Top Teaching > Beth Newingham > My April Top Ten List: Going Green at School

Comments: 25

My April Top Ten List: Going Green at School

FourthWhile it's certainly worthwhile to use Earth Day to help students understand the importance of “going green,” it’s also crucial to encourage students to be environmentally conscious throughout the year. In this post, I will share a variety of projects and activities that my own school has implemented to become an official “green school” in Michigan. I hope you can use these ideas to help your school go green, but I am also looking forward to reading your comments and seeing how schools around the world are helping to save our planet.   



1. Participate in International Walk to School Day


Walk to schoolInternational Walk to School Day promotes a healthy lifestyle and encourages students and parents to think about the effects that cars have on the environment. On this day, all students pledge to walk or ride their bike to school. Since our school is in the middle of a neighborhood, this is a very realistic goal for our students. However, even if most students at your school take a bus or are driven by a parent, students can still be dropped off close to the school and walk the last half mile. The goal is for students and parents to realize that replacing car trips to school with walking or bicycling can help reduce air pollution.

You can incorporate this activity into your curriculum by asking your students to explore the question: “What impact does car transportation have on the local environment?” Some upper elementary students in our district have conducted simple air pollution experiments and analyzed the findings in the context of their own weekly trip tally, which documents their comings and goings about town by car, foot, bike, and public transportation. Students then analyze their own travel data, as well as that of the whole class, and explore strategies for reducing air pollution. 

2. Start a Student-Run Recycling Club

IMG_1901 When the teachers, students, and custodians at our school noticed the great amount of paper being thrown away every day, we knew it was time to make a change. Hill School has now been recycling its paper since the winter of 2008. Each classroom, copy room, and office has at least one recycling bin, and there are bins in the gym, music room, art room, cafeteria, and media center.  

Batteries To make students active participants in the recycling process, Lora Herbert, an awesome 4th grade teacher at my school, started a student recycling club three years ago. During lunch each day, recycling club members are assigned to collect and empty the recycling bins in specific rooms. Through the use of posters, word-of-mouth, and “commercials” on our televised morning announcements, the students in this club have made the staff and students at Hill School well aware of what materials can and cannot be recycled. We are pros at recycling our construction paper, catalogs, envelopes, scrap paper, and more, thanks to our recycling club.

3. Recycle Newspapers & Magazines to Create Fabulous Art Projects

Another way to support your school’s “going green” effort is to get your art teacher involved. The art teacher at my school, Katie Hosbach, planned neat projects using entirely recycled materials.

MacheFor instance, some students created musical rumba shakers from drinkable yogurt containers donated by families in the school community. Using strips of outdated newspaper, they made a hard papier-mâché shell around the yogurt containers. Students filled the maracas with rice, beans, peas, or popcorn and decorated them with paint.  

Cityscape1 Some 2nd grade students made cityscapes out of donated magazines after looking at examples of cityscapes done by famous artists. Students understood that since they are reusing the magazines for an art project instead of using brand new construction paper, they were helping reduce the amount of paper being used and recycled, which saves energy.   


4. Adopt an Endangered Animal

Pablo Our students brought in coins in order to raise money to adopt an endangered animal from the Detroit Zoo. As coins were collected, students learned about the two endangered animals they would choose from — a chimpanzee or a Grevy's zebra — on the morning announcements and through student-created PowerPoint presentations that ran on TV during lunch time in the cafeteria. After enough money was raised, each classroom voted on which animal to adopt, and the Grevy’s zebra won. Our school purchased a stuffed plush Grevy's zebra, which sits on display in the main hallway for everyone to see. The class that raised the most money chose the name for the zebra, Pablo. To adopt an endangered animal at your school, contact your local zoo or visit the World Wildlife Fund's site.  

P1080650 5. Host a Solar Cookout

Our school hosted a solar-powered cookout last fall. Parent volunteers created solar-powered “ovens” made out of cardboard boxes, aluminum foil, and some rocks and sticks. Before the cookout, we publicized the event in the school’s weekly newsletter and on our daily morning TV announcements, explaining the idea and the process behind the solar cookout. The whole school was treated to a delicious dessert of s'mores cooked by the sun. It was a big hit and a great example of the power of natural energy. Visit Disney FamilyFun to learn how to make solar s'mores.


6. Take an Environmentally Informative Field Trip

Field trips are another great way to help your students become more environmentally conscious.

SolarArrays field trip Alternative Energy Plant
: If you have an alternative energy plant near your school, take a trip to learn about renewable resources. In 2009, renewable energy, from sources like the sun, wind, and water, only provided about eight percent of the energy used in the United States. However, the use of renewable fuels has begun to increase in recent years due to the high price of oil and natural gas. Visit Energy Kids to read more about renewable energy and find games, activities, and lesson plans to supplement your curriculum.

Landfill-landscape Local Landfill: If your students think that trash just disappears, then it's time for a trip to a landfill. While students are plugging their noses, teachers can point out all the items in the landfill that don't have to be there — cardboard, newspapers, old food, perfectly good-looking furniture, old computers, etc. Explain how everything gets crushed down and squished together, so that even things that would normally decompose, like food, have a hard time decomposing. If you are like me and are not ready to take an actual field trip to a landfill, you can find many videos about how landfills work by doing a Google search. For instance, I found one for kids at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources site.

Recycling center Recycling Center: For a similar (and slightly less stinky) field trip, take your class on a tour of a local recycling center. Students can see firsthand how items are separated and sent off on different conveyor belts. They learn how plastics will be turned into park benches and new decks and how paper will be shredded, mashed, and processed into new paper. Alternatively, take your class on a photo tour or video tour showing where trash goes after it leaves the house. You might also visit Recycle City, a fun, interactive Web site to help your students learn more about recycling and protecting our environment. 

MVC-050F Organic Farm: Most students do not grow any vegetables at home and do not raise their own animals, so going to a farm is a real eye-opener. They can see where the eggs really come from, and that it's not the grocery store. Workers at the farm can show them how the carrots grow underground, and are pulled up, cleaned, and cut up. Most farms also have a u-pick-fruit area where students can pick blueberries, strawberries, or blackberries. 


7. Organic Composting

IMG_6338 Last year, master composters from SOCWA came to our school to teach 4th grade students about organic composting. Equipment was brought in and students were split into groups to experience the art of making organic compost. A large bucket was filled with each group’s compost material and stored in the classroom for the remainder of the winter. Each student had an observation packet for monthly compost mixing days. In the spring, students made their last observation of their organic compost and spread it outside to help the flowers grow. (Thanks to Liz Waters, an awesome 4th grade teacher at my school, for sharing this idea.)

8. Create a Birdhouse Habitat Around Your Playground

BirdhousesThe Wolf Cub Scout group made up of students at my school constructed birdhouses as a den project and created a birdhouse habitat around our playground. The birdhouses provide nesting space in the birds’ increasingly threatened habitat. An increased bird population is not only pleasant for the eyes and ears, but is also important to our ecosystem. Birds scavenge wastes, pollinate plants, and search for food in the garden. They help our garden habitat by eating greenflies, caterpillars, and snails: a huge benefit for the organic gardener.



9. Go Paperless


Our school is trying to reduce our use of resources by going paperless. Starting this year, our school’s weekly newsletter (and most classroom newsletters) are sent home via an email blast instead of being printed out and copied for all 334 students. Following the success of the emailed newsletter, our school started using the email blast to disseminate other information to parents, including field trip information, fan-outs, PTO meeting updates, volunteer requests, etc., saving even more paper. Also, when it is necessary to send home a hard copy of a note, only the youngest students or only one student of a family gets a copy.

10. Going “Green” Resources From Scholastic

For tons of great lessons, project ideas, and other resources to help students promote environmental awareness on Earth Day and throughout the year, see Scholastic's index of interdisciplinary activities.

Caring for the Environment 


Share your ideas!

Please add your comments below to share the ways that your school is going green. I look forward to hearing from you!


  • #1 Brenda

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 05:16 PM

    Thanks Beth!! Cute idea! I will keep it in mind for next year!

  • #2 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 09:13 PM

    Brenda (comment #20),

    I am so sorry that I did not see your comment until now!! It's obviously too late for Mother's Day 2011, but I like to do something that includes a photo of the child with his or her mom. We are typically finishing our poetry unit around Mother's Day, so I like to have my students write an "Ode to Mom," type it in the computer lab, add clipart, insert a mom/child photo, and then put it in a dollar store frame to present to their mom.

    Perhaps this will help for next year:)


  • #3 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 09:09 PM

    Tracy (comment #19),

    I use Print Shop Deluxe version 23. I would love to get the new version, but I know that my files will not open in Print Shop 2.0.


  • #4 Jamie

    Monday, May 09, 2011 at 10:51 PM

    Hi Beth. I ABSOLUTELY love reading about EVERYTHING you do in your classroom! I was wondering if you will still be doing this blog for Scholastic next year (2011-2012). I HOPE, HOPE , HOPE you are!! You are AWESOME!!

  • #5 Dee

    Monday, May 02, 2011 at 07:23 PM

    I have watched your site for several years and am continually impressed by your creative ideas and energy.

    After seeing your recommendation for the FLIP videocamera that is so easy to use, our 4th grade team applied for and received a grant to make our 4th grade students into "historians" next year. It is the year of the Arizona Centennial, and each class will receive a video camera and snapshot camera, plus other necessary technology accessories. Our students reporters will go to K-5 classrooms to record their centennial activities. Then each 4th grade class will write captions and explanatory notes, and all these will be put together for a documentary DVD in a 4th grade after school club for the end of the year.

    We are excited about this! I just want you to know that this is inspired by your website. Thanks!

  • #6 Brenda

    Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 10:12 AM


    I love your website and have used many of your ideas in my own classroom. I was wondering if you have any inexpensive and creative idea for a Mother's Day gift the kids could make? Thanks!!

  • #7 Tracy

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 09:13 AM

    Hi Beth~

    I was thinking of buying the Print Shop program but wasn't sure what version you have or would recommend for use in the classroom.

    Thanks for your help.

  • #8 organic composts

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 10:17 PM

    There are plenty of ways to keep our planet clean and green, when you have biodegradable garbages at home, you can stock in a pit, for time will come, it will be usable in the form of fertilizer for your plants.

  • #9 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 09:48 PM

    Katie (comment #15),

    You asked about my shared teaching position. You asked me to email you the official job-share proposal that we submitted to our principal. However, we did not need to persuade anyone in our district because other teachers who had job-shared before us already did the split-week plan. In fact, other than half-day kindergarten, all teachers in my district who job share split the week instead of splitting the days.

    I think the split-week schedule is actually better for the students. When teachers split the day in half, they tend to only teach certain subjects. I believe that when both teachers teach all subjects, they know their students' strengths and weaknesses in all subject areas and can better meet each student's individual needs. I can't imagine not knowing my students as readers or writers and only teaching math or science. Also, our schedule requires us to collaborate on everything. Every decision we make regarding our students requires two brains working together to best meet the needs of our students and prepare the most thorough curriculum that we can give our students.


  • #10 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 09:39 PM

    Lisa (comment #14),

    I'm glad my answers were helpful.

    You asked about my lesson plans. I worked with other teachers in my district to write reading workshop units that include daily lessons that are written out for each day in full. (Unfortunately I cannot share those.) However, I do not include every component of the reading mini-lesson in my lesson plan book. I just summarize the mini-lesson and indicate what the IDR task will be. You can download my lesson plan template located at the bottom of my Math Workshop post I wrote last year. It is in the "Reader Request" section. Here is a link to that post:

    I keep a separate binder with guided reading lesson info, CAFE goals, and strategy lessons.


  • #11 Katie

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 02:23 PM

    Hi Beth,

    You are amazing and have inspired so many teachers in my school! Thank you for sharing all of your incredible, dynamic ideas!

    My teaching partner and I have the wonderful opportunity to jobshare a third grade classroom in Cincinnati. We currently split the days up by morning/afternoon. We would LOVE to share the week the way that you and your partner do rather than splitting each day! :) Did you create an official jobshare proposal for this? If so, would you mind sharing it through email? We would greatly appreciate any advice that you could give to help us persuade our principal that sharing the time/classroom this way would be best!! :) THANK YOU SO MUCH!


  • #12 Lisa Katz

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 07:16 AM

    Hi Beth,
    Thank you for your answer! I am looking forward to switching to third grade in Sept, and I want to be as thoroughly prepared as I can! I think I am trying too hard to micro manage the details so far in advance, but I am having fun learning and planning.

    Have you ever posted a picture of your plan book? I am curious about how you lay it out. Do you write your specific mini lessons in there, or do you keep a separate document of them?

    I have my regular plan book, and then a mini version of the math lessons that I stick in the back, along with what the GR groups are working on. Now I am trying to figure out what to do with the reading/writing mini lessons. I have to hand in my plan book once a week to the principal, so I am trying to keep everything in one spot. Any advice you have about organizing would be great!

    Thanks for continuing to inspire teachers!

  • #13 Beth Newingham

    Monday, April 25, 2011 at 08:17 PM

    Lisa (comment #12),

    You asked some great questions that I will attempt to answer below.

    First you asked, "When the IDR kids finish their work, and if you don't take their reading group, what work do they do for the rest of the IDR time? If you don't see a student's reading group that day, do they read for 40 min?"

    I do not meet with every student every day. Students who do not meet with me are reading for the entire 40 minutes, which is great! They are spending the time not "just reading" but applying the reading strategy that I taught that day during the min-lesson(and of course strategies from previous lessons as well). If there is a specific IDR task, they may be writing in their reading binder or on sticky notes in their books. If they finish the IDR task, they continue reading their book. Too often, teachers pull students for guided reading groups nearly every day, and those students do not have time to really engage in a book of their own choosing for a sustained period of time.

    Your second question was, "After a GR group, do you give a follow up reading or writing assignment for the group to do independently? If yes, when is that completed?"

    I try to keep my guided reading "work" confined to the lesson and not send them off with additional "work" (like a worksheet. The follow-up "work" is applying the strategy that I taught to a book that they are reading in their book box. I try to use guided reading and strategy lessons to reinforce skills I am also teaching during mini-lessons so that students can use and apply those strategies during their independent reading. There are times when I will meet with a group to continue reading a text that we started the last time that I met with them, but I typically try to pick shorter texts for guided reading groups so that I can focus on and model specific skills.

    Your final question was, "If you take a GR group as soon as IDR starts, when that group is finished, do they do GR work or the mini lesson work? Which is your priority?"

    Like I mentioned above, I try to avoid assigning a great deal of "work" following a GR lesson. I may have them do work during the lesson, but then I expect them to use what they learn in the GR lesson when they return to their book nook to read books from their own book box for the rest of the time. They also still try to complete the IDR task related to the mini-lesson, so assigning an additional written task after the GR lesson really detracts from their actual reading.

    I hope I've provided you with some insight as to how guided reading works in my reading workshop!


  • #14 Lisa Katz

    Friday, April 22, 2011 at 05:30 PM

    Hi Beth,
    I am working on setting up a Reader's Workshop, and wanted to see if you could elaborate on what the children are doing while you are doing your guided reading groups and conferring.

    From what I have read, you do a whole class mini lesson, then the majority of kids do IDR with a book of their choice with the mini-lesson in mind, and either talk back using post it notes, or do a writing follow up. Other kids meet with you for a guided reading group lesson. When the IDR kids finish their work, and if you dont take their reading group, what work do they do for the rest of the IDR time? If you don't see a student's reading group that day, do they read for 40 min?

    Also, after a GR group, do you give a follow up reading or writing assignment for the group to do independently? If yes, when is that completed?

    If you take a GR group as soon as IDR starts, when that group is finished, do they do GR work or the mini lesson work? Which is your priority? Thanks for any info you can provide--I am trying to get my head organized so my room can run smoothly!

  • #15 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 05:49 AM

    Ashley (comment #9),

    Thanks for sharing the link to your "Teaching Happily Ever After" blog. I anjoyed reading your Earth Day post. Feel free to add my Going Green post to your "Link Party." I'd be honored!


  • #16 playground mulch

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 01:44 AM

    Want to Go Green but not sure where to start? Start with small steps like replacing the household cleaning and detergent products with toxic chemicals that pose a threat to your health and the environment.

  • #17 Ashley Cross

    Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 08:05 PM

    I'm having an Earth Day Resources Link Party and I'd love for this lesson to be on there! Check it out at:
    Teaching Happily Ever After: Earth Day!

  • #18 Beth Newingham

    Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 04:00 PM

    Monthompson (comment #5),

    You asked where I got the shleves that are in my classroom library. Originally I bought "assembly required" shelves from an office supply store (with my own money)and used those for years. Our principal then wrote a grant a couple years ago and was able to purchase higher quality bookshelves of different sizes for all of the classrooms in our building. They are definitely more sturdy, but my bookshelves from Office Max did the job while I had them!


  • #19 Beth Newingham

    Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 03:57 PM

    Adrienne (comment #4),

    You asked about my job sharing situation. My teaching partner transferred to my school from another elementary school in the district so that we could work together. Our district just started allowing teachers to job share about 5 years ago. It is such great arrangement when you have kids! I really can't imagine going back to full-time now:) I hope you are able to find a way to make it work for you!


  • #20 Beth Newingham

    Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 03:54 PM

    Cockerill7 (comment #3),

    Unfortunately, all of my Print Shop files were created in Version 23 and cannot be opened in the new Print Shop 2.0. I am really bummed about that! I would like to upgrade but am holding off since I would not be able to open or change any of my current files.


Comments on our blogs are temporarily closed as we prepare to launch a completely redesigned site. Please check back.


The opinions expressed in Top Teaching are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic Inc.