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Youthink! Teacher Module: Meet Severn Suzuki, Youth Activist

Overview and Objectives: Severn Suzuki is an environmental youth activist from Canada who delivered a powerful and passionate speech before delegates at the UN Earth Summit in Rio at the age of 12. Students will view an 8-minute video of this speech, made before delegates at the UN Earth Summit, in order to gain a greater understanding of the central and crucial role young people can play and are playing in the fight to prevent climate disaster. Students will develop their writing, public speaking, and advocacy skills by drafting and presenting a speech, similar in purpose, organization, and length to Severn’s, intended for delivery at the upcoming UNFCCC COP meeting in Copenhagen or a subsequent UNFCCC COP meeting.

Related Issue: Climate Change

Level: Lower (12-14 yrs)

Subject: Global Studies

Learning Activity: Writing

Learning Tool: Video

Skill Builder: Advocacy

Materials:

Step 1:

Questions

Prior to viewing the video, ask students whether they think young people have the knowledge and power to influence decision-making at a global level.

Step 2:

View the video

After viewing the video, launch a group discussion by asking students whether they felt Severn’s speech was effective. Did the delegates hear her message and respond positively to it? Did she succeed in convincing them to sign the UNFCCC? (The convention did come into force two years later after achieving near universal membership). Ask them what they think makes the speech so effective. They may take note of some of the classic speech writing techniques employed such as: the use of rhetorical questioning, concrete examples to illustrate and support general statements, emotional appeal, personally connecting with audience, repetition, and short sentences and simple language.

Step 3:

Now, ask students to read Severn’s speech and, by drawing directly from the text, to do the following:

1. Consider how she conveys the importance of her message.
"Looking my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come." (at beginning)
"Do not forget why you’re attending this conference, who you’re doing this for – we are your own children. You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in." (at end)

2. Consider how she conveys the urgency of her message.
Urgency is not really directly addressed in the speech. This could be seen as a weakness in the speech. Or perhaps students will find that she succeeded in achieving a sense of urgency with the tone of her voice.

3. Consider how she turns the political into the personal, and the general and abstract into the specific and concrete.
"I used to go fishing in Vancouver with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. And now we hear about animals and plants going extinct every day -- vanishing forever."

4. Consider how she challenges her audience without alienating them.

5. Consider how she establishes a connection and makes room for common ground with the audience.
“Here, you may be delegates of your governments, business people, organizers, reporters or politicians – but really you are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles – and all of you are somebody’s child.”

6. Consider how she puts her feelings into words.
"In my anger, I am not blind, and in my fear, I am not afraid to tell the world how I feel."

7. Underline the four rhetorical questions she poses to her audience.
"Did you have to worry about these things when you were a child?"

"If a child on the street who has nothing is willing to share, why are we who have everything still so greedy?"

"In school you teach us how to behave in the world…Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?"

"Are we even on your list of priorities?"

8.Underline the two imperatives she issues to the adults.
"I am only a child and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realize, neither do you!"

"If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!"

9. Count the number of times she starts a sentence with ‘I’ or ‘you’ to reveal the simplicity and directness of her speech.
I – more than 15 times
You -- at least 5 times

10. Count the number of big words, or advanced vocabulary, she uses.
Virtually zero

11. Uncover the basic organization of the speech by breaking it into the sections such as:

  • Introductions (introducing herself, her group affiliation, and the group members)
  • Reasons for coming
  • Who she is speaking on behalf of/who and whose interest she is there to represent
  • Her worries about the environment and the future
  • What she wants adults to do

Step 4:

Writing

Once you feel you have sufficiently analyzed the speech, ask students to write a speech of their own creation, that expresses their own unique style. It should be similar to Severn’s in purpose, organization, and length (900 word or two pages typed, double spaces, 12 font size). Tell students to imagine that they were invited to the upcoming UNFCCC COP as a representative of the Global Youth Action Network, an international network of youth organizations, and to draft a speech that they will deliver at the meeting before for an audience of government delegates to the United Nations, politicians, reports, and business people.

Have students present their speeches to the class or better yet to a group of parents, teachers and administrators. If time allows, let students to work in pairs to practice the speech – maybe multiple times – before delivering it in front of the audience. Convey your expectation. Provide tips on making a powerful and passionate speech.




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