Trash or Treasure?by: Donna Kowalczyk

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Most children know they should not pollute but have never considered why. One elementary school teacher creates a lesson for third- through fifth-grade students that makes the connection concrete. In the lesson, students consider the possible effects a trash item would have on an animal and its habitat, identifying ways in which the piece of trash could be helpful or harmful to the animal and its habitat and then communicating their ideas about how people can clean a polluted environment to make it safe for animals. Along the way, students use reading skills to gather information about the animal and its habitat, writing skills to record their ideas on paper, and speaking skills to share their ideas about their animal and piece of trash with the class. Technology can also be integrated if the teacher chooses to use websites for the reading portion of the activity.

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Reviews (6)
  • on Wed Nov 29, 2017 10:36 PM

After seeing some of the direct responses from students who performed this lesson, it is clear that not many students are aware of the dangers that come of what seems to be meaningless waste to humans. Doing the extensive research themselves to learn about the different animals and their characteristics, lifestyles and habitats specific to that animals covers many different learning topics from science, research, writing, and creative thinking/problem solving. The collaboration of resources and material in this lesson was just great!

Darcey Bodziony
Darcey Bodziony

  • on Fri Dec 05, 2014 11:38 AM

In a world where children suffer from Nature Deficit Syndrome it would seem that they are certainly unaware what human trash can do to animals and their ecosystems. The activity described in this article for upper elementary grade students has an important significance for children in many ways aside from science. Students participating in this activity get to think creatively, logically and more importantly reflectively. The activity rubric provided is a great help.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:48 AM

This article has a very creative way to approach pollution effects on animals. Students are given a clean piece of trash and an animal to research. Then they write a story about how the trash could benefit or harm the animal. There are several examples of what students wrote and they are were inventive !

Betty Paulsell  (Kansas City, MO)
Betty Paulsell (Kansas City, MO)

  • on Wed Nov 29, 2017 2:21 PM

I am using this resource to plan a 10-day science unit as a pre-service teacher about animal habitats. As one of the activities, I will have students explore their school environment and make observations about what they see; this lesson would be an excellent way to pre-teach pollution concepts and to make students aware of what they should be looking for when they go outside. Additionally, this lesson ties in animal impact, not just environmental impact. Overall, I think this is a great resource to use for planning.

Katie I
Katie I

  • on Tue Feb 19, 2013 10:45 PM

This was a great example of how to connect different subject areas into one lesson. It took the ever present topic of pollution and combined it with animals we are surrounded by. The article says it is for third through fifth grade, but I found some relevant information I will use on my kindergartners. At the very least, the topic of not littering can be introduced at an early age. I would recommend beginning this lesson with the extension activity offered at the end of the article. Beginning the lesson with a short trip around the school grounds to pick up litter as well as find critters and animals in the area would be a great attention grabber. To wash and use that litter might make the problem more real rather than bringing in garbage from somewhere else.


  • on Thu Apr 28, 2011 5:49 PM

I always feel caught between the imagination of younger students and the reality of the natural world. This article provides the opportunity to stretch scientific understanding into a creative, if not practical space. Listed for 3rd - 5th graders, I have used Ms. Kowalczyk's lesson with 2nd graders with the best results. This lesson provides opportunity for differentiation as well as scaffolding to Bloom's higher levels.

Caryn Meirs  (Smithtown, NY)
Caryn Meirs (Smithtown, NY)

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