Melody Casey
English Language Arts, Social Studies
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
Upper Primary
3, 4
  • GEDB
  • Global Education
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Education Standards

    GEDB Four R's for a Better World: Trash Talk (Lesson 1 of 3)

    GEDB Four R's for a Better World: Trash Talk (Lesson 1 of 3)


    This lesson introduces students to ideas on how they can make the world a more beautiful place. Students will discuss trash vs. recycling, decomposition rates of various items, and how to refuse and choose alternatives to single-use items. This lesson was developed by Lee Ann Smith as part of their completion of the North Carolina Global Educator Digital Badge program. This lesson plan has been vetted at the local and state level for standards alignment, Global Education focus, and content accuracy.

    Lesson Plan


    This lesson introduces students to ideas on how they can make the world a more beautiful place. Students will discuss trash vs. recycling, decomposition rates of various items, and how to refuse and choose alternatives to single-use items.


    Student Engagement/Motivation

    Teacher will introduce assessment tool which is a pie chart with the following statements (see below). Students indicate their level of knowledge/understanding by placing a rock (I know this well and can teach it to someone else), a stick (I know this fairly well), or a feather (limited knowledge-- it could blow away in the wind). Teacher will take a picture of this and graph it in a spreadsheet of their choice to be shown to students on the last day.

    The following questions will be on the pie chart assessment tool (see attachment for visual) and each student will respond to each statement using a rock, stick or feather (as referenced above):

    • I know what it means to have a large footprint (hint: doesn't have anything to do with foot size)
    • I can name one way that earthworms benefit humans.
    • I can share with a friend one reason conservation is important.
    • I can name all four Rs in the conservation cycle.
    • I know three things I can do on my own to make the world a more beautiful place
    • I can properly sort items into: landfill/trash, recyclables, and compostables.
    • I can name two single-use items and how to avoid using them.
    • I can name something that has been repurposed from recycled materials.

    Using a "talking ball," teacher will toss a ball to individual students to share ideas about ways to make the world a more beautiful place. Teacher will ask students to name the three R's (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and introduce the fourth R (Refuse).

    Students will share their background knowledge using a "Footprint" worksheet in which they give example of small and large footprint actions, and specific examples of how to lessen their own footprints.

    Learning Targets and Criteria for Success

    Learning Targets:

    I can describe the impact that humans have on the environment.

    I can use my own words to explain the four R’s in the conservation cycle.

    I can explain my own ideas about alternatives to single-use items.

    Criteria for Success:

    I will provide examples of how humans impact the environment when they create trash.

    I will participate in discussions to share ideas about the four R’s in the conservation cycle.

    I will politely refuse a single-use item.


    • Assessment pie chart tool (permission form for use attached)
      (Assessment pie chart photograph by Lee Ann Smith, 2017)
    • Attached spreadsheet (permission form for use attached)
    • Popsicle sticks, rocks and feathers
    • Smartphone or camera for picture
    • Computer with spreadsheet software and internet connection
    • Footprint worksheet (attached)
    • Pencils or colored pencils if available
    • "Talking Ball" (koosh ball or other soft ball for tossing)
    • Examples of trash, recycling and compostable items: foil, styrofoam, newspaper, drinking straw, cardboard, apple, etc.
    • Book that supports this lesson: Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter or similar title
    • Other books as desired (See Supplemental Materials section below)
    • Please note: Several websites are suggested (but not mandatory) for use during this lesson. If the teacher chooses to use the websites, caution should be exercised, as advertisements may appear on the sites. It is suggested that the teacher preview any sites and accompanying ads prior to showing the students.

    Learning Tasks and Practice

    Teacher will have the pie chart assessment tool displayed on a table for students to access. Teacher will introduce the unit and lesson by explaining that the students are going to do a self-assessment by reading the statements on the pie charts and placing a feather, stick or rock on the corresponding piece of pie for each of the statements. See above for explanation of feather, stick and rock. As an alternative, to the pie chart, eight anchor charts can be posted around the room and students can place colored sticky notes on the chart to indicate their level of understanding of each topic.

    Following completion of the pie chart assessment, students will gather in a group and the teacher will ask, "What does it mean to have, or leave, a large footprint?" The teacher will prompt discussion of the literal and figurative nature of the question. The teacher will ask: "What is one thing you can do to make the world a more beautiful place, or leave a smaller footprint?" The teacher will toss the ball to each student to invoke response.

    Students will complete the "Footprint" worksheet using pencils, or colored pencils if available.

    The teacher will explain that over the next few lessons students will be learning steps to take to make smaller footprints, in other words, ways to help the environment. The teacher will explain that various items and their decomposition rates will be explored, along with the impact of single use items, and how to refuse and choose alternatives.

    If desired, the teacher can show a news link on the impact of plastic trash (see suggested link under "Technological Engagement"). Teacher will give examples of one-time use items such as drinking straws and plastic bags and carry-out containers. If weblink/computer resources are unavailable, the teacher may read Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter and discuss what actually happens to our trash when we throw it away.

    The Teacher will show the various trash items listed above and ask students to speculate on how long they think it takes each item to decompose.The teacher may opt to present this Decomposition Rates website, encouraging students to discuss why some particular items take so long to decompose, and what type of impact these items have on the environment when thrown away.

    Using the computer and data projector, the teacher will show photographs of various places around the world that are polluted by plastic trash, and ask: "Why might it be important to ban plastic items?" The teacher will allow for brief discussion.

    The teacher may opt to show the link: "Top Ten Reasons to Ban Plastic Bags" and bring to the students' attention that some places are actually banning one-time use plastic items. The teacher may opt to show this news reportand "How Stuff Works" website. Students will discuss in groups with their peers how people, animals, and the environment are impacted.

    The teacher will point out that most of us know, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" but there is another very important R: Refuse. Ask students to turn and talk about how they might politely refuse one-time use items.

    In conclusion, the teacher will challenge the students to "Refuse" at least one single-use item this week, and share during the next lesson.

    (Please note: Use of videos and web sites are optional, and alternatives to all referenced sites may be found by using a search engine of choice and typing key words related to that component of the lesson. The teacher should use caution and review sites prior to use for appropriate content, particularly pertaining to advertisements).

    Technological Engagement

    Teacher will use Smartphone or camera to photograph the students' pie chart assessment, then later graph it in spreadsheet software. Computers will be used to show:

    How our garbage travels to distant shores (The Midway Islands in this case) and impacts wildlife and our food sources.

    And, to demonstrate decomposition rates of various items:

    Collecting and Documenting Evidence of Learning

    A formative assessment, the pie-graph chart, is conducted during this lesson that will be compared to the summative assessment at the end of the unit. Students complete and turn-in a "Footprint" worksheet (attached). Student engagment and feedback are utilized to gauge student interest and understanding of the topic.

    Student Self-Reflection and Action Steps

    Students are encouraged to engage by assessing their knowledge with feathers, sticks or rocks in the pie chart. Students reflect on their knowledge by completing the "Footprint" worksheet. Students participate in dialogue and discussion throughout the lesson. Students are further challenged to find at least one way to "refuse" a single-use item prior to the next lesson.

    Feedback/Instructional Adjustments

    Feedback is given based on student perceptions and responses, oral and written, and care is taken to include all possible viewpoints and learning methods so that students with various learning styles are included and successful.

    Extended Learning Opportunities

    Going out into the world and implementing one of the ways to make a smaller footprint (i.e., refusing a single-use item) is a way to extend the learning opportunities. Another applicable practice generated from this lesson could be to one day have students fan out into the school to find ways to lessen the school's footprint, take notes, and report their findings.

    Teacher Reflection of Learning

    The students were surprised to learn how long it takes some items to decompose, and also how far some of our plastic trash can travel. They were happy to know that they have the power to make a positive difference in the world by implementing specific practices, such as refusing certain items.

    Supplemental Texts

    Books to Support the Lesson:

    Caduto, Michael J., and Olga Pastuchiv. Riparia's River. Tilbury House, 2011.

    Cooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius. Viking, 2012.

    Greeley, August. Poisoned Planet: Pollution in our World. Rosen Pub Group, 2008.

    Green, Jen, and Mike Gordon. Why Should I Protect Nature? Scholastic Inc., 2014.

    Handy, Femida, Carole Henderson Carpenter, and Adrianna Steele-Card. Sandy's Incredible Shrinking Footprint.  CNIB, 2010.

    Johnson, Jen Cullerton., and Sonia Lynn. Sadler. Seeds of Change: Wangaris Gift to the World. Lee & Low, 2011.

    Kurusa, et al. The Streets are Free. Zaner-Bloser, 2013.

    Lawlor, Laurie. Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World. Turtleback Books, 2014.

    Lawrence, Ellen. Garbage Galore. Bearport Publishing, 2015.

    Nivola, Claire A., and Claire A. Nivola. Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008.

    Peet, Bill. The Wump World. New York: Scholastic, 1996.

    Winter, Jonah, and L. J. Ganser. Here Comes the Garbage Barge! New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2010.