Lesson Plans

Cancer Alley

“I’ve been through hell and damnation." A resident of the Press Park neighborhood in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans who has been diagnosed with stage four cancer. Referred to as "black Love Canal,” the housing development was built on a reclaimed landfill in the late 1970s. High levels of dioxins, lead, arsenic, and other chemicals in the soil led to the neighborhood being declared a Superfund site, although some residents remain. “I just ask God for strength.” Image by Matt Black. USA, 2015.

“It’s all about that cash dollar. [The petrochemical companies] try to make us feel like we’re in the wrong.” Cancer Alley, Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge County, La. Population is 229,493 and 25.4% live below the poverty level. Image by Matt Black. USA, 2015.

Aerial view of an oil terminal that receives oil from the Gulf in St. James Parish, Convent Country, La. Image by Matt Black. USA, 2015.

“People moved away, people die. The coal companies bought the houses out so they can strip mine.” Image by Matt Black. USA, 2015.

This lesson is written as a series of notes for the facilitator.

Educator Notes: 


Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Grade: There is great depth to this article and a lot to learn. 7-12th grade would be capable of working with this with varying degrees of detail.

Concept: Have students separate and discuss difference between essential facts, secondary facts, and emotive statements.

Introducing the Lesson:

Ensure students have highlighters if possible (pens are fine).

1. Print out enough copies of “Cancer Alley: Big Industry, Big Problems” 

2. Display article photographs on projector/board if possible.

3. Arrange for students to sit in groups of three or four.

4. Teacher directs students. Opening instructions should sound roughly like: “Good morning/afternoon students. Today we are going to dive deep into an article that seems to touch many of the big issues of our time. This article features health, science, economic, and civil rights issues. I can tell you right now it’s too long and detailed of an article for you to come to a complete understanding of the information were you to just skim through it. That’s why we have highlighters! As you read and re-read carefully, you will be looking to separate three types of statements.”

5. Display anchor chart(s) that defines three statement types. You may change wording/examples if necessary.

Essential Fact: General fact that usually makes you go “wow”but doesn’t paint a complete picture. This type of fact has many secondary/detail facts that paint the picture on it’s behalf. 

  • Example: “Louisiana is the third poorest state in the country, with early 20% of its population living below the poverty line, according to the most recent Census.”

Secondary Fact: A more detailed, specific fact that connects with other secondary facts to explain an essential fact.and over don’t have a high school diploma, compared to 14% nationally.”

  • Example: “In Central Appalachia, 25% of people aged 25 and over don’t have a high school diploma, compared to 14% nationally.” 

Emotive Statement: A quote (by any person) or statement by the journalist that may be rooted in fact, but aims for the heart rather than the mind. Journalists must be careful not to convey bias when using these.

  • Example: “There are some communities and some people that are considered less than. Some communities are considered so much so that they’ll build a new school for black children on a landfill,” he said. “We would never consider building a school like that in the suburbs. That’s what environmental racism is about, it allows some of our elected officials and people in power to say it’s OK.”


  • Example: “Equally disturbing, activists said, is the arrogance of politicians and industry leaders who are filling their coffers rather than taking on the concerns of the communities at the bottom of the socio-economic food chain.”

Teacher introduction of lesson should take no more than 10 minutes. Allow another 5 minutes for questions. 

Activity and Discussion:

6. Tell students they will have about 30 minutes (depending on period length) to read, re-read, highlight, and find FIVE of each of the three types of statements which they don’t need to re-write out. They can simply note on the paper which type of statement. Tell students they should be prepared to share their statements and justify their responses.

7. In the predetermined groups of three or four, students will discuss which picks they made and decide together upon a “final five” for each of the three type of statements based on their cumulative selections.

8. Depending on how much time you have left in the period, students may share their teams’ selections with the class, and go as far as debating between teams if there are respectful disagreements.


Students pick an essential fact and connect five secondary facts to that essential fact from the article. Students may create a diagram or simply write out their answers.

Lesson Builder Survey