6 Activities to Honor Earth Day in Your Classroom

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—falling on Monday, April 22, 2019—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. It’s important that minds of all ages honor Earth Day. Here’s a list of activities, separated by grade level, that teachers and educators can incorporate in their classrooms.  

For Elementary School Students

Activity: Recycling 101 

Download PDF of teacher instruction sheet.

What better way to introduce students to Earth Day than with a recycling game? It’s the perfect way to ensure they continue the habit as they get older! This activity makes students accountable to themselves, their fellow students, and the world.  

What You Need:

  • A plastic water bottle
  • A tin can
  • A glass bottle
  • An envelope
  • A candy wrapper
  • An apple
  • A bag of chips
  • An empty soda can
  • Small piece of cardboard
  • Markers
  • Tape
  • 3 sheets of recyclable paper
  • 3 medium containers 

What to Do:

  1. Using the markers, write “Paper,” “Plastic,” and “Garbage” respectively on the three sheets of paper, each with a different color.
  2. Tape the sheets of paper onto each of the containers
  3. Break the students into three equal groups.
  4. Each group gets one guess as to where each item goes.
  5. The teams that guess correctly each score a point. If no group guesses correctly, then the teacher shares the answer.
  6. The team with the most points wins the game.
Activity: Nature Spies

Download PDF of teacher instruction sheet.

Children will go on a nature walk and record and discuss their observations.

What You Need:

  • Magnifying glasses (optional)
  • Chart paper
  • Marker

What to Do:

  1. Tell children that you are going to teach them how to be "nature spies." Explain to them that the first thing a good nature spy must learn to do is to observe carefully. The next thing a nature spy must do is remember what he or she sees.
  2. Take children on a nature walk. Have children work with a partner or in small groups.   
  3. Each time you take children on a nature walk, have them focus on one particular feature of nature, such as flowers, trees, or insects.
  4. Have each group of children choose something to observe. They are to remember three things about each object they observe, such as its color, its size, whether or not it makes a noise, where they see it, and so on. You may want to allow children to use a magnifying glass to observe the object more closely.
  5. When you return to the classroom, have children take turns discussing their observations while you record them on chart paper. 

For Middle School Students

Activity: How to Save the Planet

Download PDF of teacher instruction sheet.

This activity 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.
Activity: 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 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 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.

For High School Students

Activity: 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 resource sources
  • Some “starter” information on the 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.
Activity: Presentation

Download PDF of teacher instruction sheet.

Download PDF of student instruction sheet.

Have students 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?


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