K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


LEARN NC is no longer supported by the UNC School of Education and has been permanently archived. On February 1st, 2018, you will only be able to access these resources through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. We recommend that you print or download resources you may need before February 1st, 2018, after which, you will have to follow these instructions in order to access those resources.

Learn more

Related pages

  • Decomposition in freshwater: This lesson includes hands-on activities to demonstrate the process of decomposition in a freshwater ecosystem. It also focuses on the importance of decomposition and its critical role in the food chain.
  • All about trash: Students will discover which kinds of trash break down naturally and which do not when they make their own landfills.
  • StreamWatch: This lesson is intended as a long term project to determine the overall health of a stream or wetland. Students identify seasonal changes that occur within the ecosystem, ideally with a minimum of bimonthly or monthly monitoring.

Related topics


Please read our disclaimer for lesson plans.


The text of this page is copyright ©2008. See terms of use. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • Investigate ways to prevent or reduce pollution and the misuse of natural resources.
  • Participate in a project, which includes recycling and reduction.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

1 hour


  • grass clippings, enough to make a cubic meter pile
  • meter stick with a thermometer attached

For each group:

  • a five-gallon bucket with holes drilled all around the side and bottom
  • one or two gallons of rich garden soil
  • objects to put in the compost heap: aluminum can, plastic, shredded newspaper, lettuce, orange peels, leaves, twigs, etc
  • plastic sheet for spreading out compost during observations


You may wish to have your students bring things to school to put in the compost heap.


  1. Make a cubic meter pile of grass clippings. Start a record of the internal temperature, appearance, volume, and smell of the pile. Record observations of the pile when it is first set up and again several times over the next three days. Be sure to lift several layers of clippings to observe the center of the pile each time. Discuss and record the changes observed.
  2. Put the soil in the bucket. List and then bury the materials in the soil. Predict which object will decompose fastest and which will decompose the slowest. Have students categorize the contents by renewable/nonrenewable, recyclable/non-recyclable, biodegradable/non-biodegradable.
  3. One week later, spill out the compost on the plastic sheet. Refer to the original list and record any changes observed. Allow students to modify their charts and allow further predictions. Students should continue to record internal temperature, appearance, volume, and smell of the pile.
  4. Spill out and observe the objects again one month later. Record data. Have students create charts and graphs to demonstrate the changes in temperature and volume. Students should classify compost contents into categories, renewable/nonrenewable, recyclable/non-recyclable, and biodegradable/non-biodegradable. Students will also write a descriptive essay on the changes they observed, and a persuasive essay encouraging others to recycle. Extension: Invite others classes to a recycling program created by your class.
  5. Continue to make regular observations as long as possible. Water the compost heap each week to keep it moist.


Teacher will assess objectives through students’:

  • observations in their science log
  • recorded data
  • charts and graphs of temperature and volume of compost heap
  • descriptive essays
  • persuasive essays
  • participation in recycling program

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Grade 5

        • 5.L.2 Understand the interdependence of plants and animals with their ecosystem. 5.L.2.1 Compare the characteristics of several common ecosystems, including estuaries and salt marshes, oceans, lakes and ponds, forests, and grasslands). 5.L.2.2 Classify the...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 5

  • Goal 1: The learner will conduct investigations to build an understanding of the interdependence of plants and animals.
    • Objective 1.02: Identify and analyze the functions of organisms within the population of the ecosystem:
      • Producers.
      • Consumers.
      • Decomposers.
    • Objective 1.04: Discuss and determine the role of light, temperature, and soil composition in an ecosystem's capacity to support life.