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earth day at thirty-five: activity ideas

Activity Ideas | Related Resources

  1. Recycling: A Community Survey

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subject: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; Science & Technology; Math

    One of the most popular and enduring environmental activities is recycling. Begin this activity by visiting these PBS sites and read about how and what Americans recycle:

    Discuss with the class how much paper we use every year. Despite the Internet and other technologies, we still use a lot of paper. Paper consumption in the U.S. will grow from 43.7 to 65.6 million tons between 1995 and 2015. It is also estimated that on average each U.S. citizen uses more than 600 pounds of paper a year.

    Paper, of course, is only one of many objects that can be recycled. Survey the class to determine whether any students assist in a family recycling effort, or recycle on their own. Ask for descriptions of how recycling is accomplished and what materials are recycled. Why do they recycle? Is money earned from the effort? Have any students visited a recycling center?

    Suggest to the class that it would be interesting to discover how others feel about recycling. A survey could be conducted which would also determine how many others in the school and community recycle. Have the class brainstorm a list of questions that they might ask to others about recycling. Suggestions include:

    • Do you know the meaning of the term "recycle"?
    • Do you recycle? Why or why not?
    • Do you think you should recycle?
    • What materials do you recycle?
    • How do you recycle?
    • Where do you recycle?
    • Do you get paid for recycled materials?

    Assemble the questions distribute one or several forms to each student. Ask the students to interview students in other classes, or teachers, neighbors, friends, relatives, etc., completing a survey form for each interview. Allow several days or a weekend for the survey.

    Collect the survey forms. List the questions or numbers of the questions on the chalkboard and compile the results. Ask students to help develop percentages for each response.

    Discuss the results with the class. Are certain materials recycled more frequently than others? Why? What is the recycling participation rate? Do any recyclers recycle more than one item? Do non-recyclers suggest common reasons for not recycling? Are the reasons valid? Why do people recycle?

    Online Resources

    American Field Guide: Landfills:

    E-Cycling Central: Find a Recycler:

    Internet Consumer Recycling Guide:

    Earth 911:

    Recycle City:

    PBS Lesson Plans

    Affluenza: Be a Waste Reducer:

    Scientific American Frontiers: Recycling the Trabant:

    The Democracy Project: Citizenship City:

    Print Resources

    Recycle!: A Handbook for Kids by Gail Gibbons
    Garbage and Recycling (Young Discoverers: Environmental Facts and Experiments) by Barbara Lewis

    More Recommended Resources

  2. Acting Locally

    Grade Levels: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; The Arts; Math

    Explore with your students how an action in one place can affect another place and how problems can spread. Students should recognize that what may be a minor concern today can get worse. For example, air pollution from one state can create acid rain over another. Run-off from factories can contaminate water in a neighboring town. On a more global level, according to many exerts, high carbon dioxide omission in a few industrialized nations will result in global warming.

    Have your students research and identify an environmental problem in your town, county or state. Either individually or as a group, ask them to diagram the interconnections between causes and effects of the problem. The diagrams should include both large-scale effects (problems that could originate in your community but spread to others) and long-term effects (those that may not be seen for weeks, months, or years).

    Divide your class into small groups. Encourage each group to sketch a map showing the areas affected by the environmental problem. The map should address several questions: What are the sources of the problem? Can they be pinpointed or are they geographically diffuse? How and where does the problem currently affect people or other aspects of the environment? Using colored pencils, students should also show how the geographic extent of the problem could change in the future. In addition, they should diagram who is impacted most by this issue. For example, will lower-income families and individuals be affected more than more affluent residents?

    Have the groups discuss how they might improve the situation. Students, as individuals or in small groups, should create a proposal that offers the best solution to the environmental problem they researched. The proposal can be written, oral, or both. It also could include a poster that encourages a change in behavior. Encourage students to interview local experts who offer different perspectives on the issue and possible solutions. Students should evaluate their solutions for practicality and effectiveness. A successful solution should include a goal, steps people can take to attain the goal, and a means of measuring progress toward the goal.

    Online Resources

    Independent Lens: Raising Appalachia:

    Wide Angle: Growing Up Global:

    Journey to Planet Earth:

    PBS Lesson Plans

    Africa: Eco-Challenges:

    NewsHour Extra: Hazardous Chemicals in Your Neighborhood:

    POV Borders: Environment:

    Print Resources

    A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History by Lynne Cherry
    I Want to Be An Environmentalist by Stephanie Maze

    More Recommended Resources

  3. Talking Trash

    Grade Level: 6-8
    Subjects: Social Studies; Math; Reading & Language Arts; The Arts

    Many people believe that reasonable or small changes in their actions have no real impact. This is not the case! If we all make little contributions, the impact over time can be huge.

    For example, on the average each of us throws away about 4.4 pounds of trash every day. This does not mean that we each throw away 4.4 pounds each day, but if we even out what is thrown away across everyone, it would turn out that each of us would contribute 4.4 pounds of garbage.

    In this activity, students will be undertaking a scientific study of the types of things that become litter and that they will record what they find.

    Provide students with a pencils and tally sheets to record what they find. Categories on the tally sheet might include:

    • cigarette butts: Marlboro, Camel, Other
    • soda cans/bottles: Coke, Pepsi, Other
    • fast food wrappers/containers/etc.: McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy's, KFC, Other
    • newspapers/magazines

    When the clean-up is over, have students compile the data from their tally sheets. Students should create a classroom report of their findings using statistics appropriate for their grade level. Students should identify the major sources and types of litter that were found in the community and note the percentage of litter that is recyclable.

    Ask the students to brainstorm ways in which they can work with people and organizations to keep litter from becoming a problem in the first place. Students might elect to create posters for placement at local fast-food restaurants, conduct letter writing campaigns to headquarters of national organizations, and/or present their findings at the city council meeting. Students should develop specific requests or suggestions to make to the organizations or individuals when they contact them. They might suggest to fast-food chains that they develop more prominent anti-litter icons on their packaging or conduct public education about fast-food litter.

    Online Resources

    It's My Life: Helping the Environment:

    NOW with Bill Moyers: Toxic E-Trash:

    Keep America Beautiful:

    EPA: Municipal Solid Waste: Basic Facts:

    PBS Lesson Plans

    American Field Guide: A Solid Waste Management Plan:

    Off the Map: Exquisite Trash:

    Print Resources

    The Great Trash Bash by Loren Leedy

    More Recommended Resources

  4. Debating the Kyoto Protocol

    Grade Level: 9-12
    Subject: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts

    In February 2005, the Kyoto Protocol, the world's first major attempt to control climate change, became law. The pact sets country-by-country limits on greenhouse gas emissions, but it will be implemented without the participation of the United States. The Bush administration's opposition is due mainly to the fact that the treaty was ratified by 140 nations but its restrictions only apply to 35 of them. Many countries in the developing world said that any mandatory limits would prevent them from growing their industry and economies as the other countries had been allowed to do. The United States believes that because the law exempts so many countries, it would unduly harm the U.S. economy.

    To begin this activity, have students respond to the following two questions written on the board: What is global warming? Why is global warming a problem?

    Ask students to conduct some research on the Kyoto Protocol and how it affects the countries that agree to ratify it. See the Online Resources below for useful research sites.

    After they have read up on the Kyoto Protocol, ask students to decide in a very preliminary way whether they are more in favor of or more opposed to U.S. ratification of Kyoto. When students are finished, divide them into two groups to form a debate around this contentious issue. One group supports U.S. Kyoto ratification and the other opposes it. Have all the students in the group opposed to Kyoto ratification sit in a circle in the middle of the classroom, and those in favor of the protocol sit in a second, concentric circle, outside the first group.

    Allow the students in the inner circle 10 to 20 minutes to express their views against ratification. When they have finished, have the students in the inner circle switch seats with those in the outer circle. Now allow the group of students in favor of the Kyoto protocol to spend 10 to 20 minutes in the inner circle, expressing their views on ratification.

    When the second discussion winds down, have the students move their chairs so that one large circle remains. Explain that each student will once more have the chance to speak on the issue of Kyoto ratification, one at a time. Identify a ruler as a "talking stick," to be passed around the circle. Students can speak only when they hold the talking stick.

    Close the activity by asking the students why the Bush administration is holding out against the Kyoto Protocol. Why are U.S. allies, including the European Union, supporting the treaty? In what ways does the U.S. position on this issue symbolize the Bush administration's approach to foreign affairs?

    As an extension activity, have the class create its own set of rules for limiting greenhouse gas emissions in your state. What would be part of the agreement? What sources of pollution would you target first?

    Online Resources

    NewsHour Extra: Climate Change:

    NewsHour Online: The Kyoto Protocol:

    NewsHour Extra: Global Warming Fears Lead to Ratification of Kyoto Protocol:

    NOW with Bill Moyers: Debating "Global Warming":

    United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:

    CNN.com: Global Warming:

    BBC: Global Climate Change:

    PBS Lesson Plans

    NOVA: What's Up With the Weather?:

    POV Borders: Environment: Air:

    Scientific American Frontiers: Hot Planet, Cold Comfort:

    More Recommended Resources

Published: April 2005