Making Something from Nothing

K, 1, 2

Students recognize that their actions and behaviors will become memories for future generations. They will recognize the importance of recycling and using resources wisely for the common good. Students identify ways to make recycling a routine part of their lives.

Lesson Rating 
Two Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • identify reasons why recycling is important for future generations.
  • recycle everyday objects.
  • make a useful item out of something they may have ordinarily thrown away.
  • make a picture out of recycled materials.


  • Materials for students to make a collage picture stuffed into a bag/scraps and recycled items brought in from home: yarn, peanut shells, straws, used paper, wallpaper, egg cartons, plastic, cardboard, fabric scraps, etc.
  • Glue, scissors and background paper, if desired
  • Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman

Home Connection 

None for this lesson.

  • Fox, Mem. Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. New York: Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 1985. ISBN: 0916291049

  • Gilman, Phoebe. Something from Nothing. New York: Scholastic, 1993. ISBN: 0590472801

  • Van Allsburg, Chris. Just a Dream. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990. ISBN: 0395533082


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Read aloud the book Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg (see Bibliographical References). Ask the students to explain what the past, present (today) and the future are. Discuss how the book shows that the actions of the boy today are his memories in the future. Recall how yesterday’s book was about the memories of the old woman of the past. Today’s book is about the future. Ask the students whether what they do today has an impact on people in the future. Discuss environmental issues that come up—especially recycling. Describe how recycling is acting for the common good.

  2. In front of the students, empty a bag filled with pieces of felt, cut-up scraps of paper, used drawing paper, newspaper, yarn, peanut shells, straw, fabric swatches, egg cartons, plastic, cardboard, rocks, etc. Tell the students that you want to create something out of these materials instead of using new materials. Remind the students that trash we throw away will still be around for our grandchildren, so we want to try to throw away less trash and use fewer new resources. Have the students brainstorm ideas on ways to use the objects to make a picture or other piece of art.

  3. Before the students attempt to “make something out of nothing,” read the book Something From Nothing (see Bibliographical References). Tell the students that just like in Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge, there are three generations in the book you are reading today. Talk about what a generation is and give examples in their own families.

  4. Discuss the book with the students:

      1. Compare the relationship between an older person and a child in both books.

      2. Why do you think the mother wanted to throw items away and the boy wanted to keep them? How is the blanket like a memory?

      3. What do you think it would be like growing up in this family?

      4. As the original blanket kept getting smaller, what happened to the rest of the material?

      5. Why is this a good title for the book? What does the story have to do with recycling?

  5. Tell the students to use the recycled items to make something out of nothing. They may use glue, scissors and background paper, but no other new materials.

  6. Display the finished work and talk about the various ways students used the materials. Celebrate the fact that they have successfully recycled materials that they would have just thrown in the trash.

  7. Brainstorm on chart paper why recycling now is important for future generations. Guide the students to recognize that they have a responsibility for the common good to recycle and conserve limited resources. Using resources wisely and carefully is called stewardship.

  8. Challenge students to think of ways they can recycle at school and at home.


Use informal observation of student participation in groups, listening skills and thoughtful contributions to discussions and brainstorming.

Observe student understanding of past, present and future.

Encourage students to put their best effort into creating their recycled pictures.

Cross Curriculum 

Students demonstrate stewardship of the environment for the sake of future generations. They make a project out of recycled materials and display them for others to see.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Identify examples of families supporting giving and sharing.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe one reason why a person might give or volunteer.
      2. Benchmark E.5 Give examples of actions students can take to improve the common good and list or describe responsibilities that go with those actions.

Academic Standards

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