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Lesson Plans
Now, We Teach Six Rs

We all know about "Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic" in the classroom. Now, add "Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce" to help students learn to take care of the environment. Try some of these classroom tips and projects to model responsible behaviors for the latest Three Rs.


To help students become role models by recycling, reusing, and reducing waste.


Storage space, large cardboard boxes, markers, old magazines, and several items that could be placed within the boxes.


Gather three large cardboard boxes. On the first, print RECYCLE. On the second, print REUSE. And, on the third, print REDUCE. Collect several items that could belong in each of the boxes. Below are some examples:





"gently used" clothing

"giant-sized" detergent versus several small boxes

aluminum cans

construction paper scraps

plastic bags or bottles

toys for younger children

2-liter bottle of juice versus several juice box drinks


glass jars

glass bottles

magazines/old calendars


Place the empty cardboard boxes at the front of the room. Next to them, stack the items that need to be sorted into the boxes. Read the words on the boxes and have students help you classify each object by answering questions such as:

  1. Could you or someone else reuse this?
  2. Could this be saved and taken to the recycling center?
  3. Could you reduce waste if you bought one giant-sized box or several of these smaller boxes?

Have students brainstorm examples of other items that could belong in each box. Talk about how these Three Rs help us and our world. As a class, decide on things you can do to help the environment. Choose one and really work with students to make your classroom "earth-friendly."

Below are some ideas to get you started.

  • Check with your sanitation department or waste service to find out how recyclables should be divided. Then, set up appropriate recycling boxes in your classroom and/or the school cafeteria or media center.
  • Set out boxes where students can place art material scraps after completing a project.
  • Send a letter home asking families to save clean jars, old magazines, shoeboxes, etc., for use in art projects.
  • Sponsor a "garage swap" for your classroom or the school. Have families bring in nice, clean items that no longer fit or are no longer used to trade in for items they can use.
  • Have a "Reuse Day" where everyone tries his or her best not to use anything new or throw away anything.
    • Make recycle art from the scraps you've saved.
    • Write on the back of sheets of paper.
    • Don't open new crayons, markers, or pencils.
    • Go the school or classroom library to check out books.
  • Make a special Three R plan to celebrate Earth Day every April.

Related Family Article: The New Three Rs: Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce


  • NIEHS Kids' Page. This site from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is filled with tips to help kids and families recycle, reuse, and reduce what they throw away each day.
  • Recycle City. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides lots of information for families. The Dumptown Game is designed for older children, but clicking on parts of the city is fun and provides tips for you and your child.
  • The Recycle Guys. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources offers things to learn about recycling and fun activities. Just click on "Why Recycle?" or "Kids" to find recycle crafts and great ideas.
  • Planet Protector (PDF). What can you do with a glass jar after you've finished the jelly? The EPA has a special coloring book to show kids some uses for that jelly jar.

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Updated on 3/22/2014