Designing Possible Solutions: Oil Spill Clean-up

Discovery Education and 3M
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Model , Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This lesson is conducted in two 50 minute sessions. Students are introduced to the negative effects of oil spills on both biotic and abiotic elements in an environment. Students identify and discuss ways to prevent or minimize the negative impact of an oil spill and conduct an activity in which they explore and compare three different ways to remove oil from water. Students report their findings citing evidence from their investigations and make a claim as to which is the most effective method of clean-up.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 2
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

K-ESS3-3 Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.

Clarification Statement: Examples of human impact on the land could include cutting trees to produce paper and using resources to produce bottles. Examples of solutions could include reusing paper and recycling cans and bottles.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson relies on a trade book, Oil Spill by Melvin Berger. A similar resource can also be used, however, it must emphasize the importance of preventing and cleaning up oil spills along with the impacts of oil spills on specific wildlife that rely on waterways where oil spills occur.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Be sure to guide the activity carefully through the oil clean-up activity. Consider what would be the most convenient way to set up the stations. Consider testing one method at a time and stopping to ask questions and record observations on chart paper before moving on to the next station. This can serve as a nice reference when reviewing students' explanations as a class, and when they create their visual representations. Allow student groups to share their information with the class.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The lesson provides opportunities for students to express their explanations through oral presentations using drawings, however, young children need an appropriate amount of time and guidance to do so. Plan to allow extra time and be prepared with appropriate guiding questions to help students through the presentations.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Although the book covers causes of oil spills, in this lesson, students are focusing on the effects and problems of oil spills and possible solutions. Look for another activity which can be done prior to this one, in order to more fully explore causal relationships between human activity and oil spills.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Keep in mind the appropriate developmental needs of students and level of teacher guidance necessary to perform parts of this lesson. The lesson significantly addresses K-ESS3-3, all of the Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas ESS3.C and ETS1.B and the Crosscutting Concept, Cause and Effect (Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems).

  • Instructional Supports: This lesson is teacher friendly with the exception of providing adaptations for younger students. Nice background knowledge for teachers and necessary handouts are provided. Students are engaged in an authentic scenario (oil spill) with specific purposes for understanding the problem, and effects of oils spills on the environment. Ample opportunity is provided for students to negotiate their understanding through discussion with feedback and to communicate their own ideas with reasoning.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This was judged limited because of the developmental expectations for elementary students. The assessment is strong but students at this level need strong support to complete the task. Following through with the wrap-up presentations and discussion is a must in order to get the most content mileage from this lesson. The process of testing and evaluating solutions based on observable data is, in itself, a very valuable foundational skill for students. One can also assess student understanding through monitoring their discussions, illustrations, and presentations.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This lesson has no interactive technology component.