Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, K-3

In the BrainPOP ELL movie, Recycling (L2U6L4), the two friends pack their lunches for a picnic at the park, and Moby reminds Ben to use eco-friendly products, such as reusable bottles and bags. When they arrive at the park, they are shocked by its polluted state and work together to clean it up, recycling paper, plastic, and glass. In this lesson plan, designed to be implemented over three consecutive days, students practice using modal auxiliaries while engaging in activities that define the three main ideas: reduce, reuse, recycle.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Discuss the 3 R symbol (Reduce/Reuse/Recycle).
  2. List ways to reduce the amount of garbage they create.
  3. Distinguish between reusable and non-reusable items, and categorize different types of recyclable materials.
  4. Summarize the big ideas of the lesson.
  5. Conduct a "Don't Litter" action research project (optional).



Reduce, reuse, recycle, symbol, litter, garbage, environment, Earth, planet, plastic, paper, glass, "green."


Print out the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Image on chart paper for display in the classroom.

To teach the concept word Reuse on Day 2, bring objects to class, or pictures of objects, that are both reusable (e.g., cloth bag, reusable water bottle, cloth napkin) and non-reusable (e.g., paper napkin, plastic fork, plastic bottle).

For the Recycle activity on Day 3, label the three recycle bins (or whatever containers you are using) with the words and/or pictures: paper, glass, plastic.

Introduction: The 3R Symbol. Introduce the concept of recycling before watching the movie Recycling (L2U6L4). Display or project the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Image, and keep it posted in the room, to refer to later. Ask if anyone knows the meaning of the symbol. Remind students of the word cycle that they learned in lesson Butterfly Life Cycle (L2U6L2). Discuss the word recycle, encouraging them to deduce its meaning: to make something new from something we’ve already used. Then have partners discuss the concept of recycling, using question prompts, such as: Why is it important to recycle? What things do you, or your family, recycle? What do you think might happen without recycling? Do you know about recycling in another country, and do they do more or less than here?

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Day 1: Reduce. Why is it important to reduce the amount of garbage we make? To answer the question, have students watch the movie Recycling (L2U6L4) again and take notes about the reasons/evidence they find. For example: Animals and people can get sick. Then have students discuss question prompts such as the following, in pairs. What things do we buy that we don’t really need? What do we use too much of? How can we use less water, paper, or plastic? Encourage the use of modal auxiliaries. For example: We mustn’t use so many plastic bags. We should turn off the water. To help students recognize the Big Idea of these activities, write this prompt on the board: We can help make a cleaner and healthier environment when we ____________ (reduce) the amount of resources we use. Leave the Big Idea in a corner of the board.
  2. Day 2: Reuse. The next day, ask students to summarize the big idea for reduce, and ask them what they did yesterday to help the environment and reduce what they used. Tell them they all look a little "greener" to you today. Do a Concept Attainment activity to elicit the concept of reuse: using something again and again, instead of throwing it out. Display the reusable and non-reusable objects/pictures that you gathered, in two groups, but do not label the two sides. As you place the objects/pictures in one of the two groups, ask students to tell you which side to put the next items on, or ask students to put them in the right place. When you have finished your examples, ask students to use examples from their lunches/snacks, backpacks, or anything else in the room that applies. Now ask how they might label the two sides (Reusable and Non Reusable, or Garbage). Following are some possible discussion prompts: What do we bring our sandwiches in every day? Do we bring a new water bottle every day? What do we do with the clothes, toys, books we don’t want anymore? What happens if we only use something once? It‘s more garbage! Ask pairs of students to think of a Big Idea for the activity you just completed. If they need a prompt, write: We can help to reduce garbage and save money when we _______________________ (reuse things). Add this Big Idea to the first one that’s on the board. For homework, have students find pictures from magazines or the Internet of at least two objects each made of plastic, glass, and paper. Instead of pictures, they may also bring in real objects made of these materials. Each student should try to bring in a total of six objects or pictures.
  3. Day 3: Recycle. Ask students to summarize the Big Idea about reuse from yesterday’s lesson. Then pose the question, What happens to things we can’t reuse? Elicit what the word recycle means (to make something new from something we’ve already used). Tell the students to take out the objects they brought for homework and look for the recycling symbol on them. Explain that if it displays the symbol, they can recycle it. That means that they mustn’t throw it in the garbage. It should go into a recycling bin. Bring in the three labeled recycle bins (see Preparation). Explain that we sort, or categorize, objects when we recycle them. Put all the items students brought in for homework on a table, or distribute them randomly. Students take turns putting an object in the appropriate bin. Ask students what they think happens when we recycle things. Confirm that they understand that new things can be made from old things. Brainstorm a list of things that can be made from recycled items. Ask pairs of students to think of a Big Idea for the activity you just completed. If they need a prompt, write: When we can’t reuse things, we should _______________________ (recycle) them to make new things. Add this Big Idea to the other two that are on the board.

Extension Activities:

Concept Word Map. Use the Concept Word Picture Prompt: Environment to discuss the concept word environment with the class. Create a Word Map or Concept Web as a class or have partners work together. Label the four squares in a way that meets the level of your class. Labels can include Pictures, Examples, Non-examples, Synonyms, Related Words, Sentences. At the end, come up with a definition of the word together with the class.

Action Research Project Divide students into teams. Assign each team a different area of the school to look for garbage. Students count the pieces of garbage they find and chart them on a graph labeled glass, plastic, paper, and metal. Suggest a Don’t Litter campaign in the school. Teams can create posters to encourage other students to use the 3 Rs. With administrative support, students can share brief “green” tips and ideas during school announcements. After or during the campaign, the teams check their areas again, chart the new results, and compare them.


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