If you’re looking for recycling activities, you’ve landed in the right place! Whether it be for Earth Day, a natural resources unit, or for National Recycling Week in November, I have you covered. Check out these really cool and engaging activities you can do in your upper elementary classroom.
Activities for Teaching About Recycling
1.) Make Recycled Paper. Break students up into small groups and provide the groups with one page of a newspaper. Have each group tear that page up into small pieces. Have students place those small pieces into an aluminum pan with water and soak for 10 minutes. The water should cover the paper. Next, mix 1/4 c of water with 1/8 c of corn starch (per piece of newspaper) until the corn starch dissolves. In a blender, place the torn-up paper and the cornstarch mixture and run on high for 2 minutes. When finished, pour the mixture on to a screen that is over the aluminum pan. Spread the mixture evenly so it is thin and flat. Cover it with wax paper and roll it out flat to squeeze out any extra water. Remove the wax paper, if desired, (I left mine on the wax paper to dry) and let it dry completely for a few days. You’ve just made recycled paper.
2.) Have a Gallery Walk. Walk around the room exploring things that could be recycled or different types of recyclables.
3.) Trashtown. Introduce students to Trashtown. It’s a town that doesn’t have a recycling program and all their trash is building up. In teams, students develop a plan to start and run a recycling program in their town.
4.) Recyclable Inventions. Have each student bring in 4 recyclables and/or 4 nonrecyclables. Have them create an invention for them. Read the book (aff. link) A Pig’s Tale by Olivia Newton-John. I would read this first to set the scene because it discusses where the trash comes from, the consequences of it, and useful ways to reduce trash. Then you can simply tell students they are going to come up with a useful way to use their “trash.”
5.) 3 R’s Triangle. This recycling activity is similar to those triangle fact cards. In part of the arrow, you will see one of the three R-words, recycle, reuse, or reduce. In the part of the arrow that it is pointing to, have students either illustrate that term, define that term, or describe one way they are doing that. (See the image below.) For extra fun, you can print these on light blue or green paper. Click here to download it completely FREE!
6.) Collect Lunch Waste. Together as a class collect lunch waste in a trash bag. Weigh it on a scale by first weighing a student and then weighing the student holding the bag. Then find the difference between the two to determine the weight of the bag. Carefully spread out the trash and discuss the different types of recyclables and alternatives. Challenge students to reduce their lunch waste.
7.) Create a Packaging Hall of Shame. Look for products with excessive packaging. Gather and bring to school. Set up a display and brainstorm ways to reduce waste. Then discuss ways to reuse some of the excess packagings. For extra writing practice, have students write letters to the manufacturers with suggestions on how they can reduce some of this waste.
8.) Take a Field Trip to a Recycling Center. I remember doing this in 4th grade when I was a kid. It was magical to me. As small as it seems, it will be magical to them too!
9.) Bring in “Trash” to Sort. Collect trash (food, paper, plastic, metal, glass, misc. and subcategories) to carefully sort into piles of reusables, recyclables, and nonrecyclables. Then, calculate the total mass of a group of items and explain the cause and effect relationship on the environment of accumulating solid waste. (This would also be a great time to discuss proper hand-washing techniques and the effect of germs.)
10.) Create a Recycled Animal Zoo. Have students collect items such as milk jugs, laundry containers, or the like and create a recycled animal. Bring in craft items such as hot glue, scissors, googly eyes, garbage ties, paints, and pipe cleaners to help students create their creatures. Have them give their animal a description and how it reduces trash in the landfill. For instance, maybe “laundretta” is a crunching-munching clothes eating monster that keeps old clothes from filling up the landfill.
11.) Create graphs. Have students track items commonly recycled and/or reused at their home. This could be things like newspapers, aluminum cans, plastics, glass, tin, cardboard, magazines, clothing, and so on. Once everyone has created their own individual graph, create a class one. You can also create a graph of all the paper you recycle as a class each day.
12.) Create a recycling superhero. Why not have your students create their own superhero. Who doesn’t love that idea? They can take features from any superheroes that already exist, such as Superman, Spiderman, Aquaman, and so on. But the main goal of the superhero is he has to fight the crime of trash piling up in their city. Have them illustrate the superhero and then create a comic strip or story surrounding how this superhero saved the day! Make sure they include recycling, reusing, and reducing! One way they can do this is by having three villains and each one doesn’t want to do one of the three R’s.
I’m sure with twelve different ideas here, you’re bound to find something that will engage your students and help them understand the three R’s! If you loved these ideas, check out my store where you can find resources with similar creativity!