Oil, Oil Everywhere
  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Identify and research public or social issues in the community, nation or the world related to the common good. Form an opinion, and develop and present a persuasive argument using communication tools.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.

This lesson will allow the learners to experience the human impact on ecosystems by participating in an event-based investigation.

PrintOne- Forty-Five Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • analyze ideas from literature.
  • understand the interdependence of organisms on the Earth.
  • increase their understanding of how humans affect an animal’s ecosystem.
  • brainstorm ways to clean up an ecosystem.
  • analyze ideas from literature.
  • Container of motor oil
  • Large clear container of water
  • Wooden craft sticks, ice cream sticks, or feathers
  • Teacher Note: Be mindful that feathers are considered sacred by some Native American people. The use of certain kinds of feathers for this purpose might be considered offensive, however for the purpose of this lesson, a feather (goose, duck, or chicken feather) is suggested to demonstrate as closely as possible the affects of oil on birds' feathers.
  • Book: The Exxon Valdez: Tragic Oil Spill or other book related to the effects of a major spill on the environment
  • Copies of Handout One, Understanding An Oil Spill for each learner
  • Schouweiler, Thomas. The Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill. Lucent Books, 1991. ISBN: 1560060166
  1. Anticipatory Set: Show the learners a clear container of motor oil. Ask the learners how they think the oil is used. How might the oil be transported from the ground to places where it can be refined and distributed around the world? Tell the learners that this motor oil is going to represent unrefined or crude oil like the oil that is carried by tankers to different parts of the world. Access the learners’ prior knowledge of oil and how it is transported by allowing a few minutes of discussion.

  2. Slowly pour the motor oil into the clear container of water. Ask the learners to observe what is happening.

  3. Ask: What happens to the oil? (It floats on the surface of the water.)

  4. Dip a wooden craft stick or feather into the oil and have the learners observe what happens. (The oil adheres to the sick.)

  5. Ask: What conclusion can you develop about water and oil? (They don’t mix.) What conclusion can you develop about the craft stick or feather and the oil?

  6. Introduce the book The Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill. Or read accounts about the BP oil spill or another oil disaster. Read selected excerpts from the book or articles that relate directly to the harm that was done to the environment and how volunteers traveled from all over the world to help clean up the spill that washed onto shore and to clean the oil off the animals.

  7. Give each student or small group of students a copy of Handout One: Understanding an Oil Spill.

  8. Ask the learners to select one major oil spill to research and report on. They may work with a group or respond to the questions on the handout independently.

  9. After a reasonable amount of time, discuss the learners’ answers as a group.

  10. Point out that many volunteers traveled at their own expense to help with the on-shore clean-up after these big oil spills caused extensive environmental damage. Discuss why volunteers would sacrifice their time and money for this purpose.


Subjectively assess learners’ participation in the class discussion. Collect the worksheets and correct them for completeness