Subtopic: Earth Day

Grade levels of mini-unit: 2nd-3rd

Author: Erin Peterson

Background Information:

For many years, John Muir, John J. Audubon and Henry David Thoreau worked to protect our environment. These men and many others had worked hard for almost 100 years to find ways to guard our earth because many of our natural resources were disappearing. Rachel Carson, a biologist, wrote a book in 1962 Silent Spring that spoke out on pollution. The work of these people, and many others were the beginnings of a need of environmental protection in the United States and also an awareness in other countries around the world.

During the Santa Barbara oil spill, in 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin came up with the idea to create an enviromental awareness day. Denis Hayes, a student at Harvard University, was hired to be the coordinator of this national movement. This celebration became known as Earth Day.

On a beautiful, spring morning in April, 20,000 people gathered together in Washington D.C. to begin a campaign to save our earth. It was the 22nd of April in 1970 when Earth Day was born. There were several college campuses around the United States where Earth Day supporters met to hold their own campaigns. On April 22, 1970, over 20,000,000 people met to begin their fight to save the planet earth. Americans supported the Earth Day Campaign more than the Vietnam Protests.

During Earth Day '70, people all over the nation were working on projects to protect our environment. Projects included: organizing neighborhood clean-ups, and planting trees. In Union Square, demonstrators spoke out on polluters of air, water and noise in an ecology fair. With respect to this outbreak, the government went into action by passing the Clean Air and Water Act and also the Enviromental Protection Agency was founded. After the first Earth Day, Denis Hayes and many others feared that enviromental issues would not become part of the of american way of life, but much to their surprise, activators continued their fight daily to save our environment (Earth Day Resources, pg.1).

Over the years, Earth Day has had its successes and struggles. In 1980, only 3,000,000 activist participated in enviromental activities. Earth Day struggled because of a lack of political support that year. In 1980, supporters held clean up drives, offered educational programs to teach others about saving our earth, and marches were held througout the United States.

In 1990, on the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day, Denis Hayes organized the first International Earth Day. Throughout 140 countries, over 200 million people involved themselves to save our planet. In Washington D.C., parades and rallies were held and organizations had booths set up addressing enviromental issues (Lucas, pg. 1). In New York, activist collected garbage and attended a concert in Central Park.

There are several issues related to Earth Day and our environment that we will discuss throughout this unit. We will be discussing how we can clean up our earth, our air, and our water.

There are billions and billions of people that live on our earth. Each person on earth needs a place to live. We also need materials to build our homes and businesses. We need power to make things work and places to grow food and raise animals. There are several things we should do to preserve the land we live on. We can protect our parks, playgrounds and even our own backyards. We can plant flowers and trees to make our world a beautiful place to live. We can learn to reuse and recycle paper, plastics, aluminum, and glass.

Every living thing needs fresh air to breath. There is a lot of air pollution now because of the many factories that make clothing for us and also in the cars we drive. We can cut down on air pollution by walking more, driving in car pools, and riding subways and buses.

Water is essential to life. We use water to drink and to grow plants. Our water is being polluted by sewage, factories waste, and oil. We can better conserve water by not throwing garbage in rivers and lakes. We can also save our water by not wasting water at home.


Earth Day Resources, (1995) Earth Day Jam '95. [On-line]. Available: http://www.iweb-net/earthjam/ej2.html.

Lucas, M. (1995) Earth Day XXV: The National Earth Day Celebration. [On-line]. Available:

Miles, B. (1974) Save the Earth: An Ecology Handbook for Kids. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Mowrey, M. & Redmond, T. (1993) Not in our Backyard. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.




Time Allotment: One or two days plus homework


Resources Needed:

Book For the Love of Our Earth by P.K. Hallinan

One 11x17 poster board for each child

Plastic grocery sacks (one for every two students)

Large garbage bags (one for every two students)

Two 5x7 recipe cards for each student

Surface Water Model (including: pistol-grip spray bottle with water, baking cocoa, and jell-o)


A. Listening: The teacher will read the book, For the Love of Our Earth by P.K. Hallinan to the class. As children listen, have them think of ways they can help save our earth and environment.

B. Brainstorming: As a class, brainstorm ideas of things we can do to save our earth. Write down the students responses on the chalkboard. Students will each trace their hand and write one thing they can do to save the earth in the center of their hand. Hands will be placed on a bulletin board in the classroom titled, "For the Love of Our Earth We Will..."

C. Mini-lecture and Discussion: Talk to the class about the different types of things that endanger our environment. Discuss specifically air, water, and land pollutants. With the list the class brain stormed about how they can save the earth, have them categorize their ideas under Water, Land and Air using the worksheet Water, Land and Air Pollutants included in the appendix.

D.Two-Pair Share: Students in the class will be paired off by numbering off 1, 2, 1, 2, etc. Each pair will be given time to think of something that harms our environment and they will also think of a solution to this problem. All 1's will design an environmental poster with their idea of something that harms our environment. All 2's will design a poster illustrating a solution to this problem. You many want to assign pairs specific types of things that harm our land, water, or air so that there are a variety of posters. Students will share their posters with the class. Posters will be displayed throughout the school so the other students may see them. Reference: Chase, C. (1995) Earth Day Classroom Ideas. [On-line]. Available:

E. Hands on: Students will be placed in groups of two. Each pair will be given a plastic garbage bag. As a class, we will go and pick up the trash and litter on the playground or at a nearby park. Reference: Chase, C. (1995) 60 Ideas for Earth Day Action Projects Your Group Can Do. [On-line]. Available:

F. Data Retrieval:: When we return to the classroom, each group will divide their litter into paper, plastics, glass (be careful with this one), aluminum and other. They will divide their garbage onto a large garbage bag. Each pair will compare the types of litter they found by completing the worksheet Our Loot of Litter. This activity will help the students learn to organize things that can be recycled. Discuss questions as a class after the students have finished collecting and organizing their data. Discussion questions: What could you do with paper, plastics, aluminum and glass to save the environment? What things at home can you recycle? What things at school can we recycle? Why should we recycle? What would happen if everyone recycled their paper, plastics, aluminum and glass?

G. Observation and Open Discussion: For a homework assignment, have the children conduct an observation dealing with air pollution. Give each child two 5x7 recipe cards and a note explaining the experiment to the parents (included in the appendix). Have the children spread Vaseline on one side of each card. Have them place one card in their garage or near their car and put the other card somewhere in their backyard overnight. Have them write a paragraph explaining the results of their observation. In class the next day, discuss their findings. Which card was dirtier? Why? Reference: Miles, B. (1974). Save the Earth: An Ecology Handbook for Kids. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, pp. 48.

H. Interview: For homework, students will interview their parents concerning environmental issues. Students will generate at least three of their own questions concerning the environment. Have students work in groups of 4 to brainstorm questions they could ask before actually writing the questions down. Have students turn in their questions so you can make sure their questions make sense. Have students interview one or both parents. The student will write a one to two paragraph summary of the things they learned from the interview.

I. Hands-on and Small Group Discussion: To help students understand water pollution, use the Surface Water Model. (This model can be loaned, free of charge, by contacting Virginia Jensen at 801-528-7299. There are several models throughout the state of Utah and she can help you locate the model closest to you.) Take 5-6 students at a time to see the Surface Water Model. The Surface Water Model is a replica of a city. This city has a factory, farms, a lake, a nearby forested located on a mountain and houses. The model comes with a possible scenario of what could happen to pollute the water in this city. As you read the scenario, have the students "pollute" the city. Have the students sprinkle dirt (baking cocoa can be used) on the areas where they would find dirt. Have them place fertilizer (jell-o) on the grassy areas, and a black liquid (included with the model) in the factory to represent its waste. Using a pistol-grip sprayer filled with water, have the children take turns making rain fall over the city. As the rain falls, the earth erodes and soon the pollution makes its way to the lake, the city's main source of water. Discuss with the group water pollution. What are some things that pollute our water? What can we do to make our water more clean?

J. Culminating Activity: To culminate our mini-unit on Earth Day, brainstorm as a class a project you could do to protect our environment. The teacher could suggest projects that could be done at school or in the community. You could contact your principal, or a local environment protection agency to find out things that need to be done. As a class, plan and carry out the project. Here are a few suggestions: plant trees or flowers around the school yard, clean up a park, begin a recycling program at your school or in your community, etc.



The Water, Land and Air Pollutants worksheet will be assessed.

Environmental Poster sharing will be assessed.

Our Loot of Litter will be assessed.

Paragraphs from air pollution observation and interview with parents will be assessed.



Dear Parents,

Today we have been discussing different types of pollution and ways we can protect our environment. In order to learn more about air pollution, we are going to do a little experiment. I have sent home with your child two 5x7 recipe cards. Please help your child spread a little Vaseline on one side of each card. Please place one card in your garage or near your car and the other somewhere in your backyard overnight. In the morning, could you help your child collect his cards and also help him or her write a paragraph explaining their results. Please return the paragraph with your child to class tomorrow as we will discuss the results in class.

Thank you so much for your help.



Erin Peterson


Our Loot of Litter

1. Using five sheets of paper, make labels that read: Paper, Plastics, Glass, Aluminum, and Other.

2. Before you take the litter out of your bag. Guess how many pieces of litter you have. Write your guess here.__________

3. Spread the litter you have collected on top of a black garbage bag.

4. Organize your litter under the correct heading. For example: paper under Paper.

5. How many items do you have in each category?






6. Which group has the most items?_____________________

Why do you think it has the most?___________________


7. Which group has the least items?____________________

Why do you think it has the least?__________________


8. How many pieces of litter will you have if you combine the paper and plastic groups?___________________

9. How many pieces of litter will you have if you combine the aluminum and glass groups?__________________

10. How many pieces of litter do you have all together?

_____________How close were you to your guess?__________


Water, Land and Air Pollutants
















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