Grade Levels: 6-8

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades 5-8, students play Carbon Cycle Game which challenges them to figure out how carbon moves through various forms including soils, the ocean, plant and animal life, and fossil fuels in order to collect enough carbons to beat their opponent(s). As students control the carbon cycle, they’ll observe its effects on photosynthesis, water, and the Earth’s atmosphere.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Lesson Plan Next Generation Science Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Discover that the carbon cycle includes different pools or reservoirs that carbon atoms move among.
  2. Understand the events and processes that cause carbon to move through the carbon cycle.
  3. Recognize the role of time and the impact of human behavior on the carbon cycle.


  • Computers or other devices with Internet access
  • Interactive whiteboard



This lesson plan features a game called Carbon Cycle Game developed by our partner,  Field Day Lab. The game develops students’ understanding of how carbon moves through the environment, including soils, the ocean, plants and animals, and fossil fuels. Along the way, they discover how processes, such as photosynthesis and events like forest fires, convert carbon from one form to another.  

Preview and play Carbon Cycle Game to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs. If students will be playing in small groups, review tips on Setting Cooperative Gaming Expectations.

Read the Carbon Cycle Game: SnapThought Prompts for more information and specific SnapThought prompts to provide students during game play.

Depending on your classroom routines and available technology, you may want to consider these grouping options:

  • 1:1 with students and devices
  • Two to three students sharing one device and swapping ideas and the device back and forth
  • Station model where small groups rotate through using the devices

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies: Carbon Cycle, Earth’s Atmosphere, Photosynthesis, Air Pollution, Atoms, Water Cycle, Climate Change, Greenhouse Effect, and  Erosion.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Assess students’ prior knowledge of the carbon cycle by asking them what they know about the carbon cycle, such as What is carbon? What role do animals and plants play in the carbon cycle? How is carbon converted from one form to another?
  2. Next, build students’ understanding of the carbon cycle by showing the BrainPOP movie Carbon Cycle to the whole class on the whiteboard or other display. Make sure students understand the sequence of events and processes that make up the carbon cycle. If times allows, have students watch the movie again with a partner or small group from within the Make-a-Map tool. Show them how to select the Cyclical Relationship Map by clicking the My Maps icon on the left and hen Use map templates.   As they watch the movie again, have them pause and fill in the concept map.
  3. Display the Carbon Cycle Game on the whiteboard. Click through the comic. Ask what the girl was dreaming about. Go back through each frame and challenge students to identify which part of the carbon cycle it illustrates.
  4. Now play the game tutorial for the whole class, reading the narration or inviting volunteers to read. After the character explains how to play, reiterate that the objective is to get most of your team’s carbon pieces into the goal zones, which is achieved by understanding how carbon moves through the environment. Remind the class that players can choose to move their own team’s carbon piece toward the goal zone, or their opponents away from the goal zone. Continue the tutorial to show how the game is played.
  5. Once students understand how to play, divide the class into partners or small groups of Red and Blue to play against each other at their own computers or devices. Instruct them to select the “Multiplayer: Same Screen” version of the game with the “10 turns” option. Explain that a player on the team is to select a card and read the card description aloud to the team, and together determine where the carbon piece will move and why. Then have the team select which piece they want to move -- their own or their opponent’s--and make the move.
  6. If students have individual logins through My BrainPOP, encourage them to use the SnapThought® tool to take snapshots during game play, and reflect on their discoveries. For suggested prompts, see Carbon Cycle: SnapThought Prompts.  
  7. Circulate as students play and help as needed. Listen in to make sure they are using strategies and their knowledge of the carbon cycle, rather than guessing. Remind them to recall their carbon cycle concept maps, or have them refer to them if they’re still accessible.
  8. Bring the class together to discuss what they learned about the carbon cycle. If students are using SnapThought, encourage them to share their reflections.

Extension Activities:

Have students create a carbon cycle collage or make a digital version of the carbon cycle, explaining each step in the process.