Standard Lesson

Protecting Our Precious Planet: Sharing the Message of Earth Day

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
30- to 45-minute sessions and an optional field trip
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Your students will learn to think globally and act locally by participating in the Internet-based Earth Day Groceries Project. Students look at the work of children around the world and talk about what environmental messages are important to communicate. They then design paper bags that convey their ideas. The bags are distributed at local grocery stores on April 22nd, Earth Day. When the project is complete, students can share their work online. Although this lesson is intended for students in kindergarten through second grade, it can easily be adapted and makes an excellent school- or district-wide project.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Seeing their work published online is a motivating factor for students-and projects like the Earth Day Groceries Project can be an important first step for teachers who might otherwise be reluctant to use technology in their classrooms.

  • The primary skills that students learn from this project are a better understanding of the importance of the environment and that publishing their messages, whether it's through words or pictures, can accomplish something.

  • Students who are visual learners benefit from this project because it allows them to express their ideas and opinions through words and images.


Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Chart paper and markers

  • Paper grocery bags

  • Art materials

  • Computers with Internet access

  • A camera (preferably digital)

  • LCD projector (optional)




1. The Earth Day Groceries Project is a free environmental-awareness project in which students decorate paper grocery bags with messages for Earth Day. One of the oldest and largest educational projects on the Internet, it is managed by Mark Ahlness, a third-grade teacher at Arbor Heights Elementary School in Seattle, Washington. Thousands of schools from all over the world have participated in the project since its inception in 1993. Photos and reports about individual classroom or school projects can be posted on the website.

Read an online interview with Mark Ahlness to learn more.

2. Review the Earth Day Groceries Project. The following pages are particularly useful for getting started:

If possible, arrange to use an LCD projector to share this website with your students during Session 1 (see Steps 4 and 6); alternatively you could print out relevant pages from the site and copy them for students to review. You should also look at pictures of other students' grocery bags, add this page to the Favorites list on your classroom or lab computers, and select and print one or two examples that you find exceptionally good (see Session 3, Step 2).

3. Arrange with a local grocery store to participate in the project with your class. You may want to share some information from the project website to provide them with details and examples of the bags.

4. Plan the sessions of this lesson so they will be completed prior to Earth Day on April 22nd. Decide if it is feasible to take your class or a small group of students on a field trip to the grocery store on Earth Day to distribute the bags. If this is possible, make the necessary arrangements. If you are unable to take the field trip, arrange for the grocery bags to be at the grocery store by April 21st at the latest.

5. Obtain a picture or poster of the planet Earth. The NSSDC Photo Gallery: Earth is a good resource; a particularly good photo of Earth was taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts.

6. Decide how to break students into groups for brainstorming in Session 2. Depending on the ages and abilities of your students, you may want to have at least one advanced student in each group who can do the writing. Make one copy of the Brainstorming Ideas for Earth Day Messages worksheet for every group. Make one copy of My Earth Day Grocery Bag Plan for each student in your class.

7. Gather paper grocery bags for students to decorate and materials to decorate them with. You will need at least one bag per student and may want some extras. If you find it difficult to locate paper bags, you might have students create bookmarks or fliers to distribute. Read the last question in the FAQs section of the Earth Day Groceries Project website for more information about this issue.

8. Arrange to have a camera (preferably a digital camera) available for use during Session 5. Read about the project's privacy policies. Get permission from parents or guardians to post photographs of students' work on the Internet. The Earth Day Groceries Project website will assume that any photos linked to from their site have been cleared by you for publication. No names are used on the website.
9. The Earth Day Groceries Project website does not accept photos uploaded directly to the site but will link to external sites. Create a place to put your pictures on the Internet (like Flickr, on your school website, a blog, or a wiki). Another option is to upload your pictures to the website's Flickr group.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Learn about the environment and accurately identify environmental issues and solutions

  • Work collaboratively with classmates to determine what makes a powerful message and what information about the environment is most important to share with the community

  • Apply what they have learned by composing text and creating illustrations to convey messages related to Earth Day

  • Communicate and share their messages with classmates and with others in their community

Session 1: Learning About the Earth Day Groceries Project

1. Show students a photo of Earth (see Preparation, Step 5). Ask them if they know what it is and who lives there. Then ask students if they know what the environment is and discuss their responses. You want them to understand that the environment is everything around us from the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to the trees in our yards, to the ground beneath our feet.

2. Ask students why they think it is important to protect the environment. Write their responses on a piece of chart paper.

3. Explain to students that when we think about ways the Earth needs to be protected, we are practicing environmental awareness. Tell them that a special day has been set aside each year on April 22nd to help us be more environmentally aware. It is called Earth Day, and it is a day to share messages about protecting our planet and its resources.

4. Share some background information about the Earth Day Groceries Project, such as how students from around the world design grocery bags to share messages related to Earth Day and how the projects can be included on the website (see Preparation, Step 2).

5. Tell students they will be creating their own Earth Day grocery bags that communicate important environmental-awareness messages. On Earth Day, their bags will be used by customers to hold groceries at a local supermarket. Tell them you will also be taking photos of their bags, which will be displayed on the Earth Day Groceries Project website.

6. Allow time for all the students to browse pictures of sample bags on the website and get an idea of what they will be working on.

Session 2: Brainstorming Ideas

Note: The purpose of the brainstorming session in a large and small group is to assist students in generating possible ideas that could be used for creating an Earth Day message.

1. Tell students that they will be working to brainstorm ideas for their grocery bags. Draw three columns with the following headings on a piece of chart paper: Concern, Possible Message, Why the Message is Important.

2. Ask them to begin with the column titled Concern. What kinds of concerns or problems do they think we should have about the environment?

3. Once students have suggested several potential problems, ask them to consider some possible environmental-awareness messages that could be generated for their concerns. Explain that the messages should be short and to the point. Write responses in the Possible Message column next to the appropriate concerns.

4. As a final step, ask students why they think these messages are important to share with others. Write these in the third column next to the appropriate messages. Your finished sample chart might read as follows:

Concern Possible Message Why the Message Is Important
Pollution Keep Our Planet Clean Pollution can make people and animals sick.
Garbage Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle Garbage that is not recycled fills up our land.
Wildlife Save the Rainforests Animals like panthers need the rainforest to live or they could become extinct.

5. Ask students to share a few ideas that answer the question, "What do you want to tell other people about protecting the earth?" Answers might include "Recycle your newspapers" or "Use paper grocery bags instead of plastic."

6. Have students get into the groups you have previously selected (see Preparation, Step 6). Tell them they will be brainstorming ideas that answer the question you just discussed.

7. Pass out a copy of the Brainstorming Ideas for Earth Day Messages worksheet to each group. Give the groups 5 to 10 minutes to brainstorm and write down their ideas.

8. Once the groups are finished brainstorming, give them 10 minutes to select their favorite message, discuss why it is an important message to communicate to other people, and how the message might be illustrated on a grocery bag.

While students are working collaboratively, take time to circulate and observe their interactions. You may want to write down notes to assist you in scoring their collaborative efforts using the Earth Day Grocery Bags Project: Student Assessment Rubric. If any of the groups are finding it difficult to choose a message, offer suggestions to guide them in their selection such as, "Which message do you think would help people protect the planet?" or "Which message do you think you could illustrate?"

9. Bring the class back together and have each group share with the whole class their favorite message, why it's important, and how it could be illustrated.

Session 3: Planning the Bags

1. Review the chart from Session 2 and talk about some of the ideas that were generated in the small groups.

2. Show pictures of the exceptional sample bags from the Earth Day Groceries Project website. Guide students in sharing what make these bags high quality. Some possible reasons include:

  • The message is important and is related to Earth Day.

  • The message is short but clear.

  • The message is written neatly and large enough to make it easy to read.

  • The illustration matches the message and is colorful.

  • The illustration and message take up the entire side of the bag.

  • The bag effectively communicates the importance of the message.


Emphasize to students that they will be striving to create bags that are the very best they can make because they are going to be communicating important messages with the community related to Earth Day.

3. Pass out a copy of the My Earth Day Grocery Bag Plan worksheets to each student. Go over how to complete the worksheet, noting that they only need to make a sketch of their illustration, not a complete drawing. Tell students they should select one of the ideas from their group brainstorm during Session 2 or come up with a new message of their own.

Note: Depending on the age and ability of your students, you may want to provide further direction about your expectations for the message. For example, you may want to require older students to write a title message and then a sentence about it. For younger students, a simple phrase or sentence may be all you require. Students with limited motor skills might be allowed to use clip art to decorate their bags, while creative students might be expected to show more details in their illustrations. Whatever your expectations, you should make them clear at this time and you should use them to assess students' work later.

4. Allow time for students to work on their plans offering assistance as needed.

5. When you have reviewed and approved a plan, check the box at the bottom of the worksheet. You may choose to do this during class time or you may collect them and hand them back at the beginning of Session 4.

Session 4: Decorating the Bags

1. Gather students and quickly review the qualities that make an exceptional bag. Stress the importance of doing their very best work. Remind them that they are communicating important messages about Earth Day with people in the community.

2. Return the completed My Earth Day Grocery Bag Plan worksheets to students along with a grocery bag and art supplies.

3. While students work on their bags, circulate and offer feedback and advice as needed.

Note: Make sure that students do not write their names on their bags since they will be distributed to the public. Instead, have students staple or paper clip their names to the finished bags so that they can be easily removed.

Session 5: Sharing the Bags

1. Gather students and give them the opportunity to share the bags they created with one another. Explain that as they share their bags they should answer the following questions:

  • What is my Earth Day message?

  • What is my illustration about?

  • Why is my message important?

  • Is there anything else I want to tell the class about my bag or message?
Use this time to gather further information that can be used to evaluate students' performance, along with the Earth Day Grocery Bags Project: Student Assessment Rubric.

2. After a student has finished sharing, select another student to ask a question about the bag or share something positive about the bag.

3. As each student finishes sharing, have him or her lay the bag on a table. Take a photo of the bag that clearly shows the image and the message.

4. Place the bags on tables or desks around the classroom and give students time to walk around and look at each one. Bring students back together and explain that you are planning to submit photos of the bags and a report about what you did to the Earth Day Groceries Project website.
5. Access the project website for information on how to link your pictures and how to send in your report; once they are compiled and published online, you can share the photo gallery with students.
6. If possible, take students on a field trip to the grocery store to deliver the bags (see Preparation, Step 4). If not, make sure the store has the bags before Earth Day and that students know which store will be using them. Try to have someone at the store to take photos as the bags are being shared with customers.


  • Encourage other classrooms, the entire school, or school district to participate in the Earth Day Groceries Project!

  • Use the photos of the bags to create a slide show or movie. See the lesson "Taking Photos of Curious George: Exploring Character Through Images" for information about how to use software like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie. Share the slide show or movie with other classes or with students' families.

  • Create an Earth Day page on your class or school website and post the photos of the students' grocery bags.

  • Inform the local media about your Earth Day Groceries Project and collaboration with the grocery store. There is a sample press release on the website.

  • Give students copies of The Happy Earth Day Activities Book, which can be downloaded for free from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This activity book has some good examples of things that students can do to help the environment. You might also have them access the Earth Day Network website to view some of Environmental Tips Video Series.

Student Assessment / Reflections



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