Famous People Mini-Unit


Famous Person: Rachel Carson

Related Topics: Ecology/Environmentalist Issues/Oceans and Seas

Grade Level: First Grade

Author: Lisa Murdock



Rachel Louise Carson was born on May 27, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. She grew up in a tiny, wooden house with no electricity, heat or plumbing. This didn't interfere with young Rachel's fascination with the elements that surrounded her outside world. As a young girl, Rachel spent a great deal of time in the woods beside streams learning the names of birds, insects and the flowers.

Rachel's best friend was her mother, Maria Carson, with whom she enjoyed taking long walks with in their nearby woods. Maria had been a teacher before she married and she taught Rachel the names of plants, birds, insects, and animals they encounted. It didn't take long before Rachel was able to identify dozens of wild things.

Maria Carson also fostered her daughter's intellectual development and encouraged her to set academic goals for herself. With her mothers support Rachel became an excellent student. Even as a young girl she was intrigued by the English language and enjoyed reading and writing as soon as she could. When Rachel was ten years old, she wrote a short story entitled "A Battle in the Clouds" that was published in the St. Nicholas League. At age eleven, she wrote and published two more stories in the same magazine winning awards for both entries. Rachel proved herself to be a unique, educated individual and received a scholarship to the Pennsylvania College for Women as a result of her efforts.

In Rachel's second year of college, she took a Biology course with Mary Scott Skinker who sparked Rachel's interest in this area. She became a lifelong friend to Rachel. She graduated from college with honors and decided to specialize in Marine Biology- the study of animal life in the ocean. In 1929, she won a full scholarship to John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland to obtain her graduate degree in this field of study.

Rachel found that jobs were hard to find after graduation, especially for women. So, she took part time jobs teaching college and began writing newspaper articles. Then, in 1935 she started writing radio scripts about ocean life for what is now called The United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

She had been working there for about a year when her supervisor was so impressed with an article she had authored, he encouraged her to submit it to The Atlantic Monthly. This magazine published Rachel's article with the title "Undersea" in 1937. She decided to expand this article into a book entitled Under the Sea-Wind, which was published in 1941. This book did not become popular but a determined Rachel continued to write nevertheless. Her endurance paid off because in 1951, her second book The Sea Around Us, became a best-seller.

Rachel enjoyed studying water and ocean life but this was not her only interest. In 1945 she had expressed concern about the use of DDI, a new pesticide developed to kill disease carrying insects like mosquitoes. In the late 1950's, Rachel turned her attention to these chemical poisons dramatically. The story Silent Spring was the result of Carson's research. Rachel envisioned problems with the ongoing use of spraying these chemicals on crops, animals, homes, and farms because there had been no extensive testing to show what might happen in the future to birds, fish, animals, and ultimately, human beings. Rachel believed that these chemicals were harmful when eaten, drunk, or breathed in by animals of all kinds and would have a devastating effect on what is called the food chain.

The research indicated in Silent Spring warned people about the long-term effects of chemicals in the environment. Her book became an extremely controversial issue with chemical company representatives and government officials vs. people in the community.

Although Rachel was attacked both personally and as an author, President John F. Kennedy ignored these public accusations against her and promoted an eight month investigation of the dangers and benefits of pesticides used. This investigation confirmed what Carson had written in Silent Spring and triggered what is now commonly labeled the "environmental activist" issue.

Because Rachel Carson was premiered on National TV., politicians who before had no opinions concerning environmental issues, began writing her for advice. By the end of 1962, more than 40 pesticide regulating bills had been introduced in state legislatures across the nation. 1964 was a climactic year when Congress demanded that chemical manufactures prove that their products were safe. This was also an exciting year for Rachel, when near the end of her life she was awarded the Audubon Medal. She was the first woman to receive this prestigious award and accepted it by stating, "Conservation is a cause that has no end. There is no point at which we will say our work is finished."


Volume One, Activists, (1994). North American Biographies. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Educational Corporation.


Sterling, Phillip, (1970). Sea And Earth; The Life of Rachel Carson. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.


1. Given the 1st chapter of Rachel Carson; The Wonder of Nature, students will learn that pesticides can be a harmful and helpful influence in our community and demonstrate this by verbally expressing harmful and helpful effects.

2. After reading the 2nd and 3rd chapters from Rachel Carson, students will learn what a marine biologist is and be able to orally identify characteristics of what a marine biologist does.

3. After reading the 4th chapter from Rachel Carson, the students will learn that oceans contain animals and plants by illustrating their favorite oceanic life forms.

4. Given the 5th chapter of Rachel Carson, students will learn that plants and animals have an interdependent relationship and will demonstrate this by completing a "food chain diagram."

5. Given the last 2 chapters in the book about Rachel Carson, students will be able to verbally identify at least one way people are currently protecting our sea life.

Time Allotment: Approximately one week or 5 class periods.


Resources Needed:

Day 1: Rachel Carson; The Wonder of Nature by Catherine Reef, chalkboard, markers.

Day 2: Story book, fish tank, soil/sand, guest speaker (professor from local university/community college).

Day 3: Story book, ocean life pictures, board, location of closest pet store, paper, crayons.

Day 4: Story book, worksheet (food chain), writing/coloring utensils.

Day 5: Story book, text books for references students can use, old magazines (pictures, words, phrases that relate to their collage), glue, scissors, old shoe box, index cards.


Day 1: List Pro's & Con's

The teacher will begin this mini-unit by introducing the story book by Catherine Reef. Inform students how we will use this book every day and relate Rachel Carson to our social study activities. After reading the first chapter out loud to the class, the teacher will draw and explain a chart with pro's and con's columns on the board. The students will then take a few minutes with a partner to exchange thoughts and ideas about good and bad aspects of pesticides. Using the chart, the teacher will then list what the students have remembered. Be sure to compare the students findings to what Rachel Carson discovered and believed in. Also discuss possible outcomes of our environment if we had continued to use pesticides irresponsibly as Rachel suggested.


Day 2: Hands-On

After reading the 2nd and 3rd chapter in our book, let the students suggest reasons why oceans and seas are hard to explore. Explain that we can study the surface of the ocean very well, but it is not easy to study the depths of the ocean for several reasons. First, since we can't breathe underwater, it is difficult to look around. As people get deeper into the ocean, they find the pressure unbearable. Next, even with breathing tanks, the ocean pressure forces nitrogen into the lungs, so underwater divers must come up from the depths very gradually. Last, the ocean floor is covered by silt and sediment which are loose and always moving making the floor look different. Fill a fish tank with water. Place soft, fine soil in it and with your hand swirl the water and watch the silt move.

Guest Speaker

Discuss Rachel Carson's experiences while she studied the sea. This will be an adequate transition to introduce the guest speaker who is familiar with marine biology.


Day 3: Think-Pair-Share & Field Trip

Read the 4th chapter in our book. Begin by asking students to recall some animals and plants mentioned in Rachel Carson; The Wonder of Nature. In pairs have students share animals and plants they thought of. Ask them for additional ideas and list them on the board. Explain to students that animals range from one-celled life forms to whales which are the largest creatures in the world. Some ocean inhabitants that are unusual include corals, sea anemones, and colonies of animals that look like plants. Look at pictures of various ocean life examples and take a visit to an aquarium or pet store that would enhance students' understanding of some life in the ocean. (Optional: Set up salt water aquarium in your own classroom).


Day 4: Mini-Lecture

Begin the lesson with reading chapter 5 in our book. The teacher will lead a guided discussion using the list of animals and plants the class constructed. Ask students didactive questions that pertain to plants and animals depending on each other and how this relates to all of us (e.g., How does an animal depend upon plants?). This would be a good opportunity to introduce Rachel Carson's understanding of the food chain. The teacher will have constructed an assignment/worksheet for students to fill in the blanks on how the food chain works. Let students draw and color their own plants, animals, insects, and decomposers in a designated space provided on the assignment.


Day 5: Guided Discussion & Construct Project-Share

The teacher will read to the class the last two chapters of our Rachel Carson book. The teacher will have already prepared information/materials about endangered species that live in our oceans to share with the class. A guided discussion will then take place concerning what is currently happening to save animals such as the green sea turtle or California condor. Ask students how they perceive our oceans being polluted today and let them come up with ways we can contribute to the efforts of protecting our sea life. Provide resources and various options for students to consider (e.g., joining an "Ecology Club" for students). End this unit by asking students to recall aspects of Rachel Carson's contribution to making people aware of this issue. Emphasize to students that she is a good example for us to consider when it comes to respecting life and the world around us. Explain to students the procedure for creating a 3-D collage using themes such as pollution, endangered species, sea mammals, ocean life, etc. Allow students to share and describe their collages with the class.


1. Observations of responses while completing the Venn Diagram will be assessed informally through observation.

2. Observation of students ability to identify characteristics of a marine biologist orally, will be assessed anecdotally.

3. Students will be asked to illustrate and label a 5-color drawing/picture of their favorite animal/plant that lives in the ocean and will be assessed according to their accuracy.

4. Students will be assessed on their accurate completion of the "food chain assignment."

5. Students will have completed a 3-D collage regarding an ocean-related theme and will be assessed on their accuracy of displaying their ideas on the theme they chose to expand on.

Activity Resources:

* Sterling, Mary Ellen. (1991). Thematic Unit ECOLOGY. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created materials, Inc. (Food chain worksheet idea listed on pg. #60).

* James, Jeanne & Overton, Ann. (1989). Our World; A Planning Guide for the Kindergarten and First Grade Curriculum. Lewisville, NC: Kaplan Press.

* Reef, Catherine (1992). Rachel Carson; The Wonder of Nature. Frederick, Maryland: 21st Century Books; A Division of Henry Holt & Co., Inc.

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