How Trashy Am I?

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SWBAT calculate their family's and their own personal trash consumption over a day, week, month, and year and create a children's book that describes the recycling process.

Big Idea

Together, we can reduce, reuse, and recycle... and teach others to do so, too!

Day 1: Engage

5 minutes

A few days before the lesson begins, I have my students keep a log of all the items they throw away over a 48 hour period of time.  When students return to class with their lists, I have them fold a piece of 8.5 x 11 paper in half, labeling one side, "Biodegradable", and the other, "Non-biodegradable". I instruct the students to sort their items according to the two categories, based on what they learned in the prior lesson, Where Does the Waste Go?

Next, I have students Think, Pair, Share as they discuss each of the questions below.

  • What do you consume more of: biodegradable or non-biodegradable items?
  • Based on the list you created over the last two days, estimate how many pounds of trash you produce in one day, one week, one month, and one year.
  • Multiply that by the number of people in your family to estimate how many pound of trash your family produces in the same period of time.
  • Look at the non-biodegradable items you consumed. How many of those items could you reuse? How many of those items do you actually reuse?

Day 1: Explore

30 minutes

I explain to the students that there is a very easy way to remember how we can throw away less trash and save room in our landfills. We refer to these as the "3 R's". I ask students if anyone has ever heard of the 3 R's before. A few will try to name them, but will come up with something else (reading, writing, arithmetic, or something completely off topic). Some will have no idea what I am talking about. Others may know the 3 R's but will have a hard time explaining them.

I pass out the The Three Rs handout and have students read through it. Together, we discuss the ways we can work together to help reduce the amount of trash that goes into our landfills each day. I like to play What Can I Recycle and How Trash Is Recycled during or after our discussion to help students understand exactly what it means to recycle and why it is important.


Days 2-5: Explain

50 minutes

After watching the videos, I have the students refer back to the lists they created and respond to the following in writing:

  • What percentage of the materials that you threw away in the last two days are you able to recycle?
  • What percentage of the materials consumed did or will you recycle?
  • Do you feel recycling is important? State why or why not.


Next, I explain that it is not only important for us to be more conscious of the impact we have on the environment, but it is also important to teach others to do the same. I tell the students that they will get the opportunity to show what they've learned about recycling by creating a children's book from the point of view of a recyclable item. In the book, they must explain the "adventure" an item goes through during the recycling process. They must make it interesting and entertaining for children, while still educating them about the recycling process. In addition, they must teach children about he importance of recycling in order to help sustain protect our planet and way of life.

Students use the Recycle Story Checklist to help guide them through the process and to self-assess their work as they progress through the steps of creating their book.

My students use the site Mixbook to create their books. Because they are accustomed to using technology in the classroom and have used this site before, I do not need to provide a great deal of support with the technology component of the project. However, if you or your students need more support with this project, my students have created a series of screencasts on how to use the tool. Here's Getting Started



More videos on Mixbook - and a variety of other Web 2.0 tools, can be found here.

Day 6: Elaborate

40 minutes

Now that the students have a good understanding of what happens to items once they are sent to the recycling plant, they are set to learn more about how to reduce, reuse, and recycle right here in school. I provide the students with a document created by the Minnesota Pollution Control Advisory. They read the document and highlight important information.

After reading, we have a class discussion on the material in the document. Next, I ask the students to create a class contract that will help us commit to creating less trash and turning our classroom into a more environmentally responsible place. Each of us signs the contract and we display it in a place in the classroom where anyone can easily see it and realize our commitment to helping the environment.


5 minutes

Students will be evaluated on their book based on the guidelines I set forth in class and the provided Rubistar rubric. I will also assess their understanding based on their participation and contributions to the class contract.