Lesson 3 – Rachel Carson: Silent Spring

Rachel Carson is considered to be instrumental in the launching of the environmental movement in the United States. Her work caused American society to scrutinize the practices of chemical companies and agricultural corporations from an environmental and human health standpoint. In this lesson, students will use excerpts of Silent Spring to understand the themes and views of Rachel Carson, as well as her past and continued influence on society.

Learning Objectives     Iowa Core Requirements     Background Information     Activities     Q&A


Big Yellow Taxi Handout     Silent Spring Handout

Learning Objectives

  1. Students will be able to describe the main themes of Rachel Carson.
    1. Students will be able to explain the background and contributions of Rachel Carson.
    2. Students will be able to identify the major themes of Rachel Carson as seen in Silent Spring.

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Iowa Core Requirements

  1. Literacy: Grade 11
    1. Students can comprehend what they read in a variety of literary and informational texts.
      1. Students can draw conclusions, make inferences, and deduce meaning.
      2. Students can interpret information in new contexts.
      3. Students can determine the main idea of a text.
      4. Students can identify the writer’s views or purpose.
      5. Students can recognize aspects of a passage’s style and structure and can recognize literary techniques.
    2. http://www.corecurriculum.iowa.gov/Standards.aspx?C=Literacy  

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Background Information

  1. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives
    1. The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
      1. http://www.rachelcarson.org/
  2. Purdue University
    1. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Environmental Movement
      1. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/history/lecture31/r_31-3.html
  3. National Resources Defense Council
    1. The Story of Silent Spring
      1. http://www.nrdc.org/health/pesticides/hcarson.asp
  4. Online Ethics Center
    1. Rachel Carson—Silent Springs
      1. http://www.onlineethics.org/cms/9147.aspx
  5. Google Books
    1. Silent Spring
      1. http://books.google.com/books?id=HeR1l0V0r54C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

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  1. Big Yellow Taxi
    1. Hand out the lyrics for “Big Yellow Taxi” and show students the music video. In small groups, have students list visuals and lyrics that parallel Silent Spring. Handout in separate document.
    2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvtJPs8IDgU
  2. Small Group Discussion
    1. In small groups, have students answer several discussion questions about Silent Spring. Handout in separate document.
  3. IPTV: Rachel Carson
    1. Have students read the first chapter of Silent Spring and write a short response. As a class, discuss some of the ethical implications of her decisions to publish her book and the influence of science and society on each other.
    2. Includes supplemental video clip and slideshow.
    3. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/educators/rachelcarson.html

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Potential Student Questions and Answers

    Q: What was the original intent for using DDT?

      A: Chemical companies found that it was effective as a pesticide and didn’t consider the downstream effects.

    Q: Why is DDT so bad?

      A: Using it on plants causes the chemicals to get into the root system, the water supply, and the food chain in a process called bioaccumulation. It can cause plant death and illnesses in animals and humans. It eventually causes cancer in humans.

    Q: Why was Silent Spring important?

      A: It drew attention to the dangers of DDT and resulted in the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Many argue that Silent Spring was instrumental in the launching of the environmental movement in the US.

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