Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup
Follow The Annenberg Learner on Facebook Follow Annenberg Learner on Twitter

Earth, Climate, and Change

Observing Human Impact

Activating Students’ Prior Knowledge

In pairs or small groups, give students one or more of the photographs. Ask students to first talk about their overall impressions of the image, what they see, and what they think the image is of and/or trying to portray. Then have the groups write their observations about evidence they see of effects on habitats, signs of human activity, or the impact of humans.

(Students might or might not see any or all of these features in their photographs. For example, although they can’t see the dam in 3506, they can figure out where it is, hypothesize that the dramatic change in the water is the result of human activity, and brainstorm about its effects on habitats. Although they can’t see how climate change increases coastal erosion, they can begin to hypothesize about its impact on habitats, including for humans.)

In groups or as a class, discuss how any activity or impacts they see might be affecting or have affected communities of organisms, including humans. Emphasize that at this point, no questions or ideas are considered right or wrong.

Note: Frequently asked questions by students about sea level are: What causes sea levels to rise? What is the impact? Changes in sea level can be caused by several factors:

  • Exchange of water stored on land in glaciers and ice sheets with ocean water
  • Water expansion as the ocean warms
  • Storm surges affected by alterations in surface and deep ocean circulation
  • Changes in terrestrial water storage, such as extraction of groundwater, building of reservoirs, and runoff
  • Subsidence (caving or sinking of land) in river delta regions, land movements, and tectonic displacements

Impacts of rising sea level include shoreline erosion, effects on wetlands and coral reefs, and loss of habitats and land near coasts or rising rivers and streams.

Note: Students might ask about permafrost. Permafrost is soil that is permanently frozen. When the permafrost melts, the soil is more susceptible to erosion. (In addition, permafrost stores carbon. When the ice melts, the stored carbon is released as greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which further contributes to climate change.)

The term hurricane is used for high wind, cyclonic storms in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific. The same storm is a typhoon in the Northwest (Asian) Pacific, and a cyclone in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Monsoon is the term for a seasonal wind in Southeast Asia. Some monsoons bring heavy rain.

Also, see the Habitable Planet resources, which have potential discussion topics and common student misconceptions, such as the possibility of a technological fix or the impossibility of human extinction.

next: What Is the Evidence?

Grade Level

Middle & High School


Earth and Space Science
Environmental Studies
Physical Science
Social Studies


To download this collection, you must agree to the following terms:

Photos downloaded from the Essential Lens site are cleared for educational use only. For other uses, please contact Annenberg Learner for permission.

I Agree

Collection PDF (large)
Collection PDF (small)

Photographs in This Activity

© Annenberg Foundation 2015. All rights reserved. Legal Policy