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Green Teacher


6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th


Science, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Types

  • Activity - Classroom
  • Activity - Outdoors
  • Worksheets

Regional Focus




Caught Up in the Carbon Cycle

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  • In this interactive activity, students role-play a carbon molecule as it moves through the carbon cycle.
  • By helping students experience the carbon cycle through a physical game-like activity, they realize that the carbon cycle is quite complex and that carbon may build up in some locations while it quickly moves out of others.
Teaching Tips


  • Students will enjoy getting outside or out of their seats for this fun activity.
  • This is a great introductory activity to introduce students to some of the core concepts that connect to climate change.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Although some background information about the carbon cycle and climate change is provided for teachers, it might be helpful to also share some of this background information with students before completing the activity.
  • A large indoor or outdoor space is recommended for this activity.
  • About 50 minutes are needed before the activity in order to print, cut, and sort the cards. 


  • The teacher instructions recommend taking time to go over the vocabulary terms with students before completing the activity.
  • Visuals and explicit vocabulary instruction is particularly important for any English language learners. 
  • Try pairing this activity with this digital carbon cycle game
  • Younger students could work in pairs or have more detailed instructions on the cards.
  • Have students brainstorm why faster-growing and longer-lived trees may be beneficial for removing carbon from the atmosphere, while plants like turf grass and annual crops are less beneficial.
Scientist Notes
This is an activity students can engage in to understand the process of the carbon cycle. Students understand how carbon is exchanged and recycled from one source to another within the atmosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere. This is insightful and recommended.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • MS-ESS2-1 Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process.
      • MS-ESS2-2 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.
      • MS-ESS3-5 Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • HS-LS2-5 Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Reading: Science & Technical Subjects (6-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
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