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Climate Change


3rd, 4th, 5th


Science, Earth and Space Sciences


45 minutes

Regional Focus



Google Docs, Google Slides

Introduction to Renewable Energy (Renewable Energy #1)

Created By Teachers:
Last Updated:
Oct 3, 2022


Students will learn about renewable and nonrenewable sources, ways they use energy in their everyday lives, and ways to conserve energy. 

Step 1 - Inquire: Students learn the definition of energy and brainstorm about their own energy use. 

Step 2 - Investigate: Students learn about renewable and nonrenewable energy and complete an energy sort. 

Step 3 - Inspire: Students learn how energy relates to water, gasoline, cooking, electricity, and AC/heat. Students begin filling in their energy audits.

Accompanying Teaching Materials
Teaching Tips


  • This lesson on renewable energy may lead to students' first exposure to climate change.
  • There is a useful glossary at the end of the slideshow.

Additional Prerequisites

  • This is lesson 1 of 6 in our 3rd-5th grade Renewable Energy unit.
  • Students may have trouble differentiating between coal, natural gas, and petroleum. You can explain that they are all fossil fuels and take a long time to develop underground.
  • Students may inquire about nuclear energy, which is not included in the sort. Nuclear energy is nonrenewable because it uses uranium, a finite resource.
  • The term "natural gas" is used in this lesson instead of gas, methane, methane gas, fossil gas, or other names because "natural gas" is the most recognizable name for it. The term "gas" is incredibly confusing because it is one of the states of matter and refers to any number of gases. It also is shorthand for the liquid fuel called gasoline that is used in motor vehicles. If you're interested in learning about the problems associated with calling it "natural gas," check out this intriguing data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.


  • Before the lesson, you may want to review natural resources with the students, which is typically taught in K-2. Natural resources are anything in nature used by humans.
  • You can group students of different abilities together when they are completing the energy sort.
  • You can share the energy sort with your students on paper or in digital form.
  • Students can complete the energy audit on paper or in digital form.
Scientist Notes

The lesson allows students to explore the differences between renewable and nonrenewable energy sources and to analyze U.S. energy data to broaden their understanding on carbon footprint from the energy sector. There are no scientific misconceptions in the lesson, and all materials are properly sourced. Thus, this lesson has passed our science credibility process.

  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • 4-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and that their uses affect the environment.
10 minutes
  • Teacher turns the lights off and on in the room. Teacher asks the students, "What is causing the lights to come on?" Students may respond with energy or electricity. If students do not understand, you can provide another example like a computer (electricity) or car (gasoline, diesel, or electricity).
  • Teacher shares the definition of energy with the class.
  • Students brainstorm where they use energy or electricity in their lives.
    • Students write by themselves. (2-3 minutes)
    • Students share with a partner. (2-3 minutes)
    • Students share in a group of four. (2-3 minutes)
20 minutes
  • Students turn and talk using the guiding question "Where does energy come from?"
  • Teacher shares definitions of renewable and nonrenewable resources.
  • Teacher breaks down the words into parts, explaining the roots and affixes of "renewable" and "nonrenewable."
  • Students watch a video on renewable resources.
  • Students watch a video on nonrenewable resources.
  • Teacher places students in groups of three. Each group receives a copy of the energy sort. Students complete the energy sort. After students are completed, teacher reviews the answers and clears up misconceptions.
15 minutes
  • Teacher shares the pie chart showing U.S. Primary Energy Consumption by Energy Source.
  • Students share out their reactions to the pie chart, answering these two questions:
    • What surprises you about this chart?
    • Who should care about this information? Why?
    • How do you feel reading this data?
  • Students learn about different ways we use energy: water, gasoline, cooking, electricity, and AC/heat.
  • Teacher distributes the energy audit worksheet. Students can begin completing the worksheet if there is time.
Renewable Energy Unit Lesson Plans


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