Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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Students will be able to retell familiar stories including some key details about the events.

Big Idea

Retelling story order helps students develop a deeper comprehension of the events.


10 minutes

Gather students on the rug using a preferred classroom management technique. I like to use my “Stop, look, listen.” The students stop what they are doing, look at me and listen for the direction. I usually preface the direction with, “When I say go…” This reminds the students to listen to the whole direction before moving to follow the directive.

In this case I would say, “When I say go I would like you to clear your space, push in your chair and go take a spot on your dot. Walking feet go.” By saying walking feet I am reminding the students to use walking feet in the classroom to ensure safe movement between areas.

When all of the students are seated on their dot in the rug area I tell the students, “I am going to use the fair sticks to select students to tell me how they reduce, reuse or recycle things at their house. You only need to tell me one way. For example, at my house we reuse plastic grocery bags by using them as liners in our bathroom trash cans.”

I use the fair sticks to select the order in which the students respond to the question.

Once everyone has had a chance to respond I set the fair sticks aside and tell the students, “Today we are going to read a story about a little boy and his grandfather who reuses a very special item.”


I use this introductory activity to help the students get into the right frame of mind to think about how the main characters of the story reuse a very special item over and over again.  


45 minutes

“Today’s book is called Something from Nothing, by Phoebe Gilman. This book is about reducing and reusing and I want you to pay close attention to where you think the reducing and reusing comes into practice.”

“Another thing I would like you to pay attention to is the illustrations because as the main story takes place at the top of the page, at the bottom of the story another little story is taking place.”


During reading I will go over new vocabulary words such as; cozy, frazzled, unsightly, etc. We also discuss what the author means when she writes, “…and his needle flew in and out, in and out.” The reason we discuss this statement is because the students generally relate the word “flew” to birds flying and I want them to see how the word flew can also mean fast.

I have the students predict what Grandpa will make next out of the old blanket. As the story progresses we discuss how the next item must be smaller than the previous item as there is less and less usable material to work with.  


After reading we discuss how Grandpa and Joseph reduced and reused.

“Can anyone tell me how this story is about reducing?”

I use the fair sticks to select a student who is following the correct protocol of raising their hand.

“That’s right Ava; they reduced because they reused something instead of sending it straight to the landfill like the mother wanted.”

“How is this story about reusing?”

Once again I use the fair sticks to select a student.

“Well done Sebastian; they reused because Grandpa took the material from the previous item and made it into the new item.”

“Speaking of items from the story, what was the original item that Grandpa made for Joseph?”

I select a student to respond. As I listen to the student’s response I open a screen on the SMARTBoard and write down their response.

Image of SMARTBoard section of lesson activity.

“Good memory Kallee; the first item was the beautiful blanket.”

“What item came next?”

Once again I select a student.

This line of questioning continues until all of the items have been mentioned, including the story written by Joseph.

“Now that we have all the items I want to let you know what you will be working on at the first work station.”

“At the first work station you will receive a recording sheet like this one (I hold one up for the students to see).”

Something from Nothing Retell Chart.

“Of course the first thing you will do is…?”

I allow the students’ to call out the response, “Write your name!”

“That is right; you need to write your name. Any work that does not have a name gets ripped and put in the recycling bin.”

“Next in each box you will need to draw the item and label it in the correct order from the story. Once you have all the items drawn and labeled you will need to color them exactly like they appear in the story.”

“Can anyone tell me the resources you could use to recall the correct story order?”

I select enough students to respond until all of the resources are covered.

“Those are all great resources to use: you can use your friends, you can use the book and you can use the SMARTBoard.”

Student preparing to use the book as a resource.     Student using the SMARTBoard as a resource.

“Once you have completed the assigned task you will notice there is another activity on the reverse side of the recording sheet. Do NOT do this activity. We will be working on that activity at another time during today.”

“As usual I will be using a checklist to go over your work to make sure you have followed the directions. I will be looking to see if there is a name on the recording sheet? Are the items in order? Are they labeled? Are the items correctly colored? Is the students work neat and tidy?”

“Does anyone have any questions?”


Once I feel the group has a good grasp of the instructions I send the students over one table group at a time to maintain a safe and orderly classroom. It usually sounds like this;

“Table number one go have some story order fun.

Table number two, you know what to do.

Table number three, hope you were listening to me, and

Table number four, you shouldn’t be here anymore.”


Allow the students 15 minutes to work on this activity. Set a visual timer and remind the students to look at the timer so they will use their time wisely.

Students using the SMARTBoard as a recall resource.      Students working together on the rug.


Retellings are tasks in which children read, or are read to and then retell a text. To retell, children need to recall everything they can remember about the story or informational text either orally or in writing. Retellings reflect children’s understanding of text; but of course, retellings can also reflect children’s memory and their level of spoken or written competence. I can use retellings to assess children’s recall of the literal facts of a story or non-fiction reading which can be used as a measure of comprehension. I ask myself, “Did the child just include the major literary elements of the story in the expected order?” Or maybe, “Did the child recall the main ideas and also give supporting details used by the author?” The answers to these questions can tell me a lot about the type of reader the child is.


10 minutes

When the time is up I blow two short blasts on my whistle and use the “Stop, look, listen” technique mentioned above.

“When I say go, I would like you to clean up your space remembering to take care of our things, push in your chair, and use walking feet to go and take a spot on your dot.”

Students know to put completed work in the finished work bin. Any work that is not completed goes into the under construction bin and can be completed throughout the day whenever the student finds he/she has spare time or it will be completed during free choice center time.

Student sharing her story order recall. 

Once all of the students are seated on their spots on the rug I tell them, “Your exit ticket for today is to tell me your favorite item from the story. For example if I pulled out my fair stick I would say, “My favorite item made by the Grandfather was the tie.””

I use the fair sticks to select the order in which the students will go.

Once the student has told me their favorite item from the story, they are free to go and use the hand sanitizer and go to get their snack.

If the student is unable to give me a response of his/her favorite item they can do one of two things. They can:

  1. Ask a friend for help.
  2. Wait until everyone is gone and we will come up with an answer together.


Using this easy formative assessment tool gives me an opportunity to see if a student can quickly recall one basic item from the story. They have just mentioned all of the items in the story order recall activity so it should not be difficult for the students to respond to this request. However, if a student does have a hard time coming up with a response I will take note because I need to find out if the student had difficulty because he/she has trouble holding information or if the students was not paying attention to either the story or the activity. Knowing the answer to this question will determine how I handle the situation. 


For this activity I use a Something From Nothing Retell Checklist. to go over the student’s work. The checklist serves two purposes. First, the checklist helps me stay focused on what I am looking for in the student’s work which shows me whether the student has met the objectives set for the assignment. If the student does not meet the objectives then I know I need to re-teach the lesson in a different way to the student during a small group session or one-on-one.

Secondly the checklist helps convey information to the student’s family about how well their child is doing in the classroom.

The student may also go over the checklist to see where they did well and see what areas they could improve on.

Once the checklist is complete I can attach it to the students work and place it in his/her collection portfolio. 

Middle student sample front.      Middle student sample back.

High student sample front.         High student sample back.

High student sample front 2.      High student sample back 2.


At another station the students are “recycling” CVC words. A student pulls a piece of paper out of the “trash” (A fake “trashcan” sits on the table as well a fake “recycling bin), attempts to read it to his/her peers. Once the word is read, it is recorded on the student’s recording sheet and it is the next persons turn.

If a student cannot read the word he/she can ask for assistance from the other students. If the student still cannot read the word after a peer has modeled how, this player skips a turn and it is the next players turn.

Recycle words activity


At another station students play a math game were they collect numbers until the numbers add up to ten or more. As soon as a student has numbers adding up to 10 he/she puts those numbers back into the bowl and collects a tree. This goes on until the timer runs out. The student who has the largest forest wins the game.

 Collect 10 and collect a tree


At another station the students go around a park game board composed of teen numbers. They draw a card from the draw pile which has number sentences such as, 10 + 6 = ? The student has to figure it out and then move to the nearest 16 on his/her game board. The first student around the “park” is the winner and the students can play again. 

Teen number "Race around the park" game