Submitted by: Elisha Cole

Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

In this multi-day lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 9-12, students use BrainPOP resources to identify the steps of the carbon, nitrogen, and water earth cycles. Students will also explore the significance of each cycle within global ecosystems and explain how human environmental impacts are affecting these three global cycles.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Identify the steps of the carbon cycle and explain its significance to global ecosystems.
  2. Identify the steps of the nitrogen cycle and explain its significance to global ecosystems.
  3. Identify the steps of the water cycle and explain its significance to global ecosystems.


  • Several sheets of blank paper
  • Colored pencils
  • Computer with internet access
  • Copies of the graphic organizer


evaporation, transpiration, sublimation, condensation, advection, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, respiration, combustion, decay, carbon source, photosynthesis, carbon sinks, nitrogen fixation, nitrification, assimilation, denitrification, ammonification


Make copies of the Graphic Organizer for the Carbon Cycle movie and any handouts/activities from your curriculum you would like to use for the water cycle and nitrogen cycle. Assign the students four to a group. Give each of the group members a few sheets of paper and some colored pencils. Assign each group to one computer with internet access.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Engage: Have each group choose a cycle to research. You could assign the cycles randomly by having one student per group to pick an atom/molecule from a molecule kit out of a paper bag. The color the student picks correlates with which cycle their group will research (black for carbon, blue for nitrogen, and red for water.
  2. Explore: Ask the students to research their cycle and create a story book detailing the adventure one atom/molecule as it goes through the cycle. Encourage students to be creative!
  3. Explain: Review the three cycles, going over one cycle per class period. Pick one or more groups to "tell" their stories to the class. Using a powerpoint or notebook file, break down the various steps how you see fit, applying vocabulary to their stories. Play the corresponding BrainPOP video (Carbon Cycle, Nitrogen Cycle, and Water Cycle). Facilitate discussions around the significance of each cycle to the global ecosystem, and the effects that humans have on the earth's cycles.
  4. Elaborate: Have students fill out the Carbon Cycle Graphic Organizer and other handouts you've provided using applicable steps and vocabulary.
  5. Evaluate: Have students individually write a one-page paper about how human environmental impacts are affecting the global cycles they researched.