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American History: 1865-Present, Human Geography


6th, 7th, 8th


Social Studies, History, Geography


80 minutes

Regional Focus

North America, United States, USA - South, Louisiana


Google Docs, Google Slides


This lesson plan is licensed under Creative Commons.

Creative Commons License

A Look at Cancer Alley, Louisiana

Created By Teachers:
Last Updated:
Apr 13, 2024
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In this lesson, students explore an interactive map, learn about Cancer Alley, and take concrete action to address environmental injustice.

Step 1 - Inquire: Students explore the EPA's Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool to use real data to start thinking about the relationship between demographic and environmental indicators (also known as environmental justice indicators).

Step 2 - Investigate: Students watch a video about Cancer Alley to show an example of a Black community disproportionately affected by asthma, cancer, and death from COVID-19 that will spark a classroom discussion on what the role of government and business should be in this issue. 

Step 3 - Inspire: Students write a letter to a government official or business leader urging them to take action. Students can also create a social media post raising awareness about environmental justice.
Accompanying Teaching Materials
Teaching Tips


  • This lesson clearly connects redlining and environmental racism.

  • This lesson shows a concrete example of the effects of systemic racism in the United States.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Some students may never have discussed racism and climate change before. Meet your students where they are and encourage them to ask good questions.

  • When teaching this sequence, it’s important to acknowledge the historical facts that have led to this injustice. Here are some resources to help you: 

    • Dr. Ibram X. Kendi defines racist policy as “any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.” (Source: Article from Penguin Publishing Company)

    • Government entities suppressed the Black vote throughout different means until the Voting Rights Act in 1965. (Source: history.com)

    • Redlining was outlawed by the Fair Housing Act in 1968. (Source: ThoughtCo)


  • It may be necessary to offer the letter-writing as an extension or an extra credit opportunity.

  • Be sensitive to the needs of your students, as systemic racism affects them in different ways.

Scientist Notes

This lesson introduces students to environmental justice and asks them to use an EPA mapping tool that shows how polluted an area is. The lesson also includes a video resource from Vox that highlights the area of Louisiana known as “Cancer Alley." To be as perfectly clear as possible, vast amounts of data and evidence show that people of color are disproportionately affected by pollution in the United States, and that higher exposure to pollutants directly correlates to higher incidence of disease. This video was produced in May of 2020, which is quite early on in the pandemic, and as such, some of the numbers presented in it are outdated. This outdated data is only for the numbers given when speaking on COVID-19 mortality rates. For example, the video says that Louisiana’s population is 32% Black (still correct) but Black people account for 56% of COVID-19 deaths. This is no longer the case as of July 2022, and according to data obtained from Louisiana’s government website, Black citizens account for 34% of deaths. While this is still disproportional, it is not as large of a disparity as when the video was produced. The same is true for Michigan, where Black residents now account for 17.5% of deaths but make up 14% of the population (data from michigan.gov). So, while this lesson highlights the importance of environmental justice and is overall scientifically sound, please just take note of the changes in the COVID-19 data.


This resource addresses the listed standards. To fully meet standards, search for more related resources.

Supporting Standards

  • Social Studies
    • Active Citizenship in the 21st Century - Civics, Government, and Human Rights
      • 6.3.8.CivicsPI.4: Investigate the roles of political, civil, and economic organizations in shaping people’s lives and share this information with individuals who might benefit from this information.
  • English Language Arts
    • Writing (K-12)
      • W.AW.6.1 Write arguments on discipline-specific content (e.g., social studies, science, math, technical subjects, English/Language Arts) to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
      • W.AW.7.1 Write arguments on discipline-specific content (e.g., social studies, science, technical subjects, English/Language Arts) to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
      • W.AW.8.1 Write arguments on discipline-specific content (e.g., social studies, science, technical subjects, English/Language Arts) to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

Note On Standards:

This lesson is aligned to SubjectToClimate standards. Review the aligned standards directly in the lesson plan document and teacher slideshow.

Discover more on SubjectToClimate.
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  • I've heard about this place! I'm glad to see that there's a lesson on it! 👍👍
    4 months ago