a congressional district.. As an extension, students can complete this engaging activity that ties political decision-making to constituent attitudes using the climate opinion maps.

Climate Change Communication Investigation

Grade: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Civics, English Language Arts, Math

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

In this activity, students collect survey data using questions from the Yale Climate Opinion Maps and compare their data with the local data collected by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Students design a survey, form hypotheses, graph their data and evaluate its accuracy, identify sources of error, and formulate a plan to educate the community about climate change. 

Teachers will appreciate how the student page leads students through the activity in a step-by-step manner, while the teacher page offers tips and suggestions for differentiation. After they complete the activity, students could share their hypotheses and results in small groups and discuss the similarities and differences.

As an extension, students can design a plan to educate the community about an element of climate change. Students could make posters to put in public buildings, record a short audio piece to play on a public radio station, or make an infographic that can be shared digitally. 

International Public Opinion on Climate Change, 2022

Grade: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, English Language Arts, Math, Social-Emotional Learning

Resource Type: Scientific Papers or Reports

This 26-page report summarizes the findings of a global study investigating people's attitudes, perceptions, behavior, and knowledge about climate change topics. The report is straightforward in presenting findings and conclusions, making it a great introduction to scientific writing, research design, and conducting surveys. Findings are followed by a chart with the data collected from each country.

This fascinating report gives students the opportunity to think about climate change communication on a global scale. Teachers can ask small groups to examine certain sections of the report and discuss what they notice and what questions remain. As an extension, have students research a specific country from the report to find information about their government’s climate policies, programs, regulations, or incentives and then see if the information helps them to understand how the citizens responded to the statements in the report.

Re-representing a Climate Change Story

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, English Language Arts, Art, Justice, Health, Social-Emotional Learning

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

Storytelling is an important communication tool and learning how to tell a story while keeping scientific data and facts intact is a skill that students can learn.  In this activity, students will choose a 90-second radio story from Yale Climate Connections’ extensive library of radio stories and re-tell the story using a different medium.  The student worksheet provides students with questions to help them determine the radio story’s main idea as well as their own emotional response to the story. Students can re-tell the story by creating a comic strip, a poem, a short story, or a piece of artwork. Once they are finished with their re-representation, students answer reflection questions about the connection between storytelling and science.

Teachers will appreciate that the student worksheet is a fillable pdf that includes links to radio stories grouped by subject, a rubric, and an example of a student poem. Students will enjoy choosing from the enormous library of high-interest radio stories and they will appreciate having a choice in selecting a medium for their re-representation. After completing this activity, consider hosting a showcase for younger grades so the students can practice their storytelling and communication skills. World language teachers could adapt this activity to have students re-represent their radio stories using a different language as well as a different medium.

The more students learn about public opinion on climate change, the better equipped they will be to communicate climate change information to others. Opinions about climate change are shifting, make sure that your students have the tools and understanding to keep the momentum going!

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) conducts scientific studies on public opinion and behavior; informs the decision-making of governments, media, companies, and advocates; educates the public about climate change; and helps build public and political will for climate action. You can learn more about YPCCC’s free, downloadable resources on their Resources for Educators page.

About the Author

Emily has a bachelor’s degree in English and French and a master’s degree in library and information science. She spent seven years teaching information evaluation and research skills as a school librarian in K-8 public schools. As a lifelong resident of Southern Louisiana, Emily has a particular interest in how climate change affects coastal regions. She hopes to connect educators with resources that will help them to teach their students about the disproportionately adverse effects of climate change on historically marginalized communities.

All resources can be used for your educational purposes with proper attribution to the content provider.