Best Free Earth Day Lessons & Activities

earth day
(Image credit: Getty Images/pearleye)

 In 1970, the first Earth Day sparked a massive public protest, with 20 million Americans taking to streets and college campuses to speak out against air and water pollution, wilderness loss, and animal extinctions. The public outcry led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and legislation to safeguard air, water, and endangered species.

Although significant progress has been made in controlling pollution and preventing the extinction of notable species such as the bald eagle and California condor, the concerns of the past still linger. Furthermore, we now understand that human-caused climate change poses a significant threat that needs urgent attention to avoid extensive disruption of societies worldwide.

The following free Earth Day lessons and activities will help teachers explore this crucial subject with K-12 students in an engaging, age-appropriate way.

Best Free Earth Day Lessons & Activities

NOVA: Earth System Science  
What are the unseen processes that power the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and volcanoes? In these videos for grades 6-12, NOVA investigates nutrients from deep-sea vents, how water vapor fuels hurricanes, the “megastorm” Hurricane Sandy, and more. Shareable to Google Classroom, each video can be the foundation for a full lesson plan. 

Earth Day Lesson Plans and Activities
A substantial collection of lessons related to Earth science, climate change, water conservation, animals, plants, and much more. Each lesson is labeled for appropriate ages and includes applicable standards as well as downloadable PDFs. Topics such as bumblebees, polar bears, and climate heroes will engage learners of any age.

11 Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Lesson Ideas For Every Subject
11 3R projects that can be easily implemented in the K-12 classroom in subjects such as math, language arts, civics and science. 

Gill Guardians K-12 Shark Courses
Dozens of fascinating K-12 lessons about shark science, their role in our environment, and how we can protect them. Each lesson bundle is grouped by grade and focuses on a single species. Created and presented by MISS, Minorities in Shark Science, a group dedicated to providing opportunities to learn about sharks for everyone. 

Ghost Forests
What’s a ghost forest? Sadly, it’s the dead remnants of once-thriving ecosystems that have been decimated by changing climate, invasive pests, and disease. This video collection from PBS Learning Media looks at the case of the imperiled whitebark pine, why it’s crucial to the ecosystem, and how scientists are racing to save this keystone species. 

PBS Learning Media: An Unpredictable Environment
An NGSS standard-aligned video highlighting how Inuit peoples are facing unprecedented challenges to their traditional knowledge of weather patterns. An elderly Inuit woman explains how forecasting the weather for hunting trips was a task traditionally assigned to women and girls, however, with recent climate changes, the reliability of using Alaska Native science to predict weather and associated animal behaviors has been greatly diminished. Shareable in Google Classroom or via link, this video can form the basis for a complete slide-based lesson.

Waste Deep
Revamp your health, science, and environmental studies program with this video showcasing a landfill situated in Southern New Jersey that delves into the current state of food waste in the United States. To create a full lesson, incorporate the "Making Mountains Out of Landfills: Telling a Visual Story of Waste" activity, which will equip students with the skills to visually monitor and document diverse types of garbage in their vicinity.

Ethanol as Biofuel
How does ethanol as a cleaner-burning biofuel work? When we grow corn to be converted into ethanol, what’s the net energy benefit? Instead of corn, can we use other less energy-intensive materials to achieve the same goals? This video from Nova explores the sustainability of the corn-to-ethanol pipeline and how it can be improved. Share or use as the basis for a complete lesson. 

Conservation Station Classroom Activities
Grow energy-water literacy and conservation efforts through 18 downloadable, standards-aligned classroom lessons and activities. New activities designed for Earth Day 2023 focus on communication skills, critical thinking, collaboration, and creative thinking in the context of sustainable water and energy use. Intriguing topics include “Harvesting Energy in Your School,” “Smart Schools,” and “World Water Day Gallery of Art.”

Build the Change Classroom Resources
A collection of standards-aligned classroom lessons, activities, and games designed to help kids examine environmental topics, from helping sea turtles to renewable energy to the importance of recycling and upcycling.

Nature Lab Educator Resources
Nature Labs’ educator resources are ideal for Earth Day, encompassing topics from wildfires, climate justice, sustainable food and water, and more. Great for hands-on or project-based learning. 

Climate Restoration for Kids
The goals of climate restoration go well beyond limiting our CO2 emissions. Climate restoration advocates believe that we can capture and sequester enough carbon from the atmosphere to reverse the anthropogenic effects. In this interactive online course for grades 3-5, kids will learn about climate change, the carbon cycle, and climate restoration. Includes a quiz and art and writing competitions.

Plastic Pollution Curriculum and Activity Guide
From the 5 Gyres Institute, this extensive set of diverse, in-depth K-12 lessons focus on the problems of plastic and other forms of waste that have ballooned in the past 75 years. Activities include examining the stomach contents of sea birds (virtually or IRL), understanding watersheds, identifying plastics, and many more. Lessons and activities are divided by grade level.

Library of Congress: Earth Day
You may be surprised to learn that prior to 1970, there were no federal environmental laws protecting our air or water. Learn how rising public demand to protect the environment led to the first Earth Day, seminal environmental legislation, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Introduction to Earth Day
This standards-aligned lesson for grades 3-5 is a great introduction to the history and aims of Earth Day, in the U.S. and around the globe. Note the link for the National Geographic Explorer! magazine article “Celebrate Earth,” referred to in step 2.

The Lorax Project
Great ideas for a stimulating classroom discussion about how human society treats the Earth, as seen through the lens of Dr. Seuss’ cautionary environmental tale, The Lorax. 

Earth-Now App iOS Android
From NASA, the free Earth Now app provides 3D interactive maps displaying the most recent satellite-generated climate data. Dive into the latest data on temperature, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other key environmental variables.

Chemists Celebrate Earth Week
The word “chemical” gets a bad rap around Earth Day. Yet, literally every substance in the universe, whether natural or human-made, is a chemical. Chemists celebrate Earth Week with fun online science games, lessons, and activities. Be sure to check out the illustrated poetry contest for K-12 students.

World Wildlife Fund Lesson Library and Education Resources
The effects of human activities on the Earth is sadly reflected in the severe reduction of animal species and their habitats across the globe. The WWF offers a robust set of lessons, apps, games, quizzes, and videos covering the top charismatic animals—tigers, turtles, and monarch butterflies—as well as reptiles, food and plastic waste, wildlife arts and crafts, and more

Measure what you treasure
What’s your ecological footprint? This simple-to-use but sophisticated resource calculator takes facts about your daily energy use, eating habits, and other key factors and converts it all into a measure of your “footprint” on the Earth. Unique among such calculators, the Ecological Footprint compares your resource demand to the Earth's ability to regenerate. Fascinating.

TEDEd: Earth School
Enroll in TEDEd’s free Earth school and dive into 30 lessons covering the full gamut of issues, from transport to food to people and society and many more. Each video lesson contains open-ended and multiple choice discussion questions and additional resources for further study. 

Lesson Plans, Teacher Guides and Online Environmental Resources for Educators
Strong collection of K-12 environmental teaching resources, comprising lesson plans, experiments, curricula, digital books, and virtual activities. Explore topics such as air quality, transportation, watersheds, radiation, and more. Remember acid rain? That’s here too—and it’s an ideal topic to teach as an example of effective national response to pollution.

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Diana Restifo

Diana has been Tech & Learning's web editor and contributor since 2010, dedicated to ferreting out the best free tech tools for teachers.