I ring my chime to get the class’s attention. I announce that we were about to begin the sixth Science lesson in our unit about soil. I ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’. Once seated, I ask “Who can show us where we put things we want to recycle?" I wait for responses from the class. When many students raise their hands, I request, “Everybody do it at one time. Ready? One..two..three!” Since the concept of recycling is familiar to us, I use this simple activity (often that’s all it takes!) to create a focus on the lesson.
I introduce the lesson by saying “You are going to learn what it means to help the Earth. One of the ways is to not make garbage in the first place so you don't have to throw away waste or recycle it later.” I show the students two examples of our Reflection Papers. One is full sheet; the other is a half sheet. “Which one of these do you think uses less paper?” “Ummm..the smaller one?” I explain to the students that the smaller size- or even both sides of the paper- we use half the amount of the larger size. This is an example of reducing. “Using less paper will reduce waste because it makes less garbage. That helps the Earth by using less of its resources to make the paper.”
“Now, I have another question. When we have to use paper, what can we do with the paper when we are finished?” “Throw it away!” “That’s a choice. What happens to it then? “It goes in the trash can.” “Right again. Then what happens?” When no answers come, I explain, “When waste is thrown in to the trash, trucks carry it to the landfill, which is like a big hole in the ground. Pretty soon, that hole fills up and people have to dig a new hole. This pattern will keep repeating as long as there’s trash. So, to help these people keep trash out of the land, we need make it into something else. This is called recycling. ‘Re’ means ‘again’ and ‘cycle’ refers to a repeated process. So recycling means to make something into something else over and over.” I like to explain the origin of words when possible. Not only does it help the students better understand the concept, but also apply it to future vocabulary development.
“The last idea in this lesson is reuse. We do a lot of that in out classroom. What did we use to observe our soil?” “Baby food jars” “Right. And where did we hold our compost?” “Hot lunch boxes” “Yes, and in fact, what did we use for our compost?” “Hot lunch food!” “Right. And we even used the plastic spoons from lunch to scoop our soil and water. Who knows what this idea is called? Re...” “Reuse!” “All three of these acts- reduce, reuse, and recycle- are important ways to keep the earth healthier by using less resources so the Earth will have more for a healthy future!”. I keep this part if the lesson short and simple. When teaching english language learners it’s an appropriate strategy to quickly preview and illustrate concepts before quickly connecting it to a tangible application if it allows them to access the task.
“We’re going to apply these three ideas right now. Can you practice the terms with me? Re..” “Reduce! “Re..” “Recycle!” “Re..” “Reuse!” As we practice these terms, I point to the poster that we will display in our room. I chose this particular image because it connects the vocabulary to familiar, kid-friendly images, always a good thing at this age.
I ask for a Daily Helper to demonstrate the first part of this activity. “Our Daily Helper is going find something in the room that they can connect to this lesson. Next, we will tell them if it can be reduced, reused, or recycled. More importantly, we are going to explain our answer.” An important component of the new CCSS is to ask and answer questions, so any practice that we can provide to explain answers will help develop these skills. “After our Helper models this activity, we will get with our partners and walk around the classroom to independently find things that can be reduced, reused, or recycled. Remember to explain your choice!” As the students wander around the classroom, I wander with them to listen to their answer and help them extend their thinking when necessary.
As the activity winds down, I ask them to head back to their carpet squares with their chosen item. I have three labeled containers set up, ready to collect the materials. “Let’s share some of the things that we found by putting it in the correct container. If you disagree with your friend’s choice, raise your hand and explain why you think differently.” As each item is shared, I look around to check the class for any disagreements. After all items are put into a container, we review the terms (reduce, reuse, recycle) and wrap up the lessons with an agreement to help the Earth and use these three acts as much as possible.