ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Get Dramatic: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Explore how drama techniques can be used to convey issues about the environment


Key Staff

This lesson can be taught by a general classroom or science teacher. It may be helpful to get assistance from a drama teacher.

Key Skills

Creative Thinking: Communication and Collaboration
Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing


In this lesson students will explore the concepts behind the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle slogan. They will identify what can be recycled, examine the process of recycling, and discuss the role they can play in recycling. They will use this knowledge to write and perform a commercial and to create a stage set backdrop made of recycled materials.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand why it is important to reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Understand what can be recycled and how to recycle
  • Understand the part they can play in the recycling process
  • Write and perform a commercial on the benefits of recycling
  • Create a stage set backdrop for a commercial
  • Respond to writing prompts
  • Participate in small-group and whole-class discussions

Teaching Approach

Arts Enhanced

Teaching Methods

  • Discussion
  • Role Playing
  • Reflection
  • Brainstorming
  • Discovery Learning

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Projector
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
Required Plugins
Technology Notes

If an LCD projector is not available, students may view the video at individual computers.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should:

Prior Student Knowledge


Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Gymnasium


  • Individualized Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


It may be helpful to post definitions for contaminate, pollute and landfill before or after watching the video

Provide students with an assortment of recyclable materials (milk cartons, plastic and glass jars, plastic water bottles, yogurt cups, greeting cards, etc.). Make sure the recyclable materials that the groups will sort represent a range of products and include recycling symbols 1-7

On the days that students will create their backdrops, make sure there is plenty of space for students to work. Designate work areas by covering sections of the floor with a drop cloth for each group. Set out art supplies and materials ahead of time. Teachers may wish to ask students to bring in additional recyclable materials, props or costumes as necessary

Provide space for backdrops to dry and be stored

Accessibility Notes

Set aside time to help struggling readers write and rehearse their lines. If possible, ask a resource room teacher to assist students who require extra help.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Watch a video about recycling. Tell students that they are going to learn about recycling. As they view the video they should record items that can be recycled in their journals.

2. Discuss the video. Use the following questions as prompts:

  • What happens to trash?
  • What is a landfill?
  • What is pollution? What does contaminate mean?
  • How does using a lunchbox or reusable container help the environment?
  • What can be made from recycled plastic?
  • What can be made from recycled aluminum?
  • What can kids do to help reduce garbage?
  • What does “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mean?
  • What is the message of the video?

Discuss students' answers and clarify and explain any concepts that the students do not understand.

3. Compile a list of recyclable materials. Distribute the What Can Be Recycled? handout. Ask the students to share examples from the video of items that can be recycled. Have students share other items that can be recycled. Post the list of recyclable materials and encourage the class to add items to it throughout the remainder of the lesson.

4. Have students find out what they recycle at home or what their local community recycles. Have them ask their parents or caregivers about recycling or, if possible, look up this information on a community website.

Build Knowledge

1. Investigate recycling symbols. Divide the class into small groups. Provide each group with an assortment of recyclable materials. Instruct students to sort materials. Allow groups time to discuss how they will sort their materials.

2. Discuss recycling symbols. Have groups explain how they sorted their materials. Provide groups with a printout of recycling symbols or allow them to investigate recycling symbols online. Review each numbered recycling symbol and point out which materials fall into that category.

3. Brainstorm ways to reuse materials. Tell students that it is often difficult to recycle materials with the numbers 3, 5, 6 and 7 because they are either difficult or costly to recycle. Ask the groups to look at the materials they have with these numbers and think of ways they can be reused or reduced. For example, a plastic container could be reused as a planter or the use of plastic bags could be reduced by switching to cloth bags. Groups may then share their ideas with the class.

4. Ask students to think of ways they can reduce, reuse and recycle in their lives. Students should write one paragraph or create a poster describing objects in their home they can use less of (reduce), use in a different way (reuse) or recycle.


1. Reconvene the students in their small groups. Tell the class that their task is to write and perform a one-minute television commercial about the benefits of recycling and to design a backdrop for their commercial that incorporates recyclable materials. Review the steps of the Plan Your Commercial Worksheet and share the Commercial Rubric criteria with the class. Both handouts are available within the Resource Carousel.

2. Brainstorm ideas for the script. Using the Plan Your Commercial Worksheet, each group should write down ideas for their commercial, and then agree on a main message, characters and setting/action. Check in with each group as they are working on the first four steps of the worksheet. (See Notes to the Educator for ideas on how to help students with their script.)

3. Write dialogue for the commercial. Once groups have approval from the teacher, they may begin to write dialogue for their characters. Tell the students to write down the exact words that they want their characters to say in the commercial. You may wish to model dialogue for them by role-playing. Remind students that their commercial should only be one minute long.

4. Brainstorm ideas for the backdrop. Provide each group with a project display board for their backdrop. Tell students that their backdrop should reflect the setting they chose. Students should also be aware of the art supplies and recyclable materials they will have to create their backdrop. Give groups time to discuss and sketch on drawing paper what their backdrop will be and how they will create it. Check in with each group before they start their backdrop.

5. Create backdrop. Once groups have approval from the teacher, they may start to construct their backdrop. Students should sketch or outline their design on the project display board before they begin painting or attaching objects. Students may also decide at this time if they want to include basic props or costumes.

6. Rehearse commercial. Allow students time to practice and time their commercials. Students may or may not choose to memorize their lines.


1. Present commercials. Have each group present their commercial.

2. After each group is finished, discuss the following questions with the class:

  • Was the backdrop effective in communicating the setting?
  • What was the main message?
  • What parts of the dialogue helped you to understand the main message?

3. Have students respond to reflection questions in a think-pair-share activity. Have students individually respond in their journals to the questions below:

  • Why is it important to recycle?
  • What can I do to recycle?
  • What does my community do to recycle?
  • What impact does recycling have on plants and animals?
  • How did my group’s commercial/backdrop express the importance of recycling?
  • How important are one person’s actions in helping to take care of the earth?

After the students have finished, divide the class into pairs and ask them to share their responses to the writing prompts. Lastly, invite students to share their thoughts and ideas with the entire class.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade K-4 Theater Standard 1: Script writing by planning and recording improvisations based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history

Grade K-4 Theater Standard 3: Designing by visualizing and arranging environments for classroom dramatizations


Grade K-4 Theater Standard 5: Researching by finding information to support classroom dramatizations

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Language Arts Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes


Science Standard 6: Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment



Maureen Carroll
Original Writer

Jill Gerlman

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Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



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