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Earth Day: Lesson Plans, Reading Lists, and Classroom Ideas

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Earth Day is right around the corner, and this year, the theme is "It's Our Turn to Lead." Are you planning on incorporating the annual event in your classroom?

There are many different learning opportunities on Earth Day, whether your students will be doing science-based investigations, thematic reading, or creative arts projects. To help teachers brainstorm some ways to incorporate Earth Day into the curriculum, we've compiled a list of resources that teachers can use. There's a bit of everything, including lesson plans, tools and resources, and student reading lists.

Earth Day Lesson Plans:

  • K-5 Earth Day Curriculum Resources: The National Education Association produced this resource for teachers, which features seven in-depth lesson plans, Earth Day games, and a list of outside links for students in grades K-5. There are also three entire unit plans as well. Plus, you'll find even more resources, lesson ideas, and activities in the NEA's blog post, "Environmental Education Activities and Resources."

  • The Nature Conservancy's Environmental Education Resources: This resource, created by scientists with The Nature Conservancy, features lesson plans, reading materials, and interactive videos in a variety of environmental subject areas. For instance, students can browse lessons that look at soil science, food science, and energy, among others. NatureRocks is another resource from The Nature Conservancy. Check out their long list of fun, eco-related activities for children.

  • Earth Day Network's Environmental Curriculum: This EDN-produced Environmental Education Program features interdisciplinary lessons, classroom activities, and tools that will help you and your students explore environmental issues during class. There are lessons for students of all ages, and they're designed to be integrated into other subject areas, including social studies and English. Also, be sure to check out the PDF downloadable Leadership Guide, which is aligned with this year's theme, "It's Our Turn To Lead."

  • ReadWriteThink's Celebrate Earth Day!: Here, teachers will find six lesson plans written by teachers for students in grades K-2, 6-8, and 7-9. Provided are resources for Earth Day-themed writing assignments, eco-reading activities, and environmental research projects. The page also features ideas for after-school and at-home learning.

  • Science NetLinks: Earth Day Lesson Collection: Although this collection was produced in 2012, it's still extremely useful for Earth Day 2015. Science NetLinks has produced a big list of lessons and learning tools on a variety of earth science subjects, and they're all easy to browse by grade level.

Classroom Ideas for Earth Day Activities:

  • Scholastic's Earth Day Ideas: There are a few quick links here for a variety of classroom activities -- from short-and-sweet science projects, to super fun scavenger hunts. Scholastic also recently published "Ecology and Choice: 16 Student Projects for Earth Day," another useful resource for getting started with environmental learning.

  • Greening STEM Educator Toolkits: Each of these toolkits from the National Environment Education Foundation offer a ton of useful tools for earth science learning. For instance, "Engineering A Sustainable World" features links to resources, lesson plans, and learning materials for every grade level in specific subjects like sustainable design, renewable energy, and recycling. Other toolkits cover gardening, technology, and nature. They're all available for free download. Plus, the website's student activities and resources page is another great source.

  • I <3 Earth: 22 Earth Day Resources: This roundup of PBS LearningMedia resources is extremely useful for teachers. And there are tons of great multi-media tools to engage students in this collection, including inspiring documentaries and video clips, interactive games, and lesson plans. You'll also want to check out PBS LearningMedia's NOVA Earth System Science lesson plans, which are standards-based media resources that "expose the intricate web of forces that sustain life on Earth."

  • Apps That Challenge Kids to Solve Environmental Issues: This MindShift guest blog covers four apps that are great for Earth Day and environmental lessons. There are options here for younger and older students, and they've all been rated by teachers and parents. Another great read from MindShift: "Let ‘Em Out! The Many Benefits of Outdoor Play In Kindergarten."

  • Resources to Learn About Recycling: The website "I Want to Be Recycled" is a one-stop shop for students interested in the science of recycling. Produced by nonprofit Keep America Beautiful, the resource features accessible information about recyclable materials, a Recycling 101 course, and information students can use to get involved.

Earth Day Reading For Students:

  • Suggest Reading from Project Learning Tree: Looking for a good book to learn about the environment? You'll find plenty to choose from in this list from Project Learning Tree. Although it was produced last summer, the books are timeless and informative, and they're grouped by grade level.

  • 2014 Earth Day Recommended Reading: The Florida Department of Education produced this list of books and literature with options for every grade level.

  • Suggested Reading for Environmental Learning: Via the Environmental Education Foundation, this list highlights books for every grade. Note: the list is in no particular order, so elementary and high school books are intermixed.

  • Tips for Encouraging Readers on Earth Day: The Earth Day Network produced this list of ideas for encouraging students to read about environmental topics. In addition to the tips, you'll find PDF reading lists of environmental books for elementary, middle school, and high school students.

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Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

My favorite Earth Day read is "The Lorax." It's a total oldie but it never stops inspiring great conversations about ecosystems and how we can impact them -- for better and for worse!

Derry Koralek's picture

NAEYC has two terrific books on outdoor education and nature for the early years--including K-3. The Great Outdoors by Mary Rivkin includes a forward by Richard Louv and Experiencing Nature with Young Children, by Alice Sterling Honig is filled with practical ideas and gorgeous full-color photos. Both are very inspiring. naeyc.org

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