Lesson 1.1: Exploring the Sustainable Development Goals

In this lesson, students will explore the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and identify a goal that has meaning to them and their school.

Grade Level: 6 - 12 or equivalent

Subjects: Science, social science

Concepts/Vocabulary: Sustainable development, sustainability

NGSS Performance Expectations:

Middle and high school:

  • Asking questions and defining problems

  • Developing and using models

  • Planning and carrying out investigations

  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions

  • Engaging in argument from evidence

  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

5E Unit: Engage


  • Human-Environment Interactions

  • Cross-cutting Themes

Universal Design for Learning Connections

Key knowledge (Students will know that):

  • The SDGs were created to make a more sustainable world for everyone

  • The SDGs can make a difference in their local community, school, and life

Key skills (Students will be able to):

  • Use their web-based research skills to explore the SDGs

  • Use data and visuals to support their perspective

  • Create a visual representation using Claim-Evidence-Reasoning

  • Take knowledge they have gained from an activity and apply it to other situations

Key dispositions (Students will value):

  • International frameworks that represent consensus to address global issues together

  • Sustainability in their own life

Technology Connections: Internet resources


  • Claim-Evidence-Reasoning graphic organizer, presentation board, poster paper, or other means for students to record their answers

  • Markers or other writing or art materials for making the C-E-Rs

  • Notebooks/electronic journal for each student to be used throughout the project as observation journals

Estimated Time for Lesson: 3 45-minute class periods

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify an SDG and demonstrate their knowledge of the goal.

  • Describe different aspects of sustainability as they prepare their presentations.

  • Use data and visuals to support their perspectives on their chosen SDG.

  • Consider whether any SDGs can be applied to their school and their own lives.

  • Demonstrate their knowledge and document their thoughts about the activities in this unit in a journal.

Assessment Opportunities

  • Pre-assessment question (entrance slip)

  • Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (C-E-R) presentations

  • Student rubric for Gallery Walk

  • Group reflection on C-E-Rs

  • Journal entries

  • Preparation of slide(s) for presentation in Lesson 5


Students should have working definitions of sustainable development and sustainability before beginning this lesson.

The U. N. Sustainable Development Goals were created by the nations of the world to provide a shared blueprint for the prosperity and well-being of everyone on the planet, people as well as plants, animals, and the ecosystems that support them.

Getting Ready to Teach

This lesson follows a sequential step pattern and requires background knowledge (see above). Students will use a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning graphic organizer. If you have not used C-E-R before, here is a good resource. Presentation boards, posters, or similar means of expression would also be appropriate for this lesson, as long as there is a way for students to display their work so others can see it.

Please open the links prior to teaching the lesson. You may also refer to additional resources at the bottom of this page. Students need an electronic or hard copy journal for this lesson. They will continue to use this journal for the entire project.

The Lesson

Part I. Introducing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  1. Ask students if they are familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and have them respond on a pre-assessment entrance slip.

  2. Introduce the concept of the SDGs to your students by showing a video, such as this one: We the People for the Global Goals. Ask students to record their thoughts in a journal.

  3. Explain that the SDGs are an international effort to improve life for everyone. Ask students for their reactions, engaging in group discussion. Here are some examples of questions you could ask.

Part II. Research the SDGs and Apply to the Community

  1. Individually or in small groups, have students explore the SDGs website. They can also use the latest Sustainable Development Goals Report and this list of topics covered by the SDGs as resources. They may use their journals to keep notes about their findings.

  2. Have the individual students or groups choose one SDG that is most important to them.

  3. Students (either individually or in their groups) will prepare a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning visual interpretation to answer the question: "If your SDG was addressed in our community, what impact would it have?" Students can use this C-E-R graphic organizer to express their answers, or a computer, presentation boards, posters, or in some other way. They may use text, drawings, data, photos, or other means.

  4. Let the students know that their completed C-E-Rs will be placed on the wall around the room like an art gallery, and they will be using a rubric to give feedback on each others' work.

Part III. C-E-R Gallery Walk

  1. After the C-E-Rs are completed, hang them on the wall or display them like an art gallery exhibition in your classroom. You may also put the display where others can view them, giving your exhibition a title and inviting others to come at a specific time when students can explain their work. This option would be good practice for making presentations and answering questions.

  2. Using this rubric, students can make the rounds of the displays and record their feedback. They may do this activity individually or in their groups.

  3. After viewing the display and completing their rubrics, engage students in a discussion about how their chosen SDGs apply to their school and their lives. Here are some questions you could ask.

Part IV. Presentation Preparation

  1. Have students open their journals and record their main takeaways including big ideas, relationships, and goals for how they can apply the SDGs to their school.

  2. Explain that in Lesson 5, this overall project culminates in a presentation or other means of advocating for implementation of at least one SDG at their school, in the form of more ecological and culturally diverse school grounds. We will explore these topics in the lessons to come.

  3. Introduce the Presentation Rubric and ask students to make a "Presentation Ideas" section in their journals. Ask them to record some ideas for the first slide(s) or piece(s) of information to be included in the project presentation, if you will not be using slides. Label these ideas "Lesson 1" or with some other label that aligns with the rubric. Students can work in their groups (which you may keep for the duration of the project, students can give their groups names if they like) or individually.

  4. Collect the journals and keep them for assessment and to ensure that all students are collecting the information needed for their presentations.

Additional Resources


  • Use the app Mapting to engage with others on the SDGs. Teachers may use this app to assess student work by creating a specific hashtag within the app. Posting on this app could be supplemental to student journaling.

  • Explore international conventions focused on biodiversity such as the U.N. Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and the U.N. Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) by visiting their websites and comparing who is participating, what goals they have, and what progress has been made toward the goals.

In the Next Lesson (L 2.1)

In Lesson 2.1, students will observe their school grounds to practice observation skills. In the rest of Lesson 2, they will learn about ecological school grounds and do a mapping exercise. They will also consider how different cultures connect with nature and whether any of these connections are present on their school grounds.


  • Jennifer Thomas, teacher at Turner Middle School, contributed to this lesson