Teaching Students About Chernobyl and Nuclear Energy

On the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, students can learn about nuclear energy and the challenges its use poses.

By Emily Cherry


Nuclear Energy

Chernobyl was undeniably a terrible disaster. We are still studying its ramifications and aftereffects 25 years later. I live in a small coastal town about 30 miles away from a nuclear power plant. My students often come to my class with differing opinions about nuclear energy. On the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, I thought it would be interesting to introduce my high school students to the background of nuclear energy and help guide them in a writing activity.

I am a high school English teacher, so nuclear energy is not at the forefront of my teaching repertoire. However, I do believe in the importance of exposing students to non-fiction texts, so I brought in a bunch of articles about the nuclear disasters that occurred at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Fukushima Power Plant in Japan. I wanted my students to be able to note the similarities and differences between these three events. I found all the articles on the Internet. I made sure to use all reputable websites, including CNN, BBC, and other credible news agencies. I passed out the materials to my students, and we read through the first article together. I had my students highlight or underline any interesting or important facts that stood out to them. After we finished reading, I led them in a discussion about the different things they found interesting or important. Then, I had my students work through the remaining articles independently, continuing to underline or highlight important information.

When they had finished reading, I passed out white construction paper. Together we created a chart with the three nuclear disasters listed at the top. Below each one I had my students write down the different evidence they had collected from their articles. These charts provided a nice visual for them to begin writing their essays. Using their charts as guides, I had each student write a compare and contrast essay on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

By going through evidence and then writing essays, my students were able to gain a more accurate perspective on nuclear energy. Even though this is not a typical topic for an English classroom, my students were able to have engaged and insightful discussions about nuclear energy and possible alternative energy sources. A good extension project that I have had my students do in the past is to begin a research project on alternative fuel sources (or proving the importance of nuclear energy). I find it extremely important and rewarding for my students to see that English is more than analyzing literature, but analyzing non-fiction as well. Here are some lessons that can be helpful in this process.

Energy Lesson Plans:

Energy Production

In this science lesson students study different energy forms. This is a science lesson, but can be adapted for an English classroom. It has great insight into different energy sources.

America's Energy Future

In this lesson, students explore our dependence on oil and how we can change that. This lesson helps students explore alternative fuel sources.

Writing for Purpose in Senior College English

In this step by step writing lesson students are given directions on how to write an expository essay. This lesson guides them through the writing process. 

Information Shuffle

In this research lesson students work to examine how to organize research. This is guided practice on research organization.