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Lesson Plan

Reading and Writing About Pollution to Understand Cause and Effect

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Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 45-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Pauletta Clark

Sylva, North Carolina


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4

Session 5


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Gain knowledge about water pollution, what causes it, and what its effects are

  • Develop critical thinking skills about the causes and effects of water pollution using a K-W-L chart and a graphic organizer

  • Build an understanding of the needs of living organisms through photographs, read-alouds, and discussions

  • Apply what they have learned to conduct a hands-on experiment

  • Practice sequencing skills using a graphic organizer

  • Interpret text visually by creating a mural that illustrates the meaning of the text as they see it

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Session 1

1. Begin by having students' access prior knowledge about water pollution using a K-W-L chart (see Preparation, Step 1). Gather students around the chart and ask for volunteers to share what they know. Record answers under the K section of the chart. Pause for discussions as necessary for understanding and to clear any misconceptions.

2. Ask students what they would like to learn about water pollution and record responses under the W section of the chart.

3. With students still gathered in a group, read aloud A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry.

4. After the read-aloud, discuss the story. Ask guiding questions to help students understand the book. Talk about the changes that took place over the years with the Nashua River and what caused the changes to occur. Possible questions or comments might include:
  • Why was the Nashua River important to the Nashua people?

  • What are some of the things that the river provided to the Nashua people?

  • Why was it important to take care of the river?

  • Name some things that began to change the river.

  • Why did the animals stop coming to the river?

  • Why was it important to restore or clean up the river?
5. Have students add new information to the K-W-L chart based on what they learned from the read-aloud.

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Session 2

1. Refer students to the K-W-L chart you created during Session 1. Allow them to add to any of the columns, encouraging them in particular to add questions to the W column.

2. Read or play the song "Don't Go Near the Water" by Johnny Cash.

3. After the song ends or the lyrics have been read, have a group discussion to discover what students learned about pollution from the song. Questions for discussion include:

  • Why was the singer telling the children to not go near the water?

  • Why do you think the fish were laying all dead upon the shore?

  • Where do you think the water is coming from in the beginning of the song?

  • Why do you think the songwriter wrote this song?

  • What could be done to correct the problem in the song?

Responses can be recorded on the K-W-L chart.

4. Ask students to discuss what they have learned about water pollution so far. Tell students that pollution can do many things to water systems such as kill life that lives in and near the water. Tell them that water pollution can do much more to water systems as well. Ask students if they think water can burn. In fact, a certain amount of pollution such as oils and chemicals can cause water to catch on fire. Share the information you have gathered about the Fires on the Cuyahoga River and show them the photographs of the river on fire (see Preparation, Step 4).

5. After this discussion, tell students to close their eyes and listen to a story. Read aloud "A Fish Story" leaving out the directions in parentheses.

6. Have students complete the Sequencing Graphic Organizer about "A Fish Story." This can be done as a whole class or in small groups. The organizer is a tool that improves comprehension by having students go through the story step by step. Responses will vary from student to student.

7. After students have completed the Sequencing Graphic Organizer, talk about possible causes and effects of pollution and explain how we must be careful about what we dump into our waterways.

8. End the session by having students share what they have learned from the session and adding it to the class K-W-L chart.

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Session 3

Note: At the beginning of this session, you should have the experiment materials ready for students (see Preparation, Step 7).

1. Begin the session by reviewing "A Fish Story" and allowing students to ask questions or add to the K-W-L chart.

2. Have students get into their groups and explain the proper use of experiment materials, reminding students about working cooperatively. Tell students they will now recreate the facts of the story right there in your classroom. Explain that because you do not want to harm the environment, they are using clear cooking oil instead of petroleum (which is black). For this reason, you have colored the water blue so that the clear cooking oil is visible in the water. Explain the terms miscible and immiscible. Display terms and definitions in the classroom (see Definitions of Miscible and Immiscible).

3. Read the story again, this time including the instructions and stopping after each appropriate section to let students add the "pollutants" to the plastic container that is holding clear blue water and a plastic fish.

4. Once students have finished adding pollutants to the water, conduct a discussion about the experiment. Ask student what it taught them about water pollution; add any new insights to the K-W-L chart.

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Session 4

Note: Students will need to have the Sequencing Graphic Organizers they completed during Session 2 available during this activity.

1. Begin this session by allowing students to ask questions or share what they have learned about water pollution. These responses can be added to the K-W-L chart.

2. Have students get into their groups from the previous session.

3. Using the poster paper you have prepared (see Preparation, Step 8), their completed Sequencing Graphic Organizers, and copies of "A Fish Story," students should create a mural depicting the journey of the fish in the story. This project helps visual learners make meaning of both the sequencing graphic organizer and the experiment.

4. When the murals are complete, bring the class together to share them. Display the murals in the classroom.

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Session 5

1. Display the Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer using the transparency you have created. Ask students what the main event is in "A Fish Story." Answers might include "the river became very polluted" or "the fish died." Ask students what a cause of the pollution might be and list it on the left-hand side, for example, "chemical wastes from factories." Ask students what the effect of this specific cause was, for example, "the water was covered in chemicals that could catch fire and destroy life in the water system." List these effects on the right-hand side of the organizer.

2. Distribute the Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer and tell students to complete it for each event that happens in "A Fish Story."

3. While students are working, circulate around the classroom to offer support and help as needed.

4. After the graphic organizers are completed, bring students together and allow volunteers to share their work.

5. Finish the K-W-L chart with students as an assessment of what they have learned about water pollution.

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Divide students into homogenous groups and have them complete a research activity about pollution where they study cause and effect. Resources About Pollution and the Environment includes a list of materials students can use for the project and the Group Research Project Plan Sheet can be used by students to plan their work. Students should work in groups to complete the project and should present their findings to the class.

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  • Informally assess studentsí comprehension during class discussions. Monitor how well students comprehend the read-aloud texts and what they are learning about water pollution based on their responses for the K-W-L chart.

  • Assess how well students are able to follow instructions and work cooperatively during the hands-on experiment. Are students able to connect what they see in the experiment to the story?

  • Assess the murals by checking to see if students included changes that occur to the water system and the fish after the addition of each pollutant.

  • Collect and assess the Sequencing Graphic Organizers and the Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer. Check both for studentsí comprehension of the story. In addition, check the Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer for how well students were able to make connections between the cause and various effects of water pollution on water systems. Extra points should be given for any responses that were not discussed in class.

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