Plastic, Plastic Everywhere!

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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 introduces students to the concept of marine debris, especially as it relates to plastic bags.  Students are asked to do a research project measuring the amount of plastic bags they use at home and school and create a communications piece that educates others on plastics contribution to marine debris. In the Extension part of the lesson, students can take steps to reduce the use of plastic bags and educate their community on reducing waste. The lesson should take approximately 1 week to complete. A Student Worksheet is available for gathering and analyzing data on plastic bag usage. Links to resources are available for the students and the teacher to use. The authors state the lesson is appropriate for grades 4-8, but the lesson better aligns with a middle school performance expectation.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

Clarification Statement: Examples of the design process include examining human environmental impacts, assessing the kinds of solutions that are feasible, and designing and evaluating solutions that could reduce that impact. Examples of human impacts can include water usage (such as the withdrawal of water from streams and aquifers or the construction of dams and levees), land usage (such as urban development, agriculture, or the removal of wetlands), and pollution (such as of the air, water, or land).

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson highlights how consumption of plastic bags impacts the marine environment. Students conduct research to find out how many plastic bags their family and classroom uses in a week. They also research a topic related to plastics such as the environmental impacts of plastics manufacturing and make a poster or presentation. The teacher may want to design a rubric for the poster/presentation with elements to be scored including “construct a valid argument” and “supports argument with evidence” and share this with the students as they plan their work. The extensions in the lesson are important for getting at the part of the performance expectation on designing a method to minimize human impact.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In Activity 2, students create a presentation or a poster to share with classmates and family about plastics. In the Extension section of the lesson, the students are challenged to educate their school and communities on the use of plastic shopping bags and to develop plans for making changes in the community such as a recycling center. The teacher will need to guide students in developing an oral or written argument while planning their poster/presentation product and in the education of the community project. Teachers may want to access the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning process described Katherine McNeill at

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In Activity 1, students calculate the per-capita consumption of plastic bags and in the Closing activity link the use of plastic bags to marine debris. In the Extension Activities, students can address how activities such as recycling plastic bags or technologies such as reusable bags can reduce the negative impact. The students gather data about their family’s consumption of plastic, so activities and technologies that can be used to counteract it could be included in the poster and presentation.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The connection between human use of resources and the impact on earth systems is pretty clearly highlighted in this lesson. .

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson addresses significant parts of the Performance Expectation on human impacts on Earth’s Systems and Crosscutting Concepts at the middle school level, as well as Science and Engineering Practices and Disciplinary Core Ideas at the middle school level. The practice of constructing arguments from evidence and the Crosscutting Concept of cause and effect blend well with the concept of human impact on Earth’s systems. Students have had prior experiences with plastic bags both in the use and the problems they entail. The teacher should make sure students use the presentation of their project in Activity 2 to make arguments from the evidence they research and collect. The teacher can outline the elements mentioned in the core idea, the practices, and the crosscutting concepts in a rubric and provide scaffolding in the developing of an argument based on evidence that that helps students integrate all three elements.

  • Instructional Supports: The activity engages students in a meaningful scenario that reflects their own experiences in the use of plastic bags and its impact on the marine environment. In the extension part of the lesson they engage in ways to help solve the problem within their community. Some of the links provided lead to web pages that may not be grade-appropriate or contain unbiased scientific information. Instructions say to introduce students to the concept of marine debris, but the lesson doesn’t really give much information on what the introduction should include. The poster/presentation provides opportunities for students to express, clarify, justify, interpret, and represent their ideas and respond to peer and teacher feedback orally and/or in written form. Suggestions for how to connect instruction to the students' home, neighborhood, community and/or culture are provided. Appropriate reading, writing, listening, and/or speaking alternatives for students who are English language learners, have special needs, or read well below the grade level can be addressed in the type of presentation the student chooses. Extensions for students with high interest or who have already met the performance expectations are provided in the “Extending the Lesson” section.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: A student worksheet is provided for recording data during the first activity on plastic bags. The teacher would need to add additional questions to assess student understanding of the issues connecting this to marine debris. The teacher will need to develop a rubric or scoring guidelines to assess student understanding for Activity 2 when they create a presentation.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: No technological interactivity is required in this lesson.