Student Action Guide

Never doubt that a small, highly committed group of individuals can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has
Margaret Mead


One person can make a difference. It is easy to feel powerless because we are removed from our government and from the businesses that provide the products we depend on and enjoy. But many of the most significant changes in history have been the result of individuals who believed they could make a difference. Sometimes one person can effect change; other times many are required. So it is vital to realize that your voice counts and will be heard. You can make a difference

The purpose of the following information is to discuss your potential as an individual to effect change. We want to provide you with some very basic guidelines, to empower you, so that you can influence those in power.

One of the most important things to remember is that what you say and the way you say it will carry the most power if you speak from your heart. If you use your own words and personal experiences, you can't go wrong.

Remember too that solutions are not reached overnight. There is a always a process and every step along the way, no matter how small, is essential to reach the final goal. By speaking out you will be an important part of the process of change.

A position paper

A position paper briefly , but clearly, outlines the issues being considered and includes your proposed solutions. It may include what others can do to solve the problem.

Why write a position paper?
It will help you clarify the issues. You will be able to discover flaws in your argument and see where more information would be helpful. Take time preparing your position paper. It will make it easier to write letters, draft petitions, and convince others to join you in your chosen action.

How to write a position paper
1. Research the problem and form an opinion

2. Brainstorm. This can be done alone, but you'll get more ideas if this is done in a small group. Don't criticize each others' ideas. Make a list of all the facts you can think of - the problems, the causes, and the evidence. Write down all answers. Don't take time to analyze them at this point.

3. Limit your paper to the most important problems. Choose no more than three problems. Rewrite these carefully. You want to make the reader agree with you that these are indeed important problems.

4. Limit your paper to the causes which are most closely related to the problems as you have stated them. Which facts support your claim that these are the causes of the problem? Rewrite the causes, supporting each with at least one piece of evidence.

5. Choose the solutions which relate to the problems and causes as you have stated them, and the course of action you intend to take. For example, if you plan to start a letter writing campaign to your state senator, be certain one of the solutions is something he can accomplish.

6. Make a list of the arguments against your position. Have you answered all these arguments? Which are you weakest points? Would more research help resolve this weakness? If so, do it now.

7. Write your position paper. Start with a “topic sentence” which summarizes the problem. Develop this into a short introductory paragraph which includes the causes and proposed solutions.

8. Write a paragraph on each cause, including supporting evidence. Write a paragraph on your proposed solutions. Write a conclusion, stressing the urgency of solving the problem.

9. Write a heading - state whose position this is, and on what (for example, your own's, Mr. Smith's 8th grade Class at First Creek School).

10. Revise and edit. Reread the paper at least two times. During the first reading, look at the content of the organization of the paper. Does it make sense? Is it clear, concise and convincing? The second reading is to check for grammar, punctuation, spelling, word use, and sentence structure. Make changes and corrections.

11. Write or type the final copy of the position paper.

Write a letter

You can influence people in power by putting your ideas in writing. Letter writing is one of the most effective and least expensive ways to make your opinions count. Your letter may be sent alone, or as a cover letter for petitions (see...) or your position paper. If you don't feel you have time to sit down and write, a phone call is better than nothing. However, a phone call does not carry the same impact as a letter or provide record of your efforts. A form letter may be used but it is better to do your own. Writing a letter in your own words allows for a more accurate representation of how you feel and why. Moreover it will be satisfying.

Who to write to
Letters can be sent to elected officials, appointed officials, business leaders, companies, and others in authority. Address the letter to a person - try to find out the name of the president of a company. Make certain the person you write to has the ability to take action on the problem.

How to write a letter
1. Get the complete name , address, and proper title of the person you are writing to.

2. Write a draft of the letter, including the following parts: Introduction: say who you are (your school, grade, course and what you are studying) and why you are writing the letter

Body of the letter: Clearly state the problem, the cause and the steps you are asking the person to take. Refer to your position paper. This can take several paragraphs.

Closing paragraph: stress the urgency of the problem and the need for action, and restate the actions you are requesting.


  • Be brief. Be direct and to the point. Limit your letter to 1 page. Attach a news clip or concise fact sheet if appropriate.
  • Be specific. Focus on a single issue. If you are writing to a member of congress about a specific bill, include the bill number or a clear description of the issue.
  • Be personal. Use your own words. Explain how the issue affects you, your family and your community.
  • Be informative. If you have expertise or specific knowledge, share it. Your knowledge and experience are valuable.
  • Be constructive. Be courteous. Don't just criticize. Give advice on how to change things for the better. Compliment the person you are writing to, if you can, on positive action taken in the past. He might not have gotten any feedback on his good deeds from others!
  • Always check your facts. One inaccurate statement can invalidate your whole letter.
  • Be timely. Make sure your message is received in time to make a difference.
  • Be selective. Send your letter to the most appropriate person(s). When writing to members of Congress, stick to your own representatives.
  • Be neat. Make sure your letter is legible. If no one can read it, your opinion isn't going to count.
  • Ask to be kept informed. This shows your commitment and ensures that your letter has been duly noted.
  • Send others who support your opinion(s) copies of your letter(s). it is important that others who are taking know about you and your efforts.

    Sample Letter

    May 15, 1998

    G. Warming
    2050 Greenhouse Gas Ave.
    Knoxville, TN 37914

    Dear Supermarket manager,

    I am a 6th grade student at the local public middle school. Our class has decided to write letters to local businesses voicing our thoughts and feelings about an important issue. We are unhappy because it is so difficult to find organically grown produce in our community.

    In our research, we found that most pesticides used upon the food that is grown for the livestock (cows, pigs, lambs and chickens) that we eat have never been tested. Many ingredients used in pesticides may cause cancer, birth defects and/or gene mutations. This is very scary to us. We think that we should be able to go to our local markets and buy food that does not have pesticides on it.

    These pesticides also leach into our groundwater, so we not only eat them, but drink them as well. We also discovered that chemical fertilizers wash into our rivers, ponds and lakes and promote algea growth. If too much algae grows in these waterways, it chokes and kills fish.

    We have learned that there are growing number of farmers who are trying to grow fruits and vegetables organically, without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. We are writing to urge you to support these farmers by asking for organic produce.

    Please call the Organic Foods Production Association of North America at 413-774-7511 today. Or write them at P.O. Box 1078, Greenfield, MA 01301.

    Thank you for your consideration and please keep me informed of your plans to provide organic foods.


    Your name


    A letter writing campaign

    A letter writing campaign is an organized effort to get a lot of people to write to a specific person expressing the same opinion about a problem. It combines the personal quality of a letter with the numbers impact of a petition.

    How to organized a letter writing campaign
    1. Determine who you are going to send letters to. Make sure this person can do what you are requesting.

    2. Write your own letter (see A position paper and letter writing). If you are working as a group or a class, everyone should write and send their own letter. Choose one of the letters to serve as a model (or combine the best parts from different letters).

    3. Edit the model letter. Since you want people to write letters while you wait, the models must be short and to the point.

    4. Type the model letter, doubled spaced. Make several copies.

    5. Determine what you will say to people when you ask them to write a letter. Include who you are (a student at XYZ School), the problem, and that you want them to write a letter to (name) requesting (the action you want). Make it clear that you want them to write the letter now, that you have the paper, pen, envelope and sample letters, and that it will just take a short time. Be prepared to answer questions, and have copies of your position paper available. If you are working in a group, each person should practice asking someone else to write a letter.

    6. Decide where and when you will approach people... at school, in front of the grocery store or mall, going door to door. Check if you need permission from the school principal or the store manager. If possible, provide a table and chair so the person can sit comfortably while they write a letter.

    7. Get the materials you need - paper, envelopes, pens, a table and chair (or clipboards).

    8 Working in teams, request people to write letters. The model letters are intended as guides - people can copy them word for word, or they can compose their own letter. Just having the name and address of the person you are writing to, and a few ideas, can be a great help. Ask them to mail the letter right away. Don't be discouraged by a low response. Getting people to write a letter is more difficult than getting them to sign a petition, but letters can be more effective. Your enthusiasm and knowledge of the facts, can help motivate others to become involved.

    9. Keep a record of the number of people who wrote letters.

    10. Follow up. Was the campaign a success? Did the person do what you wanted? If not, are there other things you can do?

    Some more tips:

  • Writers should introduce themselves and the problems they are writing about. They should explain what motivated them to sit down and write a letter.
  • Back up your arguments with facts
  • Offer solutions
  • Don't be afraid to use emotion to get your point across. you can be passionate without getting carried away.
  • Express hope and ask to be kept informed
  • File copies of your letter and send copies to appropriate environmental groups for their records. If you are not sure which organization you should contact, please contact us at the Foundation for Global Sustainability. We can help you connect with the right group.
  • Send a copy to your local newspaper. Also, have you local school newspaper cover the issue.

    Letters to the Editor

    A letter to the editor can inform a large number of people about a problem, and about the action you want taken. The purpose of the letter is to educate people and win their support. Letters to the editor in the Los Angeles Times are worth $3,000 in advertising space.

    How to write a letter to the editor
    1. Look at the editorial/opinion page of your paper. This page will include instructions on how to write to the editor, where to mail the letter, length limitations, and signature requirements.

    2. Read some of the letters that have been published. The editors are looking for letters which take a strong position on an issue, but which are backed up with facts. If you are working in a group, decide which letter each of you feels is best, and discuss what made it a good letter to the editor. Does the letter convince you? make you mad? make you want to take action?

    3. Write a draft letter. The letter to the editor must make its point quickly. Start with your opinion about the problem and what you think can be done to solve it. Use your position paper as a reference.

    4. Reread the letter at least twice. The first time, look for content and organization. In the second reading, look at punctuation, grammar, spelling and word usage. Not all letters sent to the editor are published, so it is important to spend time revising and editing your letter. Remember, it is worth the time because you are really writing to everyone who reads the paper.

    5. Type the final copy of your letter, using a proper letter format (see writing a letter)

    6. Mail your letter

    7. Check the paper daily to see if your letter is published. If your letter is not published within on e week, call the editor. Tactfully ask if your letter was received, and when it will be published. (The paper may not be able to answer your questions since they receive so many letters.

    8. If your letter is published, check the newspaper for the following week to see if anyone else writes in response to your letter.


  • share your concerns or opinions about the subject that you choose.
  • explain what prompted your concerns.
  • explain what the outcome will be if the situation isn't changed.
  • know exactly what you want to communicate to the reader.
  • know the facts.
  • propose solutions or alternatives and back them up.

    Sample: Letter to the editor


    The Knoxville News-Sentinel
    P.O. Box 59038
    Knoxville, TN 37950-9038

    Dear Editor,

    Every day, more than 62 million newspapers are printed in the United States. That's a lot of trees! The paper industry uses more than 26 million trees every year just to manufacture our Sunday papers. About 17 trees are needed to make 1 ton of newsprint. This process also uses 28 million Btus of energy, consumes 24,000 gallons of water and generates 176 pounds of solid waste and 120 pounds of water and air pollutants. When we throw away your newspapers, every ton takes up 3 cubic landfill space for decades.

    I feel strongly that all publishers should use recycled newsprint instead of virgin stock. Recycled newsprint reduces waste, preserves our Appalachian forests, decreases pollution and saves energy and valuable landfill space. I urge you to follow the lead of the Chicago and the Los Angeles Times and and print the Knoxville News Sentinel on recycled paper.

    Thank you for your consideration.


    Your name
    Telephone Number

    A Petition

    A petition is a written request for some specific action, usually signed by many people

    Why circulate a petition?
    No matter how convincing your argument may be, you have a better chance of bringing about change if others share and express your position. A petition is one way to show that many people share the same opinion.

    How to write a petition
    1. Find out who has the power to do something about the problem

    2. Decide which of these people or groups you have the best chance of influencing. "You" is everyone who signs the petition.

    3. Refer back to your position paper and choose the solution that the targeted group can accomplish.

    4. Draft the petition. The petition should briefly state the problem, your position, and what you want done. This is basically the introduction of the position paper. Identify the sponsor of the petition (you or your group). You want others to sign,so be brief, clear, and motivating. The wording shouldn't take more than 1/4 of the page..leave room for signatures.

    5. Type and make copies of the petition.

    How to circulate the petition
    Be prepared to explain why you are circulating the petition. Decide what you will say to people. Include who you are, what the problem is and what the petition requests. If you are working in a group, have each person practice asking for signatures several times. Make extra copies of your position paper to hand out.

    How to submit a petition
    1. Make a copy of the petitions which have been signed.

    2. Write a letter which more fully describes your involvement concerns

    3. If possible, submit the petitions in person, preferably at a public meeting. If you are working in a group, select one person to make the presentation, but have as many supporters there as possible.

    4. Send a copy of the petition and letter to the local press.

    5. If you don't get the response you wanted, send a follow-up letter.

    Press Release

    A press release is a written notice to the news media (newspapers, radio, TV) about an event. Hopefully, it will provide publicity for upcoming events and results in a reporter being at the event. Most news people, whether print, radio, or TV, are very willing to hear news tips, story ideas, or announcements of events by phone or in person. However, they usually ask you to give them written information first. That means a news release, even if you are announcing a supper or meeting.

    The news media gets many press releases every day and they have to decide which ones they will cover. They are looking for stories which are important, interesting, and active. You may wish to send out a press release before you present petitions at a public meeting, to announce a boycott or demonstration, or to announce that you are holding an educational event.

    How to write a press release 1. Draft the text of the press release, written as a short news article (see Format below)

    2. Revise and edit the press release

    3. Write a title for the press release. This should be like a newspaper headline. It should grab the attention of the news editor, and make him want to read on.

    4. Type the press release. Make copies of the press release.

    Many reporters are intolerant of any format innovations and will ignore even a newsworthy press release if it strays from the norms. It is therefore very important use the proper format.

  • The 5 W's:
    The text should answer the questions: who, what, where, when, why and how. The first paragraph should state who is doing what, where and when. The following paragraphs cover the why and how. Grabbing attention:
    Whatever it is you want to publicize, you want to get people's attention. The best way is to tell them how it will affect them. That's the focus of the story. And you want to put that right up in the first paragraph.
  • Quotes:
    People always like to read what someone else has to say. In a news release, it helps the reporter write the story. He or she may want to interview you or whoever is the key person, but may not have enough time to do so. By supplying a ready-made quote, or quotes (in a longer release, 2 or 3 is even better), they can write a story that sounds as if they did an interview (yip, that's how it works!). Quotes fare best starting the third paragraph of your release.
  • Photos:
    Ask if they'd like a photo. Daily papers may not want one if the story is an announcement. But if the story has a human interest angle, it will help their presentation and will get you more space. Make sure the photo is clear and is either 5x7 or 8x10 black and white glossy (matte finish doesn't reproduce well). Weekly papers usually will take a photo. Both may use their own photographers if they're doing an interview.
  • Format:

    Your logo

    Press Release
    For immediate release

    name & phone

    Headline (a capturing summary of your release)

    First paragraph (Lead): Who, What, When, Where & Why

    Second paragraph (Bridge): More essential information

    Third paragraph (Body): Quotes (“soundbites”) from relevant people

    Fourth and additional paragraphs (Body): more detail, consider using bullets to highlight key date.

    Last Paragraph (Conclusion): Strong closing statement. use a soundbite or summary information.

    End you press release with "###" centered in the middle. When there is more than one page, type the word "MORE" at the bottom. Also include a short one sentence description of your group (in smaller print size) and include address, phone, fax on the bottom of the page.

    The text should be typed and it if possible no longer than one page. Avoid using jargon and technical terms.

    Where to mail the press release
    Send the press release to the news editor of the newspaper, TV stations, and news radio stations. Look in the Yellow pages for names and addresses. Call for the name of the news editor.

    When to send the press release
    The press release should be sent at least one week prior to the event.

    Follow up
    On the day before the event, call everyone you mailed the press release to and encourage them to come. Try to convince them it is an important issue and many people are involved. On the day of the event, have extra copies of the press release and position paper available, and be prepared to answer questions about the event.

    Sample Press Release

    Press Release
    DATE: APRIL 20, 1998 CONTACT: Danny de Vries, 524-4771
    For immediate release

    Workshop on responsible social and ecological neighborhood design sponsored by local groups

    Living with Others and Nature closer than many think

    Knoxville, April 20, 1998 -- The Foundation for Global Sustainability (FGS) and Ijams Nature Center co-sponsor a workshop on "Co-housing and Eco-Village Development." The workshop will be held at Ijams Nature Center, Saturday April 25, 11:00 - 2:30.

    Co-housing is a new concept in neighborhood design which started in Denmark. The physical design of co-housing neighborhoods enable and encourage easy social interaction between residents. Throughout the entire design process, residents provide input about many aspects of their future or existing neighborhood. A balance typically exist between privately-owned and maintained homes and common amenities, such as a large dining gathering hall (common house), workshops, play areas, gardens, guest cottages, etc. Another important feature is a pedestrian friendly lay out of these neighborhoods, keeping cars on the perimeter of the site.

    "Behavioral research has shown that social support increases the health and life-span of people," says Danny de Vries, a social psychologist working with FGS. " Co-housing neighborhoods are set up to facilitate communication, which creates a social network that helps to prevent isolation, while maintaining privacy and freedom of choice."

    Co-housing and EcoVillages are not based on any religious or political agenda, but simply on the desire to live in a more sensitive and sensible human environment. Currently, about 100 Co-housing communities exist in different stages of development in the United States.

    Ecovillages take the Co-housing concept a step further, emphasizing sustainability through the incorporation of ecological principles and technology in the physical design. "The beauty of the EcoVillage concept is that it is a positive answer to some of the environmental problems we are currently facing. The design of EcoVillages emphasizes the cycle of nature, attempting to sustain the integrity of soil, air and water resources so that it can continue indefinitely," de Vries says.

    The workshop will include speakers from the University of Tennessee College of Architecture, Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center and local planners. Participants will have the opportunity to work with models of co-housing, as well as present local initiatives. Cost of attending is $10.00 ( $5.00 for students/low income). To register, call Peg Boute, Ijams at 577-4717 ext. 15.


    Media Advisory

    A media advisory (or press advisory) is a memo to the media alerting them to an upcoming event (o.e. press conferences, award ceremonies, special events, etc.). media advisories are written similarly to press releases, but are much shorter and repeat the 5 W's in an invitation format at the bottom of the release. Advisories should be faxed about three to five days before your event and followed up with a phone call to confirm their attendance or to offer additional information.

    Sample Media Adisory

    The Tennessee Valley Energy Reform Coalition -- The Foundation for Global Sustainability -- The Knoxville Recycling Coalition -- Save our Cumberland Mountains -- Students Promoting Environmental Action Knoxville -- Solutions in Concern To Knoxvillians -- Industrial Renewal Network -- Interfaith Ecology Group

    Paying To Waste!

    Campaign Kick-off

    New Advisory Contact:
    Monday, August 4, 1998 Danny de Vries
    For immediate release: (423) 524-4771






    Pitch Letters

    When a story is not breaking news writing a compelling letter to the editor of a newspaper magazine, or the producer of a TV or radio show, is often the most effective way to to summarize the most important aspects of your story and why readers, viewers, or listeners will want to know about it. The letter should be no longer than a page and should be written in clear and convincing language.

    Public Service Announcements

    Public Service Announcements (PSA's) are short messages that radio and television stations air free of charge on behalf of the public interest. These messages must contain information beneficial to the community and cannot include controversial material. PSA's are great vehicles to communicate upcoming events, recruitment needs, service opportunities, and other information to the community.

    Writing a PSA
    Keep in mind that broadcast is written and designed for the ear. It should:

  • sound personal and have a sense of immediacy;
  • be clear, concise, conversational, and correct;
  • use the active voice and present tense whenever possible;
  • include information about how listeners can obtain more information;
  • length: 10 seconds - about 25 words
    30 seconds - about 75 words
    60 seconds - about 150 words

    One way to test your message is to read it aloud to someone else. Make sure there are no hard words to pronounce. Contact your local radio or TV station to find out who to send your PSA to.