Molehill or Mountain

6, 7, 8

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce learners to the different types of trash, the amounts that are being discarded and what could be done to alleviate trash in their own communities. 

Lesson Rating 
PrintThree Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • classify trash into team-determined categories.
  • create a pie graph depicting the different types of trash in percentages.
  • predict which of the statistics regarding these trash materials might be most harmful to the community.
  • identify areas in their immediate community that need attention and could benefit from the removal of trash.
  • A collection of discarded materials; paper, yard trimmings, food scraps, plastics, metal, discarded rubber, textiles, leather, glass bottle, wood, and miscellaneous items that you might find in trash
  • Plastic gloves for all learners-biodegradable if possible
  • Cardboard pizza rounds one per team of four (Note: these may be obtained from restaurant supply stores or Pizza restaurants.)
  • One shoe box per team
  • Glue, heavy duty scissors, rulers
  • Construction paper cut into strips (this is to separate sections of the pie graph)
  • An overhead copy of Discarded Trash (Handout One)
  • Statistics Cards (Handout Two) -one per team of four.
  • Construction Paper
  • White drawing paper
  • Multiple scenic photographs or magazine pictures from various locations; i.e. beaches, gardens, parks, streets, etc.
  • The World In One Day by Russell Ash  DK Publishing  1997


  1. Anticipatory Set: Set up boxes, one for each team of four or five students, containing various materials, to include a variety of the discarded items listed under Materials. Show some of the items from each box and have the learners share their thoughts on what these items have in common (they are all trash products).

    Day One:

  2. Ask the learners to guess how many pounds of trash each person generates each day. (Approximately 4.4 to 4.6 lbs per day. Over a year that accumulates to nearly 2000 lbs or one ton of garbage per person per year.)

  3. Place the learners in teams of four or five and ask them to classify each item that is in their box using whatever criteria the team decides to use. To help the learners get started, you might suggest that teams consider the properties of, the uses for, and/or similar ways that things can be classified.

  4. Display a copy of the overhead Discarded Materials (Handout One). Ask the learners to create a pie graph representing the different categories they used to classify their discarded materials.Have one learner from each team come up and get a cardboard pizza round. Have them start by rounding off the numbers of discarded materials representing each of their categories. Tell the learners to round up if the amount is over five and to round down if the amount is four or below. Have them use the construction paper strips to identify the sections of the graph. You can tell learners to divide the pizza round into sections using mathematical tools/procedures, or use the following approach:

    • To help remind the learners about pie charts and how they are constructed, have the learners make a paper template from the white drawing paper the exact same size as the pizza round.Using one as an example, hold it up for the class to see. Fold it in half and ask how much that portion represents (50%). Fold it again representing 25%. Keep doing this showing 12.5%, 6.25%, and one more at approximately 3%.(These measurements won’t be perfect, but their sections should be close enough to create a good visual representation of the materials generated.)
  5. Take a few minutes to have learners share their questions and and/or reactions.Day Two:Teacher Note: Before starting the next part of the lesson, cut out the Statistics Cards (Handout Two) and place them on a small square of construction paper. Locate or take a variety of scenic photographs from similar types of locations; i.e. beach, garden, park, streets, etc.. Have some of the pictures show areas that are clean (no litter) and others that are (not clean) littered with discarded trash.

  6. Draw a T-chart on the display board and have the learners help you correctly place the photos on the T-chart under the appropriate heading: Column A (representing the non-littered areas) and Column B (representing the littered areas). When finished, ask the learners to tell which place they think most people would feel comfortable visiting and explain why.

  7. Distribute a set of Statistics Cards (created from Handout Two) to each team. Tell the team to divide the cards up equally among the teammates.They are to prioritize the facts on their cards from most damaging to least damaging to the environment. Learners are to work as a team. In turn, each team member will read their card to the team. The team discusses and suggests where the card should be placed but the team member who has the card it is makes the final decision where to rank the card under consideration. Once all cards have been placed on the table, learners may re-discuss the position of any of the cards, but again, only the original card holder may move it to a new location. Once they have them all prioritized, have them leave them in the center of their table.(Not all of the cards give direct examples of waste materials, i.e. pizza consumed; this is to help learners make inferences.)

  8. Ask learners to brainstorm words that came to mind as they were doing this exercise. Have a few learners volunteer their answers.

  9. For the next activity, the learners will work independently. Ask the learners to take out a sheet of paper. Tell them you will give them about five minutes to create a list of as many words as they can think of that relate to the information they have uncovered from the statistics cards. Gauge the time by how well the learners are staying on-task, but do not go longer than about five minutes. They can use terms, words/phrases, and statistics directly from the cards in front of them as well as any words they can think of relating to trash materials and “feeling” words or “reaction” words regarding their personal responses to the information. Give them an example of what you mean by reading the following words out loud: “discarded; 20,000 tons of litter; trash; disgusting.” Encourage them by telling them it is a contest to see who can think of the most words or phrases that relate to the information on the cards in that allotted amount of time.

  10. At the end of the allotted time, ask the learners to draw a line at the end of their list and count the number of responses they have and acknowledge everyone’s efforts.

  11. Explain to learners that they will now be involved in a “gossip party” using their lists. They will have an additional 5-10 minutes to move about the room sharing their lists with other classmates.The idea is to give one word or phrase to each person they meet, as well as get one back in return, therefore adding to their list. Tell them to talk to as many people as possible. At the end of the allotted time, tell them to finish recording the one phrase they are writing and take their seats. Have them add the total number of responses they have collected and put the number at the top of their page.The learners will be using these words for the next activity so the more they can add to their list the easier it will be to do the next activity. (The gossip party is a great way to get learners up and moving, but if you are uncomfortable with learners freely moving about the room you can alter this by having learners share their responses in the teams and adding to their lists there.)

  12. In an effort to have all the learners involved ask for a show of hands of how many learners have at least ten items on their lists. Then ask learners how many have at least fifteen. Continue asking until you find the one or two learners who have the greatest number on their list. Ask these learners to share their list with the entire class. Ask the rest of the class to listen for any words or phrases that do not belong or are incorrect.They may also add anything new they hear to their list if they choose. After the top one or two lists are read, ask the rest of the class if there was anything on the list that they would like to have clarified. Tell the students to save their lists for the next activity.

  13. Day Three:

  14. Distribute a sheet of white drawing paper to each learner. Tell them they are to create a drawing (Idea Map) that represents what they have learned by using their list of words to create the lines. In other words, there will be no straight lines drawn; the words will create the lines. Draw an example on the board so learners understand the activity. Words or phrases may be repeated, if needed, in order to complete their drawing and the use of colored pencils or fine tip colored pens to trace the outline of their letters may be used to add color to their drawings. Collect both the learners’ word list and their Idea Maps.

  15. To conclude this lesson, ask learners to reflect back on the activities of this lesson and to consider the impact of what they learned as it might affect their communities (home, school, neighborhood, city/town, etc.)

  16. Have the learners determine in what areas of their communities they have noticed the results of large amounts of trash being produced each day. Be sure they discuss the “commons” areas of their communities, i.e. beaches, gardens, parks, streets, etc. Ask them what, if anything, a responsible citizen would do to help alleviate problems associated with these situations. What Core Democratic Value suggests they take a role in the reduction and proper disposal of litter and waste materials? (common good)

  17. Ask the learners what the opportunity costs are for ignoring these problems and the characteristics of a person who would choose to take action against the problem. How might they volunteer their time/talent/or treasure for this cause? (Note: the opportunity cost is the “cost” that is left after the choice has been made.)

  18. Following this discussion, have learners write a short message. This will be displayed as a caption on their Idea Map, urging others to be more conscious of their habits regarding consumption and disposal of resources.


The learners’ involvement in the group discussions and group projects along with the extent and depth of understand evident in the Idea Map and caption will be the assessment for this lesson.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Give examples of <i>opportunity cost</i> related to philanthropic giving by individuals and corporations.
      2. Benchmark MS.9 Recognize problems different communities encounter using a "commons" and possible solutions.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
      2. Benchmark MS.6 Describe how the founding documents and fundamental democratic principles encourage citizens to act philanthropically.