The People Who Hugged the Trees by Deborah Lee Rose is a dramatic folk story set in an Indian village where desert meets forest. I use it as the basis of a key stage 2 lesson, showing pupils how to make choices to challenge decisions that affect their environment.
The forest provides the villages with water, shade and protection from sandstorms. But the all-powerful Maharajah wants wood to build a new fortress and sends in his axemen.
One brave villager, Amrita, hugs her favourite tree, daring the chief axeman to chop her up instead. When news of Amrita's defiance spreads, the villagers run to the forest and hug the trees. After the axemen return empty-handed, the Maharajah and his army descend on the village. But Amrita tells them that, without these trees, none of them can survive.
The Maharajah observes the trees repelling a powerful sandstorm and concedes that the villagers have done the right thing.
After you have explained the main themes and told the story, record the children's initial reactions, then focus on the choices made by the Maharajah, who doesn't really need a new fortress, the chief axeman, who doesn't question orders, and Amrita, who takes a stand.
Use hot-seating, where pupils are given questions in character. Ask: "What did this character want?" "Could you have chosen another way to get it?" One pupil argued that the Maharajah could have just redecorated his fortress.
Next, ask them to discuss: "Who actually stopped the forest from being destroyed?" Several "right" answers will emerge: Amrita, for her initial defiance; the villagers, for their collective action; the trees, for repelling the sandstorm; and the Maharajah, for changing his mind.
Now set a task to apply the principles. Tell your pupils: "There's bad news. Your local park or playground is being sold to a developer who wants to concrete it over and build a supermarket. What can you do?" The pupils work in groups, then present their responses to each other.
David Rosenberg teaches part-time at Hanover Primary School in Islington, north London. He is also a writer and educational consultant.