The Way We Live

...and how our choices impact our environment

Educator Resources 

Go back to The Way We Live site >

Find educational resources easily. The full list of resources is available in alphabetical order by title. You may also search by grade levels, subjects and topics. To search for multiple grades, subjects or topics, press and hold the CTRL key (Windows) or Command key (Mac) on your keyboard then click to select the materials you need. Many of the educational resources can be downloaded from the website.

Search by:

Educator Resources Materials Available Grade Level Content Areas Topic
It's the Little Things

See video here.

Through this fun, animated video, check out the lives of common products such as flat-screen TVs and cell phones. They tell their stories of mistreatment and neglect, because they were discarded while young and they believe they still have much life left! This 5-minute video calls for smarter designs that reduce waste and save energy. Produced by Eco-Innovators.

Videos 3-5, 6-8 Arts, Science, Social Studies, 21st Century Reduction/Consumption, Recycle/Reuse/Compost
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (by Taback, Simms )

Check your library or store for this resource.

Joseph had an overcoat, it gets old and shabby, but he keeps re-making some-thing of it until he has nothing. Then he even makes something out of that.

   1999: Viking, NY , NY 0-670-87855-3 (Illustrated picture book )

Book/Reading PreK-2 Arts, Language Arts, Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption
Just a Dream (by Van Allsburg, Chris )

Check your library or store for this resource.

Walter doesn't care much about the environment, but one night when he falls asleep, his dreams help him understand what the future will be like, depending upon the choices made in the present.

   1990: Houghton Mifflin Co.: Boston 0-395-53308-2 (Illustrated picture book )  

Book/Reading 3-5 Science Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Just Look at Our Shoes

See activity here. (pdf) (doc)
In this interdisciplinary lesson, students learn about the life cycle of shoes and calculate the quantity of shoes discarded. They learn that the earth is a closed system and that there is no “away.” Math exercises can be designed for almost any grade level, such as these for Grades 1-6.  

Activity 3-5, 6-8 Math, Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption, Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Kids Carbon Calculator

See activity here.

From the United Kingdom, this carbon calculator quiz helps students understand what types of activities cause more impact on the environment.

Activity, Other 3-5, 6-8 Math, Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption, Natural Resources/Life Cycles, Population, Waste/Pollution
Know Your Resources

See activity here.

Students learn about the limited supply of natural resources in the world and, by role-playing, begin to understand some of the equity issues related to the use of those resources.

Activity 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies Global Studies, Population
Landfill tour or guest speaker from landfill

Don’t forget to draw on local experts. Many areas of the state have solid waste educators who can give you a tour of a nearby landfill or come to your class and give a presentation. If you can’t find a listing for your local contact, call your county’s courthouse (start with the Auditor’s office) and ask.

Activity, Other PreK-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Language Arts, Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption, Recycle/Reuse/Compost
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (by Louv, Richard)

Check your library or store for this resource.

Louv says today's kids are increasingly disconnected from the natural world, even though research shows that exposure of youngsters to nature can be an effective therapy for attention-deficit disorder and other problems.  This 336-page book is highly rated by environmental educators.

   2005: Algonquin Books 1-56512-391-3 (336 pgs. Nonfiction)

Book/Reading Post-secondary Science, Social Studies Citizenship/Service, Living Well
Leyla Acaroglu: Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore

See Leyla Acaroglu's Ted Talk video here:  Paper Beats Plastic?  How to Rethink Environmental Folklore.

Most of us want to do the right thing when it comes to the environment. But things aren’t as simple as opting for the paper bag, says sustainability strategist Leyla Acaroglu. A bold call for us to let go of tightly-held green myths and think bigger in order to create systems and products that ease strain on the planet. (Video description thanks to TED Talks.)

Videos 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Science Reduction/Consumption, Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Life Cycle of Everyday Stuff (by Reeske, Mike and Shirley Watt Ireton)

Check your library or store for this resource.

This 95-page curriculum offers ways to explore the science of consumer products. Life cycles, design, manufacturing and redesign are several of the seven units included in this guide.

   2001: National Science Teachers Association, Arlington, VA 0-87355-187-7 (95 pgs., Nonfiction Curriculum Guide)

Book/Reading 6-8, 9-12 Science Reduction/Consumption, Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Life of a Hamburger

See activity here, and download the cards using the links below.

This lesson helps students understand the complex and invisible chain of production that occurs to get a common, everyday product to us. Its kinesthetic component is great for most learners, but especially for movement-oriented students. You'll need to download and print the following sets of cards for the activity:  Light blue cards #1 and #2. Blue cards #1 and #2. Green cards #1 and #2. Yellow cards #1 and #2. Red cards #1 and #2.  Key and reference sheet. PowerPoint presentation.

Activity 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption, Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Lorax (by Seuss, Dr.)

Check your library or store for this resource.

The Lorax shares a powerful message about the environment in this classic. Brilliant and whimsical rhymes and delightful creatures tell the story that "UNLESS someone like you...cares a whole awful lot...nothing is going to get better...It's not."

  1971: Random House Books for Young Readers 0-39482-337-0 ( 72 pgs. Illustrated picture book)

Book/Reading PreK-2, 3-5 Arts, Language Arts, Science, Social Studies Citizenship/Service, Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Marshmallow Challenge

See activity here (but you must create a free account first).

The Marshmallow Game challenges students to design a marshmellow "tower" using the least amount of materials. Great team-builder. The activity comes from Australian-based Eco Innovators.

Activity 3-5, 6-8 Science, 21st Century Reduction/Consumption
Matching Match

See The Quest for Less:  Activities and Resources for Teaching K-8.

This lesson can be found on page 25 in the Environmental Protection Agency's Quest for Less curriculum. The objective is to teach students that products come from natural resources.

Activity PreK-2 Arts, Science Natural Resources/Life Cycles
Material World: A Global Family Portrait (by Menzel, Peter)

See activity here. Check your library or store for the accompanying book.

The activity is based on a 255-page photographic look at 30 families, their homes and their possessions. The families represent 30 United Nations countries. Beautiful photos, and brief but compelling narratives and fascinating statistics about the countries, the energy they use, population per capita, etc. Though an older book (1994), it continues to be an excellent classroom resource when current statistics from the World Population Reference Bureau are used.

Here is a handout to use in conjunction with the book/activity.  A shorter handout with additional questions from the 2012 World Population Data Sheet is found here (doc). See here for the 2012 World Population Data Sheet. See here for the 2013 World Population Data Sheet.

Availability of Material World books:  Several Iowa Area Education Agency libraries have multiple copies of Material World, and they are available through interlibrary loan.  The following, at a minimum, should be available: Grant Wood: 15 books in one set; Area 267: 6 sets of 5; Heartland AEA:  3 copies

  1994: Sierra Club, San Francisco , CA 0-87156-437-8 (255 pgs. Nonfiction)

Activity, Book/Reading 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 Arts, Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption, Global Studies, Natural Resources/Life Cycles, Population
Material World: How Does the US Compare?

See activity here.

Through the process of making double bar and circle graphs, the students develop an understanding of how the United States compares to other countries with respect to years of school, income, and other factors. The World Population Clock may be a useful tool to discuss this book.

Activity 6-8, 9-12 Arts, Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies Reduction/Consumption, Global Studies, Natural Resources/Life Cycles, Population
Matter of Timing from Population Connection

See activity here.

Each individual's choices about the timing of childbearing have an impact on population trends. This lesson illustrates the difference in a family's population when childbearing occurs at age 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Activity 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Arts, Language Arts, Social Studies Population

The Mini-Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) program is a portable recycling sort line model that engages children and adults alike by “working” the Materials Recovery Facility. You can borrow a Mini-MRF model, free of charge, by contacting Kristin Simon, East Central Iowa Council of Governments, at or 319-365-9941, ext. 126, or Teresa Kurtz, executive director, Iowa Recycling Association, at You can also inquire with your local solid waste agency or landfill to see if they have a model and could bring it to your classroom

Other 3-5, 6-8 Science, Social Studies Recycle/Reuse/Compost
Music/Lyrics--John McCutcheon songs

See lyrics here.

John McCutcheon is a master in the folk music world. Here are lyrics to several of his songs about community building and the idea that "what one can't do, we'll try two" or more people working together for change.

Other 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Post-secondary Arts, Language Arts, Social Studies, 21st Century Citizenship/Service, Living Well
Musical Resources

See activity here.

Similar to Musical Chairs, in this activity chairs represent natural resources. As they are depleted, chairs are removed but people remain and more people are added to represent a growing population. Participants share chairs and balance on laps to demonstrate depletion of resources. This activity has been reprinted with permission from the Iowa Department of Education from their 1991 publication, Clean Sweep.

Activity 3-5 Arts, Language Arts, Science Natural Resources/Life Cycles, Population