Lesson Plan

Conservation vs. Preservation and the National Park Service

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Grade Level:
High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
11-12.RST.7, 11-12.RST.9
Additional Standards:
Next Generation Science: HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.


What is the difference between conservation and preservation, and what role does the National Park Service play in each?


Conservation and preservation are closely linked and may indeed seem to mean the same thing. Both terms involve a degree of protection, but how that protection is carried out is the key difference. Conservation is generally associated with the protection of natural resources, while preservation is associated with the protection of buildings, objects, and landscapes. Put simply conservation seeks the proper use of nature, while preservation seeks protection of nature from use.

During the environmental movement of the early 20th century, two opposing factions emerged: conservationists and preservationists. Conservationists sought to regulate human use while preservationists sought to eliminate human impact altogether.

Aldo Leopold, often called the father of ecology, called for wilderness protection and an enduring land ethic. Wilderness preservation is fundamental to the idea of deep ecology – the philosophy that recognizes an inherent worth of all living beings, regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs.

One of the largest conservation organizations in the world, the World Wildlife Fund, was created in 1961 to protect large spaces for wildlife conservation. Conservation generally follows an economic motive; in this case wildlife preserves in Africa during the dissolution of the British Empire in the late 1940s to ensure big game hunting remained commercially viable.

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring launched the modern environmental movement. Preservation groups such as the Sierra Club shifted from protesting to working with politicians to influence future environmental policy.


In addition to reading the background information, the teacher should have student copies of the “Conservation vs. Preservation and the National Park Service – Student Worksheet.


Includes lesson worksheets and assessment.

Download Conservation vs. Preservation Packet

Lesson Hook/Preview

Students can do a “turn and talk activity” as a warm up where they turn to someone close to them and discuss their understanding of the terms ‘conservation’ and ‘preservation.’  This allows the teacher to see what background knowledge they have of the two terms.


Step 1: Anticipatory Set – Pair Share – Students work with a partner to draft definitions for conservation and preservation, then share briefly with the class as a whole. Identify common themes and thoughts to definitions; ignite discussion on the subtle differences between the terms.

Step 2: Input – Venn Diagram / Sentence Stem – Students work individually (or differentiate with partners) to complete the Venn diagram comparing conservation with preservation. Facilitate discussion on key differences and similarities between the terms and complete the sentence stem as a class. Transition to mission statement of National Park Service, highlighting how both components are represented.

Step 3: Guided Practice – Identification – After introducing the National Park Service’s mission and brief history, students work individually or in pairs to distinguish between examples of conservation or preservation.

Step 4: Independent Practice – Writing Prompt – Students work individually to complete a writing statement of differentiated length and detail. Students need to determine which philosophy adheres with their own and explain their decision.


Assessment Materials

Conservation vs. Preservation and the National Park Service – Student Worksheet

This lesson is designed as a formative assessment. Teacher will evaluate initial definitions, responses during discussion, detail of Venn diagrams, accuracy of example identification, and depth of understanding in written response. Based on quality of proving behavior, teacher will reteach or progress

Conservation vs. Preservation and the National Park Service

Download Assessment

Enrichment Activities

Connect with local resources:

  • Ask students to research a nearby example of conservation or preservation 

  • Ask students to visit a local natural history museum and write about their experience 

  • Invite a local archaeologist to speak with the classroom

Additional Resources

Albright, Horace M., and Robert Cahn. The Birth of the National Park Service: The Founding Years, 1913–33. Salt Lake City: Howe Brothers, 1985.

Sellars, Richard West. Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

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Last updated: May 21, 2015