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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 "Trees for the Earth." 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 are full of engaging classroom activities. 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. You'll find even more resources, lesson ideas, and activities in the NEA's blog post, Environmental Education Activities and Resources.

  • Nature Works Everywhere: This rich collection of video lesson plans, created by The Nature Conservancy, is a great starting point. There are science-based lessons with accompanying videos, virtual field trip videos, and Meet the Scientist videos. Plus, with spring nearly here, the site also features some wonderful gardening activities for students of all ages.

  • 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.

  • EPA's Lesson Plans and Teacher Resources: The Environmental Protection Agency's lesson plans cover all topics related to the earth sciences, including air, ecosystems, climate change, water, and more. All the featured lessons are available for download, and there are resources for every grade.

  • Science NetLinks: Earth Day Lesson Collection: Although this collection was produced in 2012, it's still extremely useful for Earth Day 2016. 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 Toolkit: This downloadable toolkit from the National Environment Education Foundation offers a ton of useful ideas for earth science learning. With links to activities and lesson plans, this offers some insights into teaching STEM subjects through the lense of environmental learning. Another great toolkit, Surrounded by Science, offers tips, lesson plans, and ideas for helping students discover the science of everyday life.

  • 22 Interactive Lessons to Bring Earth Day to Life: This roundup of PBS LearningMedia resources is extremely useful for teachers. And there are tons of great multimedia 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 in 2014, the books are timeless and informative, and they're grouped by grade level.

  • 2016 Earth Day Recommended Reading: The Florida Department of Education produced this list of books and literature with options for every grade level.

  • Green Reads for Kids: This PBS Parents reading list features great titles for children in grades K-5.

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Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Senior Editor at Large

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.

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