Best Free Earth Day Lessons & Activities

Earth Day
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This article was updated April 16, 2024

In 1970, the first Earth Day sparked a massive public response, 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 Education Resource Library
From one of the oldest nonprofit organizations devoted to Earth Day comes a wealth of resources, not only for K12 teachers, but also for anyone wishing to become an Earth advocate. Included are toolkits, lesson plans, quizzes, and ideas for marking Earth Day for schools, businesses, and families. Want to go deeper? Check out the Earth Day 2024 event calendar for in-person activities ranging from cleanups to marches and rallies.   

Symbiotic Schoolyard
A remarkable, unique program designed and implemented by middle school science teacher Janneke Petersen, Symbiotic Schoolyard seeks to engage kids in hands-on planting activity. But not just any plants: Petersen’s Schoolyard Habitat Restoration curriculum focuses on restoring habitat by planting and nurturing native plants. Rarely do I include a non-free resource in my “Best Free …” articles but I made an exception for Symbiotic Schoolyard because there’s nothing else like it out there. And Petersen does provide a free consultation if you want to know more before purchase. Even better, she has extended a generous discount to Tech & Learning readers though May 1, 2024. Simply email and mention this article to secure a special Earth Day discount price of $200, instead of the usual $350.  

Visiting a Recycling Plant
Recycling, when done properly, is a valuable tool in the eco-friendly toolbox. But what actually happens to the products you place in the recycling bin? This brief video follows the “paper trail” of one of our most frequently recycled materials. A background essay, discussion questions, and state standards accompany the video.  

The Sneaker Challenge
Kids love sneakers. Why not leverage that affection to engage them in a sneaker design lesson that incorporates environmental awareness, engineering, physics, and creativity? This complete step-by-step lesson includes the anatomy of a sneaker, ideas for materials, the physics of walking, and prompts to spur brainstorming. 

Investigating Coral Bleaching: Teacher Resources
Excellent multimedia online curriculum investigating the threat that climate change poses to sensitive coral reef ecosystems. Five levels help students build understanding as they work with real-world data collected by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists. Aligned to Next Generation Science Standards, these activities may be integrated into an existing curriculum, and support three-dimensional learning (principles, core ideas, and concepts).

How to Save Our Planet
The acclaimed British naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough opens this video by posing the essential problem of our time: “How do we create a future in which both people and nature can thrive?” The question is simple—how about the answer? The video touches on how humans have engineered our current geological epoch, the Anthropocene, and moves quickly to four specific goals that we must achieve to slow the dramatic climate changes we’re experiencing now. Be sure to also watch related videos exploring topics such as “Why do we need biodiversity?” and “What can young children do in the fight against climate change?”

A little eco-nostalgia!

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.

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.