Oil + Water = A Mess

6, 7, 8

This lesson will allow the learners to have a hands-on experience investigating an oil  spill. They will develop possible solutions to the problems that an oil spill creates for  the environment.

PrintOne 45-minute class period

The learner will:

  • understand the interdependence of organisms on the Earth.
  • conduct an experiment to show the problems resulting from an oil spill.
  • understand the affects humans have on the environment.
  • develop possible solutions to the problems that oil spills create for the environment.
  • Handout One, Oil + Water = A Mess data sheet. One per group
  • Handout Two, Oil Use in Your Home. One for each learner.
  • Clear glass bowl
  • Straw
  • Water
  • Vegetable or motor oil
  • Cinnamon
  • Mini-Marshmallows
Teacher Preparation 

Used motor oil can be recycled and should not go down the sink drain. You can bring the oil from this lesson to any auto service station for recycling. This website has more information: https://www.recycleoil.org/more.html 

Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: Distribute Handout Two, Oil Use in Your Home worksheet. Have the learners answer the questions with the help of their families. Ask them to return the worksheet for discussion during the next class session.


  1. Anticipatory Set: Review the lesson from the previous class. Recall that the oil floated on the water and that the oil adhered to the craft stick or feather. Tell them that they are going to experience first hand how oil affects other objects.

  2. Arrange the learners into groups of two.

  3. Distribute materials to each group.

  4. Distribute Handout One, Oil + Water = A Mess data sheet. Go over it so that the learners are clear on the instructions.

  5. Ask the learners to follow the instructions on the Oil +Water = A Mess worksheet to complete the investigation.

  6. After the experiment, discuss the results with the learners.

  7. Lead a discussion by asking the following questions: Predict what would happen to the wildlife in the ocean and on the land if oil was spilled into the ocean? (The animals and land will be covered in oil or people that use the oil.) Who should be responsible for cleaning the oil from both the animals and the land? Who should be held responsible for the clean up; the owners of the ships and/ or the people that own the oil?What can be done to prevent oil spills in the future (Develop legislation, fines and regulations for the shippers and users of oil.)


Collect the investigation data sheet after the lab activity. Grade each for completeness.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
  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.