Minnetonka Public Schools


from America Online Teacher Information Network

Grade Level: Can be adapted to all elementary grades

Time Length: 3 weeks (more or less depending on teacher adaptations)

The following is not a "cast in stone" unit but rather a variety of explorations, activities and literature selections that I have found successful when teaching ecology/environment. They are easy to adapt to many classroom settings and needs. I hope you find them to be of use and benefit in your units and lessons on the environment.

Scavenger Hunt | Map-It-Out | Environmental Raps and Poems
Environment Scrapbook | My Ideal Environment Mobile | Grab Bag
Environmental Features | Green Deeds | Mini-Landfill
How Polluted Is Your Air? | The Acid Test | The Web of Life

1. Scavenger Hunt

An environment scavenger hunt is one way to introduce a unit on the environment. As a whole class, go outside and find as many of the items as possible. If you are not fortunate enough to have a nice outside area, this could be used as a homework assignment. I use a teacher created guide for the students to fill out in pairs. You could use it as an individual assignment or in small groups. The adapted guide I use contains the following items for them to find:

Return to top of page...

2. Map-It-Out

Another good introduction exploration is "Map-It-Out." Students stake-out, observe and create map of a small section of the ground. This takes 2 days to complete, longer if you want to keep it as an ongoing exploration.

Materials per team:

Procedures: Teams of 3-4 students.

  1. Each team should find a small section of a field or playground. Use the craft sticks & string to "stake out" their "claim."
  2. Using their eyes and the magnifying lenses, they list, draw and map all the things, living and nonliving, in their area. Signs can be created to name each team's area.
  3. Each team takes a turn sharing the wonderful micro-life in their area.
  4. As an ongoing project, the staked out areas can be left for continued observations. Each day, a representative from each team goes to the site to record any changes to their area. A good way to discuss mans effect on the environment. [Someone's area usually gets trashed.]

Return to top of page...

3. Environmental Raps and Poems

A good whole class project is to create a rap to tell about the importance of protecting our environment. If students prefer, teams of 3-5 students can create raps or other songs to share with the whole class.

Poems are another language art activity that most students enjoy. Give them a prompt for 5 senses poems. The following format is easy to use.

line 1- Name of Poem
line 2- tell someting they see in the environment
line 3- tell something they hear in the environment
line 4- tell something they smell in the environment
line 5- tell something they can taste in the environment
line 6- tell something they can touch/feel in the the environment
line 7- Name of Poem again

Return to top of page...

4. Environment Scrapbook

Make a class or individual scrapbook of newspaper and magazine articles about environmental issues. Include labels from products that are and aren't "Earth friendly" and tell why.

Return to top of page...

5. My Ideal Environment Mobile

Use old clothing hangers, used string or yarn and scraps of paper to create a mobile that shows each student's ideal environment. In the center section of the hanger, attach a title for the mobile. On 6-10 scraps of paper, about note card size, draw and label something that would be found in your ideal environment. Hang these cards onto the hanger using various lengths of string or yarn. Display the mobiles around the classroom.

Return to top of page...

6. Grab Bag

On strips of paper, write or have students write, sentences that describe something that happens in the environment. Place all strips of paper into a paper bag, jar or other container. Make sure you read the sentences first...you never know what they'll come up with! Students take turns pulling out a piece of paper and acting out what it says. Teams can compete to guess what the "actor" is acting out or whole class volunteers can guess. The bag can be kept and used from time to time when you have a few extra minutes and need a time filler.

Return to top of page...

7. Environmental Features

Brainstorm a variety of products that students are familiar with. Have a display showing a variety of products in a variety of containers and packages. Discuss the features that make a product "friendly" to the environment.

Teams of 2-4 students pick a product that is not "friendly" and design a package or contents that will make it "friendly." Teams give a short presentation on how they have improved the product and why they think it is better.

Return to top of page...

8. Green Deeds

Students create chains using scraps of used paper that has been cut into strips. When a student does something that benefits the environment, they write the "deed" on a strip of paper and attach it to the chain. See how far around the room the chain can reach!

Return to top of page...

9. Mini-Landfill

This exploration is a demonstration for decomposition.


  1. Complete a web for decomposition. They may not be able to give an examples or info to use. If not, leave the web up and instruct them to add words to the web as they learn about the meaning of the word.
  2. Go outside and dig or have students dig four small holes about 12in. deep.
  3. After a month or three weeks, uncover the holes and observe what has happened to each of the items.

Return to top of page...

10. How Polluted Is Your Air?

This team exploration lets the students observe and collect dust, dirt and other pollutents in the air. The the duration of this activity is approximately 1 week. The things they observe stuck to their test cards will be a record of the visible air pollution in that location.

Materials per team of 3-5 students:

Procedures: You will need access to a variety of locations, inside and ouside.
  1. Each team should label the backs of their index cards with a team symbol. This will help them record observations from the correct card.
  2. Teams punch holes in their cards so they will be able to hang up. Some card will need to be taped in place.
  3. A thin layer of petroleum jelly should now be spread over one side of each card.
  4. Brainstorm possible places to hang these cards. As a whole class, rotate throughout the school yard, classroom and school building, placing cards a appropriate locations.
  5. Teams should record the location and date for each of their cards. Older students can describe the condition of each location and predict the outcome for each.
  6. If possible, daily check on each card and record the changes and things they observe "stuck" to their cards.

Return to top of page...

11. The Acid Test

This is a simple by clear demonstration of the effect of acid rain on plants. It can be a teacher demo or a team explorations.

Materials per team or whole class demo:

  1. Brainstorm the importance and need for clean water. List on a class chart.
  2. Discuss what they have heard about acid rain. Tell them that acid rain is produced when air is polluted from cars, factories and fires. The pollution from these things goes into the air and gets into raindrops. When it rains, the pollution now comes back to earth with the rain.
  3. Measure 1/4 cup of vinegar or lemon juice into one of the jars. Fill the jar with tap water. Label the jar "a little acid."
  4. Measure 1 cup of vinegar or lemon juice into another jar. Fill the rest of the jar with tap water. Label this jar "a lot acid."
  5. Fill the last jar with plain tap water. Label this, "plain water."
  6. Water each of the 3 plants with water from one of the jars. Label or mark each plant to indicate which jar is their watering jar.
  7. Every day or two, water each plant with the correct water.
  8. Observe and record the changes that take place over the next week or two.

Return to top of page...

12. The Web of Life

This is a whole class activity that allows the students to act out the web of life and see how everthing is dependent on everything else.


Examples might be the sun, plants, insects, spider,song bird, hawk. or sun, plants, water snails, crayfish, little fish, turtle, alligator. Attach lengths of yarn to the cards to fit around the students necks. These cards can be made to fit a variety of food webs. If you prefer, make enough cards for each student in your class. If you do, make sure there are more plants and small "critters" than the larger animals. Add a "people" card to show the impact humans have on the environment.


  1. Pass out the cards to volunteers or give one card for each student.
  2. The students stand in a circle. Ask which card would represent what all life needs to grow (the sun). Hand the end of the yarn to the "sun" card.
  3. What would be next in the chain? Help them think of the plants. The student or students with "plant" cards each take a section of the yarn. The "sun" person should still hold tight to the beginning end of the yarn. The yarn will slowly be unwound to form a web of yarn.
  4. Continue through the list in the proceeding manner until all the labeled cards have been used.
  5. When all cards have been used discuss what would happen if one of the items were removed from the environment. Start removing "things" from their created environment. If something will not survive with another thing, another "critter" must be taken out of the web.
As the chain collapses, which won't take long, end with a discussion of the importance of each living thing in every habitat and environment.

This is but a short list of activities and explorations that you can use in the teaching of environmental issues. I hope they will be a benefit. Enjoy!

Call or email the Science Center
for materials and books

Literature Selections


Environmental Science: 49 Science Fair Projects, by Bonnet & Keen.
Air Ecology, by Caduto & Bruchac.
50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by Andrews & McMeel.
Going Green: A Kid's Handbook to Saving the Planet, by John Elkington.
Atlas of Environmental Issues, by Middleton.
Recyclodedia, by Robin Simons.
Trash, by Charlotte Wilcox
The Kid's Nature Book ,by Susan Milford
Save Our Planet:50 Easy Things Kids Can Do Now, by Susan Levine
About Garbage & Stuff, by Ann Zane Shanks
Garbage, by Hadinghsm, Evan & Janet
Where Does the Garbage Go?, by Paul Showers

Chapter Books by Jean Craighead George

One Day in the Rain Forest
Who Really Killed Cock Robin? An Ecological Mystery
The Cry of the Crow
The Talking Earth
One Day on the Prairie

Picture Books

The Lorax, by by Dr. Seuss
The Wump World, by Bill Peet
Just A Dream, by Chris Van Allsburg
Where the Forest Meets the Sea, by Jeannie Baker
The Great Kapok Tree, by Lynne Cherry
A River Ran Wild, by Lynne Cherry
The Wartville Wizard, by Don Madden
Only Silly People Waste, by Norah Smaridge
Heron Street, by Lisa Desimini
A Tree is Nice, by Janice May Udry
The Desert Is Theirs, by Byrd Baylor
Song of the Smoggy Stars, by Odmond Molarsky

Minnetonka Elementary Science Center