Subtopic: Earth Day

Grade levels: 4th through 6th

Author: Becky Johnson



Our planet is a complex system of land, air, and water. Living things depend on each other and this system for existence. Over the thousands of years since life has existed on the earth, it has undergone some changes. The following are some of these changes:

Many species became extinct before mankind made its appearance, however, since humans have existed on the earth, the extinction rate has risen dramatically. More than 4,000 species are currently considered threatened. Plant and animal life become endangered for many reasons. Forest depletion, hunting, and pollution are the most obvious factors. When an animal becomes endangered, dozens of other species can also become endangered. For example, elephants disappeared from southern Africa about 80 years ago because of hunters. Elephants continue to be hunted, mainly for their costly ivory tusks. The endangerment of elephants also has endangered such animals in their area as wildebeest and antelope who live off of the open-grassland which elephants create by eating their way through a jungle.

Oxygen-producing trees and plants are being cut down for the purpose of growing foods, grazing livestock, making paper products, etc. The cutting down of forests puts forest wildlife at risk and decreases the oxygen in the air. It also defaces the natural beauty of the planet. Tropical rain forests are often cleared for farming. The soil in these forests are poor in nutrients, and within a few years the crops fail and the land is abandoned. New forests are cleared.

Pollution has become more and more a problem, especially in the past century with the drastic increase in technology. Garbage, sewage, chemicals, and oil are being dumped into the ocean. As human population grows, people are looking to the ocean more for resources. Landfills and littering have polluted the land. Dangerous levels of chemical emissions from cars, planes, factories, aerosol cans, etc., enter the air without end. Plants and animals are dying because of pollution.

Ozone is a form of oxygen that has collected in a layer about 30 km above the earth's surface. This ozone layer protects us from most of the dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Without this layer, living things could not thrive on the earth. Satellites have detected in the last ten or so years damage done to the ozone. The damage is often referred to as a hole in the ozone. This damage has been caused by certain chemicals being emitted into the atmosphere that react with the ozone. One major chemical is called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are commonly used in such products as solvents used for cleaning electronics such as television and computer circuit boards, cooling fluid in automobile air conditioners, aerosol spray cans, etc. Ozone depletion has effected the temperature of the earth. Some scientists say that if CFCs were not in existence, the earth would be cooler now than it presently is. This global warming is often called the greenhouse effect.

Environmentalists have been actively aware of these issues, and are doing their best to promote awareness. In the late sixties, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin first suggested the idea of an Earth Day to bring people to the realization that Earth has some problems, and we as humans need to do something about it. The first Earth Day celebration took place on April 22, 1970. It was a nationwide focus. Twenty-million Americans joined in to proclaim the message, "Give Earth a Chance." A series of events took place on a community level, most of which were organized by student groups. Since then, Earth Day has expanded. The tenth anniversary of the celebration in 1980 was sponsored partly by The United States Environmental Protection Agency. The twentieth anniversary in 1990 was sponsored by hundreds of environmental organizations across the nation. Every year on April 22, all Americans are asked to celebrate Earth, to take a look at what is being done to help our ecosystem, and to ask ourselves, "What am I doing to help?" Many people use the day to plant flowers or trees, clean up communities, promote recycling, forest and wildlife protection, etc., and look to the future of the earth.


McGlathery, G. & Livo, N. (1992). Who's Endangered On Noah's Ark? Engelwood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press.

Fronk, R. & Knight, L. (1994). Earth Science. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

Somerville, R. (1996). The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Beech, L. (1993). Teacher's Guide to Accompany Earth Day: Let's Meet The Earth Kids. New York: The Kane Press.

Feist, B. (1994). Teacher's Guide to Accompany Spotlight On Reader's Theatre. New York: The Kane Press.


> Students will be able to recognize the various problems that Earth faces (pollution, endangered species, ozone depletion, etc.).

> Students will identify and express how they feel about Earth.

> Students will become familiar with the terms pollution, activist, endangered species, extinction, recycling, ozone, hole in the ozone, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the greenhouse effect, and forest depletion.

> Students will demonstrate knowledge of an assigned endangered animal, and will become familiar with four additional endangered animals.

> Students will demonstrate their knowledge of what they can do personally to help protect and beautify the earth.

> Students will become familiar with what Earth Day is, why it is important, and why it is a celebration.

> Students will obtain and summarize information from an environmental organization.

Time Allotment: About 3 to 4 class periods, a whole afternoon, and an additional follow-up class period at a later time.


- Recording of "Pass It On Down" by Alabama

- Recycle Box

- Earth for bulletin board

- The Great Kapok Tree, by Lynne Cherry

- Information about specified endangered animals (articles or books)

- Endangered Animals worksheet

- List of environmental organizations

- The Lorax, by Dr. Seus (video or book)

- Letters to parents



A. Anticipatory Set/Brainstorm: Play the song, "Pass It On Down" by Alabama. Ask students what this song means to them. What is the song trying to say? Brainstorm about the problems the earth has and is experiencing (i.e. pollution, etc.) Write their answers on the board.

B. Mini-Lecture: Explain that Earth Day is a celebration. Ask students why we have celebrations. Compare Earth Day to another celebration. Explain that Earth Day was established as a celebration to promote Earth awareness. Describe the history of Earth Day. Describe some of the things that have been done on Earth Day.

C. Integrating Writing: Make a blown up earth and place it in the center of a bulletin board or outside the classroom in the hallway. Place the words around it, "We Love Earth Because... ." Discuss with students what the earth would be like without oxygen, trees, animals, flowers, water, etc. Then show them a picture of a different planet in the galaxy. Have students write a short paper on how they feel about Earth. Encourage them to be creative and think of as many things as they can think of that makes the earth a good place to live. Place their papers around the Earth bulletin board or hallway.

D. Integrating Literature and Guided Discussion: Read The Great Kapok Tree. Discuss what the effects of cutting down the Kapoc tree would be on the different animals and people. Define forest depletion. Discuss ways this affects all living things. Define and discuss endangered species and extinction. Discuss what it would be like if a familiar animal such as a horse were to become extinct. Discuss some of the factors that cause an animal or plant to become extinct.

E. Jigsaw: Number students one to five. Have each group meet, and assign them an endangered animal: 1) northern spotted owl, 2) bear, 3) wolf, 4) alligator, 5) California condor. Provide articles and books that contain information about the endangered animals. Have students research their animal as a group and fill out the endangered species worksheet (see appendix) for their animal. Each student should fill out the sheet. Number students off in their groups again to five, and have them share notes about their animal with the students who have the same number. Walk around the room and take a few notes about what students came up with to devise a short quiz. Give the quiz.

F. Research: On an overhead, show students a list of organizations that are available that offer information about protecting the environment (see appendix). Allow students to choose one organization they would like to write to receive information. Assign students as homework to write a short letter requesting information from a specific organization. Model to students how to write a letter. Have them explain in their letters why they are requesting the information (what they are studying). Send home a letter to parents (see appendix) requesting a stamped envelope if possible. Have the school as a return address and mail the letters.

G. Guided Discussion and Service Learning: Show students the video (or read the book) The Lorax by Dr. Seus, and review what they have learned about endangered species. Discuss the effects of chopping down the tree in the story on the earth. Discuss with students how in many ways we need to use trees and other resources for our survival, etc. Ask students how we can help use less trees and resources. Define recycling and discuss the different items that can be recycled, i.e. glass, plastic, aluminum, paper, newspaper, etc. Challenge students to think of one thing they use that they can recycle and take it to a recycling source. Label a recycling box for the classroom for all white papers to go in.

H. Brainstorm: Define pollution. Have students brainstorm in pairs the different types of pollution and how pollution effects our environment. Have them share ideas with the class.

I. Mini-Lecture: Discuss how littering and land fills pollute the land and their effects on the natural beauty of the earth. Discuss how oil spills, chemicals, sewage and garbage pollute the ocean, and how humankind is becoming more and more dependent upon the ocean for resources. Discuss how chemicals are being emitted into the air. Define ozone and explain what the hole in the ozone is. Discuss chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the different products that emit them, and their effect on the ozone layer. Define the greenhouse effect and CFCs' effect on it. Ask students to volunteer ways they can stop contributing to pollution.

J. Field Trip and Service Learning: Have a letter sent home at least a week ahead of time informing parents of a field trip and party (see appendix). For the final afternoon of the unit (ideally on Earth Day--April 22), set aside the afternoon to have a garbage pick-up day. Select a park or other safe area nearby (in walking distance if possible) for students to pick up trash. If possible, have students find a thin branch under a tree or bush to poke the trash with and put it in their bag. Spend about an hour.

K. Social Action: Have students write a short (one paragraph) letter to the editor of the local newspaper, telling about what they did on their field trip. Have them explain how much trash they picked up, and how they felt about how much trash there was in the area. Take the letters to the local newspaper. Explain to students that they are now activists.

L. Earth Day Celebration: After the field day project, have a culminating Earth Day celebration with food using plates and napkins that have been recycled as indicated on the package.

M. Research: When information from the organizations is received, have students look through it and write a short summary of what is offered.



- Bulletin board papers

- Letter to environmental organization

- Jigsaw observance and quiz

- Letters to the editor

- Answers to questions during mini-lectures and guided discussions

- Summary of offered materials from organization




Dear Parents,

Earth Day is coming up on April 22, and our class will be doing a mini-unit on it. This mini-unit will cover the celebration of Earth Day and environmental awareness. On Earth Day we will be having a short field trip to a local area to pick up trash and clean up our environment. The field trip will begin right after lunch (about 12:30) and will last about an hour. Your attendance is not required but would be greatly appreciated. I would also appreciate it if you would send a garbage bag with your child that day. Following the field trip, we will return to the school where the students will write a short letter to the editor of the local newspaper about their field trip experience. Following the writing assignment, an Earth Day celebration will be held. Again, your presence and assistance would be appreciated. If you would be willing to provide food and/or paper plates and napkins with a "recycled" label on the package, please let me know as soon as possible. Thank you very much.


Becky Johnson



Dear Parents,

As you know, we are currently discussing the celebration of Earth Day and some of the environmental issues. For tomorrow I have assigned the students to write a letter to an organization requesting information. If possible, please send a stamped envelope with your child tomorrow to class. Thank you.


Becky Johnson




Endangered Species Worksheet


Name: ________________________


Partners: ____________________ _______________________

____________________ _______________________


Animal: ________________________

Species: ________________________


Characteristics of animal:



How endangered is this animal (how many are left)?


Why is this animal endangered?




What effect does the endangerment of this animal have on other living things?




What is being done to help save this animal?



What can I do to help this animal?


Use the back side of this paper to draw a rough sketch of the animal.





Organizations that offer materials, information, and projects for protecting the environment:

American Assoc. Of Zoological Parks & Aquariums

4550 Montgomery Avenue, Suite 940N

Bethesda, MD 20814

Audubon Society

950 Third Avenue

New York, NY 10022

Center for Marine Conservation

1725 DeSales Street, Suite 500

Washington, DC 20036

Environmental Defense Fund

1616 P Street SE

Washington, DC 20036

Friends of the Earth

218 D Street SE

Washington, DC 20003

Keep America Beautiful

9 West Broad Street

Stamford, CT 06892

National Arbor Day Foundation

Arbor Lodge 100

100 Arbor Avenue

Nebraska, City, NE 68410

Whale Adoption Project

P.O. Box 388

North Falmouth, MA 02556-0388

Nature Conservancy

1815 North Lynn Street

Arlington, VA 22209

P-3 Magazine for Kids

P.O. Box 52

Montgomery, VT 0547

World Wildlife Fund

P.O. Box 96220

Washington, DC 20036

Sierra Club

730 Polk Street

San Francisco, CA 94109

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

401 M Street SW, A 108

Washington, DC 20460

U.S. Department of Energy

P.O. Box 8900

Silver Spring, MD 20907

Department of the Interior

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

1849 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20240

National Wildlife Federation

1412 16th Street NW

Washington, DC 20036

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