Activities & Lessons

7 Fun Earth Day Activities for Middle & High School Students

7 Min Read
Earth Day Classroom Activities

The saying goes that we are more alike than we are different. Of the ways that we are alike, our greatest commonality is that we all occupy the same planet: Earth. This Earth Day on Saturday, April 22, 2023, it’s more incumbent upon us than ever to celebrate the home we all share with our students while also exchanging ideas and information on how we can be better global citizens and neighbors.

Here’s a list of fun Earth Day activities for middle school and high school students that educators can incorporate into their instruction this spring.

Earth Day Activities for Middle School Students

Activity 1: How to Save the Planet

Download PDF of teacher instruction sheet.

This Earth Day activity for middle school is intended to get students to engage with how their lives impact the environment, and to get them to determine steps they can take to be kinder and more aware of how their habits contribute to the general health of the planet. This is the inspiration needed to make changes that will have long-lasting positive effects.

What You Need:

  • Access to a library or other research sources
  • Poster board (optional)
  • Markers or crayons (to design a booklet cover)
  • Recyclable paper

What to Do:

  1. Tell students they are going to put together a class booklet of ways people can help save the planet.
  2. Write the title “___ Ways to Save the Environment” on the poster board (or another surface visible to the students). Ask students to come up with a target number to complete the title.
  3. Divide the class into groups.
  4. Divide the number of tips by the number of groups. The result is the target number of tips each group should look for. You may want to can give each group a specific area to investigate, such as water or waste management, oceans and streams, or wildlife.
  5. Give the groups time to research their tips using the internet and other resources.
  6. Have a member of each group present their tips to the class. Keep a running total on the board to see if the class meets its goal.
  7. Then assemble the tips into a class booklet. If you would like, you can have a student design the cover, and/or they can each write one page! Place the booklet somewhere that's easily accessible.
April Earth Day Nature 4

Activity 2: Observation—It’s a Natural

Download PDF of teacher instruction sheet.

Students are curious about what they see and hear happening around them in nature. What better way to channel that curiosity than a writing exercise?

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau left behind modern comforts for time in a cabin at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. While there, he journaled his observations on nature, how it fit into his own life, and the obligation he felt to protect it. His writings were published in what we know of as Walden. This Earth Day middle school activity is designed to get students to take in the natural world around them, to observe the beauty of it, and to reflect on how their lives interact with nature.

What You Need:

  • Binoculars
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Copies of student-generated observation form
  • Photo and/or video equipment (optional)
  • Tape recorder (optional)

What to Do:

  1. Write the following quotation on the blackboard. "I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as a chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up." —Henry David Thoreau (If necessary, preview these words: ode, dejection, lustily, chanticleer.)
  2. Ask students what they think this quote from Thoreau's book Walden means. Share with them some of the details of Thoreau's life and experiences. Then read the quote again as a statement of purpose for his writing. How would his work be viewed if he were writing it today? Do you know any examples of people who are trying to "wake their neighbors up"?
  3. Suggest that students become naturalists in their own communities. Initiate a discussion about what they might look for—natural phenomena or situations where man has had a positive or negative effect on the environment. (Examples: signs of animal and plant life, air and water quality, waste or trash, signs of energy waste or conservation, evidence of recycling, etc.) Discuss possible sites where information may be gathered. (Examples: home, school, neighborhood, park, conservation area, arboretum, business area, recycling center, dump, etc.)
  4. Ask students to consider how they will record in words and drawings what they see. Have them (safely) work in teams to develop a useful observation form. Bring the class together to create the final model, which may include: observer's name, date of the observation, description of the observation site, description of the item or action observed, space to draw, space for a reflection or conclusion, space for improvement, or protection recommendations.
  5. When the class has developed a model form, duplicate it so that everyone has a copy. Allow time for students to visit a variety of sites in their community. When the observations are complete, have students share their findings with the class and classify them according to site or topic. Bind the forms together to make a Community Ecology Journal. Work together to write a statement of purpose, similar to that of Thoreau, for the journal's title page.

Activity 3: Upcycle a Garden

Help Earth in two ways at once with a reused items garden.

What You Need:

  • Space at school for a garden
  • Objects that can hold plants such as tires, buckets, milk jugs, even old shoes
  • Soil
  • Seeds or young plants
  • Gardening tools
  • Optional: fertilizer
  • Optional: raised planter or landscaping bricks

What to Do:

  1. Find an outdoor space on school campus that would support a garden.
  2. Have the class research plants that would grow in that space and within your growing zone. If space is limited, students should plan which materials will allow them to grow vertically.
    Safety Tip: Have two sections for your garden if students want to grow edible plants. Recycled materials should only be used for non-edible flowering plants in a raised garden.
  3. Gather recycled objects that can hold plants, as well as additional potting soil, plants, and seeds.
  4. Plant the garden.
    Safety Tip: Be sure to consult with families prior to conducting outdoor activities. Have students wear gloves while handling plants and soil. Soil that is not purchased from a garden center can contain microbes, fungus, and other organisms that can cause allergies. Always wash hands after working in the garden.
  5. Have students water and maintain the garden throughout the school year. Maintenance should include weeding, watering, fertilizing, and pruning.
  6. Use the garden in your math and science lessons throughout the year.

Earth Day Activities for High School Students

Activity 4: Environmental Debate

Download PDF of teacher instruction sheet.

Download PDF of student instruction sheet.

Either in class or for homework, assign students to research a policy (passed or proposed) in their state senate or city council that addresses a current environmental issue in their community. You will then have students debate the (anticipated) effectiveness of the policy.

What You Need:

  • Access to a library or other research sources
  • Some “starter” information on an environmental policy for students

What to Do:

  1. Divide the class into two groups. Assign one group to argue for the policy and the other to argue against it.
  2. Allow each of the two groups debating to brainstorm their positions and their counterarguments for 20–30 minutes. Let the students decide on two team representatives who will go before the class to speak.
  3. The debate will last for five rounds, allowing each team to speak for 90 seconds to state their claim. Allow 60 seconds for counterarguments. Each round should focus on a different piece of supporting evidence to defend their position.
  4. You will decide which side put together the more persuasive argument. The more convincing group can get 5 bonus points on the next quiz or test.
April Earth Day Presenation 2

Activity 5: Presentation

Download PDF of teacher instruction sheet.

Download PDF of student instruction sheet.

For this Earth Day project for high school students, have your class give a 10-minute presentation about an article from a local news outlet covering environmental concerns. This can include, but is not limited to, natural disasters, abnormal weather patterns, protected animal habitats, pest control, air and water pollution, agriculture and farming, commercial land use, or environmental justice for communities of color or low-income communities. The presentation must answer the following questions:

  • What is the central issue?
  • What are the different perspectives on the issue?
  • How does this issue impact the community?
  • What steps can be taken to address this concern?
  • How does this issue deepen or complicate your understanding of your local community? Of the state? Of the country?
  • Why does your topic matter on Earth Day?

Activity 6: Community Cleanup

Any day is a great day to beautify the school or community.

What You Need:

  • Computer or telephone contact information for local leaders
  • Trash bags/cans
  • Gloves
  • Clothing and supplies for time outside (closed-toed shoes, hats, bug spray, sunscreen)
  • High-visibility vests
  • Water
  • Optional: trash pickup sticks

What to Do:

  1. Have the class select a location that needs to be cleaned up or restored. Approve the location as safe for students to access.
  2. Once students have determined a plan of action, review and approve it. The plan could include the amount of supplies they will need based on the size and scope of the cleanup. It could also include the amount of time and number of helpers necessary to complete the task.
  3. Help students reach out to local leaders with the approved plan to get permission to enact it.
  4. Six weeks before the event, assist students in communicating the plan via approved school channels and social media. If no budget exists, include a request for donation of supplies. Borrowing the tools is an added Earth Day bonus!
  5. A few weeks before the event, be sure any additional adults who request to attend are approved to assist with school functions. If your state or district requires volunteer service hours, submit the list of students participating, along with the approved plan.
  6. A few days before the event, gather the students to review the plan. Reschedule if weather or other factors will prohibit a positive outcome.
  7. On the day of the event, verify everyone has the equipment and tools to begin.
    Safety Tip 1: Hold a meeting with everyone at the beginning of the day to review the student plan and pass out safety vests.
    Safety Tip 2: Break the class into smaller groups based on the size of the area to clean. Make sure every group has an adult present and that they know the boundaries of the cleanup area.
    Safety Tip 3: Ensure each team has a cell phone and appropriate contact numbers in case of an emergency.
    Safety Tip 4: Everyone should wear gloves when handling waste. Students should avoid any waste that is sharp or potentially contaminated.
  8. At the end of the event, dispose of any trash or items that can be recycled at appropriate locations.
  9. After the event, gather the class together to discuss how it went. Evaluate the plan for successes and areas of improvement.
  10. Reach out to local leaders and communicate the results. Be sure to thank them for working with your students and supporting their Earth Day efforts!

Activity 7: Start a Special-Events Closet

School dances are a wonderful way to celebrate with friends, but one-time use formal wear is not in style! Creating a special-events closet means clothing gets reused and saves those one-time use items from landfills.

What You Need:

  • Space at school for storing clothes
  • Clothing racks
  • Hangers
  • Plastic bins
  • Optional: shelving

What to Do:

  1. Have the class select a location at school that could house a closet for formal wear.
  2. Once students have determined a plan of action, review and approve it. The plan could include the amount of space they will need for a specific number of items, if the items will be free or sold for a nominal price, and who will volunteer to assist "shoppers."
  3. Arrange for students to meet with the school’s administration to get permission to enact the plan. Then, assist students in communicating the plan via approved school channels and social media.
  4. Students will have to hold collection events for items such as clothing racks, storage bins, hangers, and labels, as well as formal wear.
  5. Advertise the grand opening and subsequent days for collecting and shopping.
  6. Meet with students to set up the store before it is scheduled to open.
  7. Encourage students to make a digital calendar for work shifts that they maintain and populate. A digital tool can be used to track inventory, if time and volume allow.
  8. Hold the grand opening.
  9. Evaluate the plan for successes and areas of improvement prior to the next opening date.

More Earth Day Ideas for School

Have more ideas for Earth Day activities for middle school and high school students? We'd love to hear them. Email us at shaped@hmhco.com or tweet us at @HMHCo.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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Learn more about HMH Science Dimensions, enabling teachers to guide K–12 students in learning through exploration, analysis, application, and explanation.

This blog, originally published in 2020, has been updated for 2023.

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