English Lesson | 10 Parks that Changed America Curriculum

English Lesson

Create a preservation campaign through writing

Overton Park (credit Phillip Parker)


In this lesson, students will work together to identify a local open space or park that is in need of preservation. Then they will design a campaign to achieve this goal through letters to the editor, a newspaper article, and persuasive essays. (Note: If there is no place in your community that is under direct threat as Overton Park was, students may think of other ways that the open space is threatened, such as through neglect, a prevalence of drug and alcohol use in the park, etc.)

Grades: 6 – 12
Time: 2 periods


This lesson addresses selected themes from the Common Core English Language Arts Standards

  • Writing literacy: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence. Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience's knowledge of the topic.


To prepare to teach this lesson, teachers should:

  • Watch the Overton Park segment from the PBS special 10 Parks that Changed America, on DVD or online.
  • Review the lesson plan.
  • Download and print copies of the planning worksheet.



  • Copies of planning worksheet

Period 1

  • Students should watch the Overton Park segment from the PBS Special 10 Parks That Changed America. Ask students why the residents of Memphis banded together to save the park. (Answers should include the park’s importance to the city, the importance of open space, the beauty of the landscape architecture in the park, the way a highway would divide and destroy that section of Memphis, etc.) Ask students how they think Memphis might have changed if the Supreme Court case had been lost and the 6-lane highway had been built through the park. (Answers will vary, but should include that it would’ve destroyed the park, increased pollution, would’ve made property values in the vicinity of the park plummet, etc.)
  • Ask students if they’ve ever seen changes or development of a park or playground or other type of open space that they liked. (Answers will vary.) Why is open space important to a community?
  • Explain to the students that the example of Overton Park shows that ordinary people can make a difference in their communities. Tell them that just like the activists in Memphis, they are going to work together to try to preserve a park or open space in their community.
  • With the class, create a list of local parks, playgrounds, open spaces, or plazas with which the students are familiar. Ask if any of these places are threatened, either with demolition, development, or other types of threats, such as disinvestment, being overrun with drugs or crime, garbage, etc. With the class, choose the one space that the students feel is most threatened and also the most important to the community. This open space will be the focus of the lesson.
  • Distribute the planning worksheet. Students may work in groups of 4. Students work through their planning worksheet and then share their responses with the class.

Period 2

1) Students work in their groups to write the essays, letters to the editor, etc., that will begin their campaign. Students may write their essays and letters in the classroom and then work together as a class to evaluate one another’s writing and the effectiveness of their work.

(Note to teachers: This lesson may be treated as a purely academic exercise, or you may have the students truly engage in a preservation campaign to try to effect positive change in their own community.)

Additional Resources


  • Overton Park, by William Bearden
  • Lasting Value: Open Space Value and Preservation Successes, by Rick Pruetz
  • Overton Park is Your Park, Memphis! by Irma Ottenheimer Sternberg

Online Sources

For Further Study

This English Language Arts lesson can be extended to other subjects or paired with other 10 Parks that Changed America lessons to create the following interdisciplinary connections:

  • Art: Use graphic-design software to design a pamphlet or poster that describes this preservation campaign.
  • Mathematics: The students may determine the percentage of open space that exists in their own community to further the argument that more open space is needed.
  • Science: Students may map the ecosystems that exist in the park or open space in question, taking into account flora and fauna.
  • Social Studies: In Overton Park, the community took their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Students may stage a mock trial (at the Supreme Court or a lower court) of their own preservation campaign; with students taking on the roles of the community members who are suing to preserve open space or a building, the town or local representatives who are pursuing the agenda of destruction, and the justices.