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Feb 28, 2022


45 minutes


3rd, 4th, 5th


  • Science
  • English Language Arts
  • Interdisciplinary

Regional Focus

  • Global


  • Google Docs
  • Google Sheets

What Are Carbon Emissions? (Green Transportation #1)


This lesson introduces carbon emissions and the idea of carbon and ecological footprints to students. 

Step 1 - Inquire: Students reflect on what they know about photosynthesis and how plants transform carbon dioxide into oxygen. 

Step 2 - Investigate: Students learn about the greenhouse effect and calculate their ecological footprint. 

Step 3 - Inspire: Students generate ideas on how to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on the environment.

Accompanying Teaching Materials
15 minutes
  • Teacher reviews photosynthesis, using students' background knowledge.
  • Students recall what they know about the photosynthesis process and complete the activity in slide 7.
  • Teacher introduces the greenhouse effect using the following video: What Is the Greenhouse Effect?
  • Students watch the video and share in their own words their understanding of the greenhouse effect. Students participate in an informal assessment of what they learned from the video in slide 10.
15 minutes
  • Teacher introduces the definition of carbon footprint and previews vocabulary for the ecological footprint calculator.
  • Students use the Ecological Footprint Calculator to determine their individual Earth scores. Teacher may opt to do this as a whole class if Internet accessibility is an issue.
  • Teacher asks students to brainstorm different modes of transportation and order them by their carbon footprint size from smallest to largest.
  • Students make predictions for the ranking of carbon footprints of the different modes of transportation listed.
  • Teacher can reveal answer to students, in order from largest to smallest: public transportation, rideshare, motorcycle, car, plane.
15 minutes
  • Teacher invites students to generate a list of ways everyone can reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Teacher charts these ideas for students' reference.
  • Teacher shows The Best Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint video, demonstrating ways to reduce one's carbon footprint.
  • Students voice ideas from the video and add to the anchor chart.
Teaching Tips


  • This lesson connects to science standards and the understanding of the relationship between human activities and Earth.
  • Students will develop a strong connection to self and the environment.
  • This lesson features interaction with technology and digital literacy.
  • This lesson features excellent vocabulary development.

Additional Prerequisites

  • This is lesson 1 of 6 in our 3rd-5th grade Green Transportation unit.
  • If students do not have a prior understanding of photosynthesis, it may be best to do a mini lesson on photosynthesis.
  • The correct order on slide 16, going from smallest to largest, is:
    • Public transportation, rideshare, motorcycle, car, plane
    • This is the best order to share with the students. However, there are certainly exceptions to this ordering, depending on if the vehicle uses electricity or fossil fuels for locomotion. It can also vary depending on the average mpg for each vehicle if the vehicle uses fossil fuels.


  • Definitions can be broken down for friendlier understanding.
  • You can pause the videos to check for understanding and explain new ideas.
  • Questions on the ecological footprint calculator quiz can be read aloud to students and taken as a whole class.
  • 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.
      • 4-ESS3-2 Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Speaking & Listening (K-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
    • Language (K-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.5.3 Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.


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