During this lesson, students learn about what composting is and how to do it, as well as why it is and important way for us to provide quality soil for plants to grow in. Using media and grade level appropriate texts, students learn the information together and then create a compost diagram. They can use the diagram at home to try composting for themselves!
This lesson aligns to Essential Standard 1.L.1.3, 'Summarize ways that humans protect their environment and/or improve conditions for the growth of the plants and animals that live there (e.g., reuse or recycle products to avoid littering).' Students are learning how to improve conditions for the growth of plants as well as worms and other insects that may live in the compost pile. As well as teaching the Essential Standards, I also post a question of the day. Today's question is "What is composting? How does it help the environment?"
Also, this lesson supports Science and Engineering Practice 2, Developing and using Models, as students create a diagram of a compost pile and Practice 4, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, as students record information including observations. It also supports Practice 8, obtaining and communicating information through grade level texts and media.
*Picture book- Compost Stew: An A-Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals
(Note - the author's website has lots more information about composting!)
*Access to Internet/video
*Science journals, colored pencils
To get started learning about composting, I say,
"Today we are going to learn about another way we can help the Earth called composting. We are going to watch a video that will give you information about what composting is and how to do it, and then we are going to make a diagram together about how composting works. Listen and watch carefully so you will have lots of information about it!"
I show this 6 minute video by WRAP Recyclenow.com which shows a very friendly animated bug explaining how composting works. I like to start with a video because it gets my student's attention right away and gives them a fun way to learn about lots of information pretty quickly! After the video, I say,
"Raise your hand if you can tell me something important about composting! Also, why do we compost? What kinds of living things does it help?
As my students tell me details from the video, I take notes that I will use to refer back to when we make our compost diagram.
To start the activity, I say,
"We are going to make a detailed diagram of what goes into a compost bin. I have a great book, titled Compost Stew, that will help us. Let's read this first. Remember the things that she adds to her stew so we can add them to our diagram!"
I read the book to the students - it is a quick read but provides lots of different things that can be used in compost. To make our diagram of the compost bin, students work in their science journals and pencils on the carpet and I model by drawing and labeling on chart paper. This activity is a great way to review detailed diagramming and labeling in science! Then, I say,
"What would we start a compost pile with?"
I start from the bottom, going up in layers, with the student's suggestions of things to go in. Dairy and meat never go in compost, so I listen for anyone suggesting those things. I make sure to discuss that worms are a necessity, because they eat the decaying food and their poop enriches the soil!
As we go, I say,
"Let's watch another quick video of some kids who made a compost pile and see what they added!"
After our diagram is complete, I say,
"Maybe in the springtime we can try a compost garden outside in the schoolyard! We can use our diagrams to help us remember what to put in it. For now, you can talk to your parents to see if they want to try composting at home! Who can answer the question for today: What is composting? How does it help the environment?"
I want students to really verbalize the point of composting - that the good soil is useful in growing new plants and that lots of insects live in the compost pile. If that does not come up in our final conversation, I make sure to add it!
Of course, it is a great idea to actually make a compost pile, or at least a smaller model, during this lesson! Unfortunately for us, I am teaching this in the middle of winter so is not the best time to do this outside. If you plan to teach this lesson, please check with your administration because compost can attract critters - especially possums and raccoons, and even neighborhood cats. And, it is really, really smelly - so don't put it near any classroom windows! However, if you need more help actually building a bin, check out this website!