Celebrate Endangered Species Day at Your School

Learn how your school can join numerous conservation organizations in celebrating Endangered Species Day on May 17th.

By Jen Lilienstein


Whether your class digs into an earth science unit on the tundra, savannah, rainforest, grasslands, or desert, you will undoubtedly find a growing endangered species list. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is encouraging teachers to join them on May 17th by participating in the eighth annual Endangered Species Day. This day will recognize the national conservation effort to celebrate and protect the nation’s rarest species in the plant and animal kingdoms.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. This act was almost unanimously enacted under the Nixon Administration in 1973. It lists plant, invertebrate, and animal species that are in danger. It also authorizes funds for species protection, and makes it illegal to kill, harm, or remove an endangered plant or animal. Instructors can find a terrific timeline of events concerning the passage of the Endangered Species Act on the Thoreau Institute website. The Endangered Species Act has been credited with saving national treasures like bald eagles, gray whales, American alligators, red and gray wolves, pacific salmon, and brown pelicans.

The new Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2011) emphasizes that science is needed to address major global trials like solving the growing endangered species problem and that these challenges may, inspire scholars to further their knowledge of science.

Your school can take on this important topic in a way that the new Common Core Science Standards recommends by bringing all of your grade-level teams together to discuss how you can bring endangered species conversation into your school’s curriculum. Implementing lesson plans that with this topic woven into them, will help give pupils the basis for a “progression of knowledge…from grade band to grade band that gives students the opportunity to learn more complex material.” (Next Generation Science Standards, Appendix A, page 3)

Ways to Get Involved

StopExtinction.org has an Endangered Species Day Toolkit that includes ideas for events and activities, as well as a step-by-step guide to planning a fun and successful event. Or, you can use this event list as a jumping off point for brainstorming the ways in which your students can become activists and defenders of local, national, and global wildlife.

The Endangered Species Coalition and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are currently compiling a list of events scheduled throughout the country. Once you’ve decided how you plan to celebrate this special day, be sure to register your local Endangered Species Day event on DemocracyInAction.org.

Have your class read detailed conservation action plans for spotlight species. Spotlight species account for about 10 percent of the more than 1,300 threatened and endangered species in the United States, of which 448 animal species and 667 plant species are listed as endangered. More than 6000 species are listed at species of concern. Per fws.org, spotlight species are selected based on several criteria:

  • The potential a species has to benefit from partnerships between the Service and States, other Federal agencies, Tribes, NGOs, private landowners, etc., to aid in its conservation;
  • The potential that threats currently jeopardizing a species' survival can be reduced;
  • high public interest in a species;
  • species that represent an important or threatened ecosystem;
  • species that are listed as priority species in a State wildlife action plan.

Another way to get involved is to become a National Wildlife Federation eco-school. Learn about why biodiversity is important, threats to biodiversity, and what schools can do at a local level.

Additional Lesson Planet Resources:

There are a myriad of lesson plans you can tap into on Lesson Planet that cover everything from why species are endangered, to how we can work to save them, to how public policy shapes the future of our fellow creatures. Here are three of my favorites:

A Duck’s Bill on Capitol Hill (5th – 12th grade)

Learners scrutinize the positions of political parties on proposed conservation legislation. In addition to investigating the difference between private property and public conservation, pupils will take the position of one of the parties and debate their stance in a class discussion.

Life Underground (K-2nd grade)

After building a terrarium as a class project, pupils have an opportunity to observe plant and animal activity that was previously invisible to them. Via observation, analysis, and journaling, they compare how organisms survive in different environments.

The Game of Life (3rd-8th grade)

Scholars learn what happens to a species when most of their population has disappeared from the planet. Following research about the various factors which cause threats to endangered species, learners will pen a letter to an adult about what it means to be endangered.