Module Four

If Trees Could Talk Modules

From Arbor Day to Earth Day



From Arbor Day to Earth Day has students analyze the influence of diverse forms of public opinion on the development of environmental public policy and decision making from the early industrial age through the postwar era. Students will understand the effects of rapid industrialization on the environment and the emergence of the conservation movement and then compare it to the modern environmental movement.

Image Caption: 1882 Celebration of Arbor Day
Garfield Place
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.


  • The student will understand the effects of rapid industrialization on the environment and the emergence of the first conservation movement.
    (Era 6, The Development of the Industrial U.S.: Standard 1D)
  • The student will compare the environmental movement with the conservation movement.
    (Era 9, Postwar United States: Standard 3b)
  • The student will utilize visual and mathematical data presented in charts. (Historical Comprehension, Standard 2)
  • Social Studies
    • The student will relate personal changes to social, cultural, and historical contexts. (Standard IV, Individual Development & Identity)




Download and print Module 4 Teacher and Student PDF's using Adobe Acrobat and make one copy per student of the Student Pages. Keep one student copy for yourself.


Class Extensions

  • Stage the “Cross-time Conversation” for the whole school on Earth Day.
  • Stage Earth Day 2050 and have students take positions on future issues.

Team Teaching Possibilities

Technology: Ask students to design their own database, using Microsoft Access or similar software, that includes the names and pertinent information (such as publications, accomplishments, awards, etc.) about American conservationists and environmentalists.

English: Worksheet 4 asks students to choose a conservationist or environmentalist and write a biographical sketch about the person. As an extension of this exercise in an English class, ask students to read a book written by the person they chose (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, for example) or about the person they chose. Additionally, have students present a short report to the class describing both the conservationist or environmentalist and the book they read.

Math: Ask students to use the essays about Arbor Day and Earth Day and other sources if necessary to compose and solve two word problems describing the motivation for people to join the conservation and environmental movements respectively. For example, the essay includes some statistics explaining the decline in the number of trees in the U.S. – “During the sixty years between 1850 and 1910, the nation’ s farmers cleared an average of 13.5 square miles a day.”

Science: Identify a current local or state environmental issue (toxic waste dumping into a river by a local company, for instance) and have students analyze the potential short-term and long-term impacts on the environment.


Axelrod, Alan and Charles Phillips. The Environmentalists: A Biographical Dictionary from the 17th Century to the Present. New York: Facts on File, 1993.

“Champions of Conservation.” Audubon 100 (November-December, 1998): 80-91, 120-122, 124-134.

Merchant, Carolyn. “Women of the Progressive Conservation Movement, 1900-1916.” Environmental Review 8 (Spring 1984):55-85.

Nash, Roderick. American Environmentalism: Readings in Conservation History. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1990.

Stroud, Richard. ed. National Leaders of American Conservation. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1985.

Wild, Peter. Pioneer Conservationists of Western America. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press, 1979.

Wild, Peter. Pioneer Conservationists of Eastern America. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press, 1985.


Forest History Society Bibliographic resources on forestry, conservation and environmental history. Ordering Resource for: American Forests: A History of Resiliency and Recovery, The Greatest Good Film.

Conservation Movement The Library of Congress American Memory Project has an extensive archives of the conservation movement on line.

Arbor Day The National Arbor Day Foundation maintains this site and has extensive information about tree planting.

Earth Day The Wilderness Society maintains a web site devoted to Earth Day activities and information.

“Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day: The Making of the Modern Environmental Movement” tells the story of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson and how his “national teach-in on the environment” became a historic turning point.