Melody Casey
English Language Arts, Science
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: Nature's Recyclers (Lesson 3 of 3)

    GEDB Four R's for a Better World: Nature's Recyclers (Lesson 3 of 3)


    In this lesson students review the concept of the 4 R's and what they have done, and can do, to make the world a more beautiful place. Students will explore how nature sets a good recycling example by analyzing earthworms. As a culminating project, students will make a mini-compost bin to take home. A unit post-assessment is conducted using the pie graph or anchor charts from the first lesson in the unit. 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


    In this lesson students review the concept of the 4 R's and what they have done, and can do, to make the world a more beautiful place. Students will explore how nature sets a good recycling example by analyzing earthworms. As a culminating project, students will make a mini-compost bin to take home. A unit post-assessment is conducted using the pie graph or anchor charts from the first lesson in the unit.


    Student Engagement/Motivation

    Students are often surprised to discover how often every-day items are thrown away that could have been recycled, reused, or re-purposed. This lesson will begin by building on student interest with a review of the previous lesson in which the teacher prompts students to identify "trash"  items that could be "rescued" from the garbage. The teacher will ask, "Did you know that nature is full of recyclers too?" The teacher will explain that today the students will be learning about one of nature's recyclers...the earthworm!  (You don't have to be human to recycle!). Students will walk away from this lesson with, not only knowledge of nature's recyclers, but something tangible that they can use to make the world a more beautiful place, thereby leaving a smaller footprint.

    Learning Targets and Criteria for Success

    Learning Targets

    • I can understand how the environment benefits from recycling, including how nature's recyclers help the environment.
    • I can analyze an earthworm and its relationship to the environment.
    • I can adapt my behavior to impact the environment.

    Criteria for Success

    • I will speak about how recycling has a positive impact on environmental changes.
    • I will gently hold an earthworm and be able to tell and write about how earthworms benefit the soil and therefore the environment.
    • I will take action by creating a worm bin that will make the soil and environment healthier.


    • Pie graph or anchor charts and spreadsheet (from Lesson 1 with the same question cards) 
    • "Talking Ball"
    • Computer with internet and projector
    • Paper plates (the thin kind) and pencils for each student
    • Soil with earthworms
    • Wet paper towels
    • Two large yogurt containers (quart size) for each student (parents/school staff could be asked to save them to contribute to this project). One container should have holes punched in the bottom. One of the lids should have holes. 
    • Shredded newspaper
    • Rocks for placing between the yogurt containers
    • Bucket of water
    • Small pieces of fruit and vegetable scraps
    • Books as desired (See Supplemental Materials section below.) 

    Learning Tasks and Practice

    The teacher will open this lesson by asking students, "As you went about your life at home, eating out, shopping, etc., what items did you notice were being thrown away that could be saved from the garbage by being re-purposed or recycled?" Students will answer using the "talking ball."

    The teacher will tell students that nature itself is full of recyclers, and that one of those recyclers will be explored in today's lesson. The teacher will show students the bin with the dirt and worms and ask students if they can guess what's in the bin that could be recyclers (earthworms!). The teacher will tell students that they are going to get to study these recyclers up close and personal- students will get to hold an earthworm!

    Prior to the students exploring earthworms, the teacher will show a video on worms (using a search engine of choice and the following key words: "worm composting," "worms are wonderful," etc.) and/or read a book from the Supplement Materials section below, such as Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer by Carol Brendler.

    As an extension to the book or video, the teacher will lead a whole-class discussion on how worms recycle, worm facts, and why it is important for worms to stay moist.

    The teacher will give each student a paper plate and a pencil. The teacher will instruct students to use the pencil to draw a quadrant on the paper plate. The teacher may choose to demonstrate this on the board using a "T" chart. The teacher will instruct students to write the following (one statement per quadrant) on the paper plate:

    • "Earthworm Fact: _____"
    • "Worms help people by: _____"
    • "Characteristics of my worm: _____"
    • "My worm's name: _____" 

    The teacher will distribute a wet paper towel and an earthworm to each student. The students will write their answers to the question prompts in the quadrants of their paper plates based on their observations of the worms and what they learned from the book or video.

    When students finish filling out the paper plate assessment, the teacher will prompt discussion by asking:

    • Why is it important to keep the worms on the wet paper towel? 
    • Which is the front end of your worm? Which is the back end? How do you know?
    • Can you see the worm's segments and hairs?
    • What is one thing that you now know about earthworms that you didn't know prior to this lesson?  

    Students will turn in the paper plate assessment to the teacher but keep their worm on the damp paper towel.

    As students are returning to their seats, the teacher will ask students if they throw away anything at home that worms might like to eat (veggie and fruit scraps, for example). The teacher will ask how would having a compost bin or compost pile at home make the world a more beautiful place (save food scraps from going in the landfill, worms help create healthy soil for plants to grow, etc.).

    The teacher will will explain that students will now create their very own compost bin to take home-- something they can take with them and keep in order to help make the world a more beautiful place.

    The students will follow the teacher's instructions for making their compost bins as follows:

    • Place a rock in the yogurt container with no holes.
    • On top of the rock place the yogurt contain with holes (it will be wobbly but that is fine).
    • Place wet paper towel and worm gently on the bottom of the container.
    • Dip a handful of shredded newspaper into the bucket of water and squeeze out (should be damp, not drippy)
    • Gently place damp newspaper over the worm. Fluff up the paper.
    • Add a couple more worms if desired, and some small pieces of fruit and vegetable scraps (strawberry tops, carrot peels, etc.).
    • Place a lid with holes on top.

    When the compost bin project is complete, the teacher will take any students questions about maintaining their compost bin at home. (Note: Students already have knowledge from Lesson #2 on what items can be composted.) These compost bins can be "fed" at home and eventually put into a home garden or outdoor area.

    The post-assessment activity will be conducted after students' questions about the compost bins have been explored. The post assessment activity is the pie chart or the anchor charts- the same one used in the pre-assessment tool for the first lesson. The teacher will take a picture of the completed assessment when students are finished.

    The teacher will show students the photo of the assessment from the beginning of the unit and a photo of the assessment that was just completed. The class will discuss the two assessments. Using the "talking ball" the teacher will ask for students to share knowledge gained on the four R's of Conservation Cycle, and how they plan to leave a smaller footprint.

    Students will take their compost bins home as a reminder of how they can make the world a more beautiful place.

    Technological Engagement

    This lesson is mostly hands-on with real-world implications in which the students participate in activities and take action. Some technology is used to present a video on earthworms, and to present the assessment tool to the students so that they can observe their learning over the course of the unit.

    Collecting and Documenting Evidence of Learning

    Student learning is assessed in this lesson by participation in the post-assessment tool (either a pie chart or anchor charts). These results are compared to the pre-assessment data collected in Lesson #1. Students participate in a hands-on exploratory learning opportunity as they hold and examine earthworms and complete the paper plate quadrant assessment.  Students will create a mini-compost bin to take home to implement the concepts they have learned from this lesson.

    Student Self-Reflection and Action Steps

    Students will be given ample opportunity throughout this lesson to reflect. At the beginning of the lesson they will share observations on items that were being thrown away that could otherwise have been re-purposed or recycled. Students will be able to take action at home by adding food scraps and other compostable items to their mini-compost bins. In this way students will lessen their carbon footprint as discussed throughout this unit. Another component of student self-reflection is the post-assessment tool in which students will gage their learning by using feathers, sticks and rocks to note their level of understanding.

    Feedback/Instructional Adjustments

    Student feedback is given through presentations reports and interaction with peers and the teacher. Adjustments are made as necessary to ensure that all learning styles are included and can participate in this lesson.

    Extended Learning Opportunities

    This lesson/unit can be expanded to include other environmental education hands-on activities. For example, compost analysis can be conducted in which the teacher will bring in 5-6 containers of compost and old spoons or tools for sifting through the compost. Students will analyze the compost and record their findings. For example: What items they found in the compost, what those findings reveal about the people who created this compost, etc.

    Another extension to this unit could be to start a classroom compost bin and perhaps consider a school-wide composting initiative.

    Teacher Reflection of Learning

    Students were very engaged with the earthworms. Curiosity triumphed even in those students who were somewhat squeamish at first, and all students ended up holding an earthworm (although it was made clear that no one "HAD" to hold or touch a worm if they did not feel comfortable). Because of the hands-on nature of this lesson, students were extremely engaged and were able to articulate how they can diminish their contributions to the waste stream.

    Supplemental Texts

    Books to Support the Lesson:

    Allsburg, Chris Van. Just a Dream. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.

    Brendler, Carol, and Ard Hoyt. Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009.

    Brown, Peter. The Curious Garden.  CNIB, 2014.

    Henderson, Kathy. And the Good Brown Earth. Candlewick, 2008.

    Hopkins, H. Joseph., and Jill McElmurry. The Tree Lady the True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever. CNIB, 2014.

    Inches, Alison, and Mark Chambers. The Adventures of an Aluminum Can. Little Simon, 2009.

    Inches, Alison, and Peter Whitehead. The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story about Recycling. Simon & Schuster Childrens Pub., 2009.

    Larsen, Andrew, and Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli. Charlie's Dirt Day. CNIB, 2015.

    Patterson, Ellie, and Alexandra Colombo. Michael Recycle Meets Litterbug Doug. Worthwhile Books, 2014.

    Patterson, Ellie, and Alexandra Colombo. Michael Recycle. IDW, 2013.