Materials 2: Recycled Materials


Visit the online resource Follow That Trail! from EPA Explorers' Club. You may wish to print and copy one or more of the following pages:

  • Page 4 - What's a Resource?
  • Page 6 – Recycling Saves Resources
  • Page 7 – From Old to New (for older students only)
Materials 2: Recycled Materials


To identify those materials that can be recycled and possible uses for these materials.


This lesson is the first of a two-part series on the properties and uses of different materials.

In Materials 1: Materials and Manufacturing, the familiar tale of The Three Little Pigs is used as an introduction to materials and manufacturing. Students examine the properties, limitations, and durability of a variety of materials, then evaluate which of the materials would be best for building a model house. If used in its entirety, this lesson could take several science class times.

In Materials 2: Recycled Materials, students are introduced to the idea that some materials can be recycled. They will investigate the types of materials that can be reused, as well as potential uses for each type of recyclable material. Please note that the following print resource is recommended for this lesson:

  • The Three Little Pigs


Refer back to the story of The Three Little Pigs in Materials 1: Materials and Manufacturing. Discuss the story, as well as what happens after the story ends.

Tell students: This is not the end of the story. The three little pigs have to clean up the mess that was left behind when the wolf blew the houses down. 

Ask students: 

  • What do you think the pigs did with the straw after the house was blown down? What could they use it for? What makes straw a good material for that use, but not for building a house?
  • What do you think the pigs did with the sticks after the house was blown down? What could they use them for? What makes a stick a good material for that use, but not for building a house?
  • Did the house with the bricks get blown down? Why not? Why was this a good material for building a house? Can you think of other materials that are like bricks?
  • What else could you make with bricks?

Discuss the fact that many materials can be reused. Point out that some are used for the same purpose and some for a very different purpose.  


What on Earth Can You Do With An Old Jelly Jar? from the EPA Explorers' Club challenges students to think of as many uses as possible for an old jelly jar. (You may wish to substitute a plastic container.) 

Challenge students to think of some ways that the jar could be reused. Have students pass the container around in a circle as each child thinks of a use for the jar and shares it with the class. Then compare students' ideas with the suggestions on the EPA Explorers' Club site.

Ask students:

  • How many uses did we think of for the old jar?
  • What material is the jar made of? Can you think of something else that is made of this material? Could that object be used again? How?
  • Can you think of anything else that we throw away that could be used again? What material is it made from?

Allow students to share a few ideas, then have them draw an example of something that can be reused, and how it would be reused, in their science journals.

Introduce students to the notion that many things around them come from natural resources (or things made in nature), such as trees, aluminum, and oil. Tell students that we could run out of these resources if we do not use them wisely. Use trees as an example. Ask students to think of things that are made from trees, or wood. 

To illustrate the many things that are made from wood, have students complete the What's a Resource? worksheet from the Follow That Trail! website, circling the objects on the page that come from wood.

Ask students:

  • Can any of the things on this page be reused? What could you use them for? 
  • What would happen if we just kept making more and more new things from trees and throwing away the old things?
  • Where would we put all of the old things that we threw away?

Reinforce the idea that we could run out of natural resources if we don't use them wisely. Students should become aware that sometimes it is better to reuse materials rather than throw them away, so that we can slow down the depletion of natural resources and eliminate unnecessary waste.

To further explore the idea of using recycled materials, have each student bring a clean, recycled object from home. (You may wish to augment this collection to make sure that there is a wide variety of materials.) Allow students opportunities to investigate, build, and play with the materials, coming up with possible uses for each.

Make a list of the types of materials that can be reused. Students can sort the items into those that can be used again for the same purpose and those that can be used for other purposes. 

If desired, have students complete worksheets Page 6 – Recycling Saves Resources, and for older students, Page 7 – From Old to New from Follow That Trail!  


Once students have investigated the materials, allow them to select one. Have students work with a partner to come up with two new uses for a recycled object. Students should record their ideas in a science journal, using words and/or pictures to show two uses of the object. 

Have students share their ideas with the class. 

Ask students:

  • What object did you choose?
  • What material is it made of?
  • What new use did you think of for this material? 
  • Why would the material be good for this use?
  • Why would it be a good idea to reuse this material?


Visit the Earth Day collection from Science NetLinks to find further resources related to recycling and conservation.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards

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