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John Muir: proactive conservation

Subject area: Literacy, expressive arts, RME, health and wellbeing, sciences

Experiences and outcomes: SOC 2-08a/b, LIT 2-16a, LIT 2-02a, EXA 2-05, HWB 2-13a, SCN 2-01a, RME 2-05b

The aims of this lesson are to:

Before you begin, ask your class to look through the section The Wild Man Who Changed the World from the John Muir graphic novel, up to page 105.

Now split your pupils into pairs and provide them with copies of the proactive conservation activity worksheet and ask them to create a list of the different types of land use in Scotland, under the following headings:

Then organise the pairs into groups of four and ask them to share their lists and discuss 'the conflicting demands of our Scottish society on land use today'.

Explain that when John Muir was alive he became an environmental campaigner and created strong opposition to the building of the Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite. Ask your groups to discuss the reasons for and against building a dam. They should note their thoughts down on the worksheet proactive conservation activity.

As an extension activity, ask pupils to discuss John's views on nature tourism. John Muir was against the industrialisation of this landscape, but his views on hotels and other tourist services in the area are less clear. The Sierra Club was founded(this link will open in a new window), after all, to 'explore, enjoy, and render accessible the mountain regions of the Pacific Coast'. Like with the dam activity, ask pupils to discuss the reasons for and against tourism in Yosemite. They might like to think about the impact of tourism in John Muir's day, versus the impact of tourists today on Yosemite. 

Now get the groups to list some leisure or sport activities that take place in the natural environment in Scotland. Let the groups discuss how they would answer the questions on their proactive conservation activity worksheets. Each group should note down their key points on their individual worksheets.

Once they have finished discussing their answers, each group should nominate a spokesperson to share their group's thoughts with the rest of the class.

When all the class have heard each other's thoughts, explain that John Muir became an environmental writer and campaigner later in his life, and founded the Sierra Club, which became a powerful environmental lobbying group. He said, 'I am hoping that we will be able to do something for the wilderness and make the mountains glad.'

What is the Sierra Club?

The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 with John Muir as it's first president. It was a group formed to explore and enjoy regions of the Pacific Coast, to publish authentic information concerning them and to preserve the forest and other natural resources of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. However, the group was overwhelmingly white, as the panel on page 106 shows. Many of it's early members also had links to white supremacist movements and held beliefs on eugenics. You can find our more about the groups earlier members and links to white supremacy on the Sierra Club website(this link will open in a new window)


Now lead a discussion with your whole class using the information on the proactive conservation worksheet to explore what they could all do to help the natural environment.

Create and display a 'Commitments Chart' to hang on the wall in your classroom detailing all the things your class are going to do. Follow up their ideas as further work.

They should research and investigate the reasons for setting up national parks in different parts of the world such as England, New Zealand, Kenya or Japan. Pupils can use the National Parks website(this link will open in a new window) to find national parks across the world, and begin to research how and why they have been established.

Reflecting on learning

Learners can:

Useful resources

Eco-Schools Scotland(this link will open in a new window)

For more ideas and activities to use with this section consider setting up your own Eco-Schools Committee.

Guerrilla Gardening(this link will open in a new window)

A blog about a London-based group who have established green spaces in urban environments.

Learning through Landscapes(this link will open in a new window)

The suggested activities on this website provide directed learning approaches.

The John Muir Award (this link will open in a new window)

An environmental award that encourages people to connect with, enjoy, and care for wild places.

We Have a Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Colour Protecting the Planet(this link will open in a new window)

This book is a great places to start when researching contemporary activists.