Digging Up the Facts

3, 4, 5

The purpose of this lesson is to explore what it means to be an environmentalist. Students will work in small groups to research an environmental issue—facts and solutions. The research will be conducted using at least three different types of resources (Internet, magazine, book, video or interview). The ultimate goal of the unit is to empower students to share their knowledge (talent) and make others aware of environmental issues for the common good.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Sixty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • research an environmental problem and find at least ten facts about it.
  • research ways to help solve this environmental problem.
  • find information from at least three different sources.
  • write a summary of facts.
  • Garbage bag filled with 4.5 lbs. of trash
  • Scale
  • Paper and pencil
  • Research materials (library books, magazines, interview, video and Internet—see Websites in Bibliographical References)
  • Data projector for the Internet
  • Overhead projector and transparencies
Home Connection 

Send home a letter informing parents of the unit and requesting they send to school a variety of "garbage" that can be reused for making puppets. See Handout One: Family Letter.


Annenburg/CPB: Resources for teachers https://www.learner.org/exhibits/garbage/intro.html December 3, 2004

Environmental sites for kids http://www.ivyjoy.com/rayne/environmental.html December 3, 2004

EPA Student Center https://www.epa.gov/students December 3, 2004

EPA Recycle City http://www.epa.gov/recyclecity/mainmap.htm December 3, 2004

Kids for Saving Earth https://kidsforsavingearth.org/ December 3, 2004

VanAllsburg, Chris. Just a Dream. Houghton Mifflin, 1990. ISBN: 0395533082


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Pass around a garbage bag (that you have already filled with 4-1/2 pounds of garbage) and ask students to estimate what they think the bag weighs. Send a group of students to the scale to weigh the bag. Send a second group to confirm the measurement. Continue sending groups until they agree that the bag weighs 4.5 lbs. Then let them know that on average, every American creates 4.5 pounds of trash per day. Allow students to react to that: do they think it seems accurate for them, does it seem like a lot or a little? Review what "on average" means. Now talk about what 4.5 lbs. per person means in the whole class, school, city, state and country. Use population figures and multiply times 4.5 to estimate how much garbage is created EACH DAY. Discuss whether this seems like a problem for the environment. Discuss where it goes and how it is managed. (According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are approximately 294,000,000 people in the United States).

  2. Discuss the question, "What is an environmentalist?" Ask students to reflect on the question, "Are you an environmentalist?" Talk about how and why they are environmentalists (or could be).

  3. On the data projector, bring up the following website: https://kidsforsavingearth.org/kse.htm You can sign up for a free membership so you can browse and learn about Clint Hill and the organization called "Kids for Saving Earth." Find out what students around the world have been doing with the KSE organization for the common good. Discuss the impact that kids can have. Review the definition of a philanthropist (a person that gives and shares time, talent and/or treasure for the common good) and discuss whether Clint Hill is a philanthropist. Have an open-ended discussion/debate about whether an environmentalist is a philanthropist. Is a person who teaches others about environmental issues a philanthropist?

  4. Read the story, Just a Dream, by Chris VanAllsburg. During the reading, stop periodically to check for understanding. Discuss whether Walter is an environmentalist. Why or why not? Is he a philanthropist? Why or why not?

  5. Ask the students to name the different environmental issues they heard about in the story. List them on the board. Encourage the students to add other environmental issues that are not in the story. The list will be used for selecting a research topic.

  6. Tell the students that they will be working in groups for the research project. Together they will research an issue, write a puppet script about the topic, make the puppets from recycled items and then perform the puppet play for others. Their goal is to raise awareness of the environmental issue—with the hope of decreasing the problem. Encourage them to think overnight about the issues that interest them.

  7. Day Two:

    Assign students to small groups (between 3-7 students). Try to put them in groups according to their interests, but keep the groups heterogeneous and balanced. Each group chooses a specific environmental issue such as alternative energy, fossil fuels, conserving electricity (or gas or water or paper), recycling, acid rain, water pollution, air pollution, landfills, rainforests and global warming.

  8. Using books, magazine articles, videos and the Internet, groups will find and take notes for at least 10 facts about their topic and at least five ways to address the problem. Depending on the age and experience of your students, you may need to review some research or note-taking skills. They can divide up responsibilities and then compile their work.

  9. Each student writes a minimum of half a page, summarizing the facts the group collected.


Each student is responsible for writing one-half page, stating the ten facts about the issue and five solutions to help deal with it. The teacher will check for understanding and give a grade of credit or no credit.


Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
    2. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize the wise use of resources as <i>stewardship</i>.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.10 Give an example of an action by an individual or a private organization that has helped to enhance a fundamental democratic principle.
      2. Benchmark E.9 Describe how philanthropic activities can bring about social change.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.4 Give an example of how citizens act for the common good.