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This Storyworks-Inspired Persuasive Writing Lesson Had a Big Environmental Impact

By Coleen Mason
September 4, 2019

Editor's Note: We were really wowed when we read about Storyworks teacher Coleen Mason's water fountain project in Newsday. We asked her to share the story behind her fourth-graders' incredible campaign, which was inspired by one of our favorite Storyworks debates. 

Before reading the debate “Water Bottles: Handy or Harmful?” in the February 2019 issue of Storyworks, my students and I thought we were environmentally aware by collecting and recycling our used water bottles. After reading the debate, we were shocked to find out that less than 30% of water bottles put in recycling bins actually get recycled!             

The debate suggested a simple solution to water bottles being turned into garbage: purchasing an inexpensive refillable water bottle.

Our school has water fountains, but, as one of my students expressed, “My mom doesn’t allow me to drink from the fountain. People put their mouths on them!”

Another student recalled seeing a refillable water station at a local high school. The machine dispensed filtered water from a spout that no one can drink from and counted how many bottles were saved. “Why we don’t have one of those?” the student asked. This was the catalyst to our campaign to try to get one installed in our school.

We did some research and found that one machine costs $1,000. Our school could not afford to purchase one… so we thought bigger! One of our writing units is persuasive writing. We decided to send persuasive letters to our superintendent, Roberta Gerold, expressing our need to reduce the use of plastic water bottles. We hoped she could find the money needed.

To write the letters, we generated a list of persuasive reasons, supporting them with facts from the Storyworks article and our own research. We also brainstormed how we can be persuasive with a kind and thankful tone.    

After receiving our letters, Ms. Gerold contacted two local environmentalist assemblymen who secured a $61,000 grant! This amount of money would allow for the installation of TWO machines in ALL 10 of our district’s elementary schools.    

The water fountains are currently being installed and will be up and running for the first day of school. I can’t wait for my students to come back and see what they were able to make happen.

A month into the school year, I am hoping to contact each school’s principal to ask how many bottles we saved from landfills. I think seeing the actual number will help my students understand the real impact they’ve had on our planet.

Just like the children we read about in so many Storyworks articles, my students learned that their voices can be heard. As I tell my students, if you want change, you have to take action!    

Coleen Mason is a fourth-grade teacher at Holbrook Road Elementary School in Centereach, NY.

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