Nature’s Recyclers: The Secret to Composting
In this third lesson of "Wait! Before You Throw It Away..." unit, students will learn more
about composting and will view a PowerPoint slideshow that introduces them to some of
nature's recyclers. Students will then go on an outdoor exploration to find some of these
creatures and will conduct an experiment using a Berlese funnel. (Environmental
Heather Thacker GLC EEinGEORGIA.org
Primary Learning Outcomes
Why is recycling important? What is composting? How is composting a form/or example
of recycling? What materials can be recycled through composting? How does recycling
by composting benefit us and the environment?
Additional Learning Outcomes
What are some ways that I can respect the natural environment when going on the
outdoor expedition? What are the two different types of composting? How are items
broken down in nature? Who are some of nature's recyclers?
Assessed QCC Standards:
Standard: Actively engages in the learning process via hands-on/minds-on science
activities and experiences. Uses appropriate tools to collect and analyze data and solve
Non-Assessed QCC Standards:
Standard: Respect for the Natural Environment: care for and conservation of land,
trees, clean air and pure water and of all living inhabitants of the earth. 9.1 Conservation:
avoiding waste and pollution of natural resources.
Step: 1 Duration: Teacher Preparation
* Prior to teaching the lesson, the teacher will need to select an outdoor area in which the
students will visit on their expedition. This area can be an outdoor classroom or another
area on campus (or off campus if teachers opt to go on a field trip) that includes a variety
of dead and living trees, mushrooms, and leaves that are on the ground. The teacher will
need to preview the area prior to teaching the lesson to make sure that it is safe for
students to explore (no broken glass, ant hills, etc.) and decide on the boundaries of the
area in which the students are to remain.
* The teacher also needs to collect six of the following items for the experiment: pre-cut
2-liter bottles, beakers or glass jars, small pieces of screen, rubbing alcohol, and lamps
(without a lampshade). See the Web site listed in step five for more information.
* For additional teacher resources regarding composting, click on the links listed below
for information on composting in general.
Web Resources for Step 1
Title: The Compost Food Web
Annotation: This teacher resource gives a more in-depth look at what creatures are in
Title: Master Composter
Annotation: This site is filled with various information about composting including
frequently asked questions and is intended to be used as a teacher resource. Use the site
index on the left side of the page when viewing.
Step: 2 Duration: 10 minutes
Introduce the lesson by sharing some basics of composting with the students. Explain to
the students that they are going to view a slideshow that describes two different types of
composting and how they work. Use a scan converter to display the PowerPoint
slideshow that explains this process. Stop at each slide and discuss the information with
the students and answer any questions the students may have. It may be necessary to
paraphrase some of the information on the slides--do so as needed.
Web Resources for Step 2
Title: PowerPoint Viewer Download
Annotation: Teachers who do not have access to PowerPoint software can download a
free viewer from Microsoft from this site.
Attachments for Step 2
Title: What is Composting? FileName: What is Composting.ppt
Description: : Prior to teaching this lesson, view this presentation and download it to
your computer. When ready to teach the lesson, run the presentation and discuss the text
being sure to paraphrase and explain the slides as necessary. Graphics from Microsoft
Step: 3 Duration: 10 minutes
After the PowerPoint presentation has been viewed, summarize it by telling the students
that people make compost bins so their food scraps will rot and break down and turn into
a rich dirt that they can use as a soil conditioner. Also explain that even without
composting bins and food scraps, the breaking down process already occurs in nature
when worms, insects, and tiny creatures too small to be seen with the naked eye eat dead
plants or animals. Explain that they are going to learn more about this process. Show the
students the transparencies on an overhead projector and discuss nature's recyclers and
the job that they have.
Web Resources for Step 3
Title: Nature's Recyclers
Annotation: Click on this link to view the 16 page book that describes nature's recyclers.
Print the sheets on transparency film and read the text to the students. If desired, teachers
can make paper copies for the students as well so that they can follow along at their desk
and color at a time that is convenient. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.
Step: 4 Duration: 20 minutes
Explain to the students that they are going to take a closer look at how nature recycles its
own resources by going on an outdoor expedition. Explain some rules that should be
followed when in the outdoor area such as not walking on the tree roots, not pulling the
leaves off the trees/ shrubs, not disturbing the wildlife that they might see, etc. Some
safety issues that also need to be addressed should be discussed as well. These include
not picking or touching any mushrooms or other plants (poison ivy) as they could be
poisonous or could cause rashes. Tell the students that they will have to search the area
for five items: a dead tree or log, a live tree, a live leaf, a dead leaf, and a mushroom.
Explain that they will observe the items (not touch) and will draw an illustration of what
they look like. Tell the students that if they need to move the items in order to get a closer
look they can use Popsicle sticks to manipulate the objects or ask for teacher assistance.
Have the students note any insects that they view on/ around the items, draw them, and
write some descriptive words as well. Distribute the worksheet, clipboards, hand lenses,
and Popsicle sticks (2 per student). When the students understand the assignment have
them get a pencil and go to the designated area to begin the activity. As the students are
exploring the area, the teacher needs to have six containers/ bags of some sort and collect
six handfuls of partially decomposing leaves (moist leaf mats) that are found on the
ground. (Be sure to collect the top leaves down to a sample of soil that the leaves are
resting upon for best results and collect the leaf mats from different areas.) These will be
used in the experiment described in the next step. After the students return to the
classroom, allow them to share their experiences and tell if they saw any composters in
action. Allow student volunteers to share their illustrations and descriptions from their
worksheets then collect the papers as part of the assessment.
Attachments for Step 4
Title: Outdoor Exploration Guide FileName: Outdoor Exploration Guide.doc
Description: Print this sheet and distribute to the students. Graphics from Microsoft
Step: 5 Duration: 20 minutes for initial project/ 10 minutes the next day for viewing the
Show the students the collections of leaves that you gathered during the exploration.
Explain that they are going to see if they can find some of the compost creatures inside
the leaves by conducting an experiment. Display the six sets of pre-cut 2-liter bottles,
beakers or glass jars, small pieces of screen, rubbing alcohol, and the lamps (without a
lampshade) as well as the leaf collections that were gathered by the teacher in the
previous step. Use the materials and assemble the units as shown in the illustration from
the Web site and place one leaf sample in each of the funnels. When fully assembled,
write a number (1-6) on each funnel so that students can distinguish the funnels from one
another. When ready to begin the experiment, assign the students a funnel to observe
(four to five students per funnel); give them a copy of the experiment log; and have them
record the funnel number on their worksheet in the space provided. Tell the students that
they will have an opportunity to view all of the funnels, but they will only record the
information on the experiment log for the funnel that they are assigned. After students are
at their assigned stations, tell them that they will shine the light over their unit for a
period of two days and will view the jar/ beaker for a variety of creatures that were driven
out of the leaf collections. Have the students check the jars twice during the two-day
period and record what they find in the morning and in the afternoon on the experiment
log. A magnifying glass may be needed to view some of the organisms. Since
dismantling the funnel may be necessary in order to view the critters in the alcohol,
teacher assistance might be necessary. After the experiment is completed, discuss the role
the creatures have in the decomposition of the matter and let the students share their
thoughts on the experiment/ process.
Web Resources for Step 5
Title: Homemade Berlese Funnel
Annotation: Click on this link and read how to set up the experiment and view a picture
of the completed funnel.
Attachments for Step 5
Title: Compost Creatures Experiment Log FileName: Compost Creatures Experiment
Description: Print one sheet for each student. Have the students write the station number
in the blank so that the logs can be kept accurately. Graphics from Microsoft Office
Step: 6 Duration: 10 minutes
After the experiments are completed, disassemble the funnels and keep the 2-liter bottles
for next year’s class or for future experiments. Collect the leaf litter from the bottles and
return it back to the areas in which it was collected. Finally, allow the students to share
their thoughts about the experiment or anything else that they learned from the lesson.
Materials and Equipment
1. 6 pre-cut 2-liter bottles
2. 6 beakers or glass jars
3. 6 small pieces of screen
4. 1 container of rubbing alcohol
5. 6 lamps (without a lampshade)
6. magnifying glass (at least 6)
7. 1 overhead projector
8. 16 sheets of transparency film
9. computer for teacher use
10. PowerPoint software
11. scan converter
12. television monitor
13. clipboards for each student in the class
14. 2 Popsicle sticks per student
Standards (Local and/or National)
S2CS3. Students will use tools and instruments for observing, measuring, and
manipulating objects in scientific activities.
a. Use ordinary hand tools and instruments to construct, measure, and look at objects.
1 hour, 20 minutes
Students will view a PowerPoint presentation and an Internet site that supports the
information taught in the lesson. If PowerPoint software and other presentation
equipment are not available, teachers can make overhead transparencies of the slideshow
and present them on an overhead projector. Or, if desired, teachers who do not have
access to PowerPoint software can download a free viewer from Microsoft from the site
listed in step two. An overhead projector will also be used to display the transparencies
that describe nature's recyclers.
The students will be assessed by the completion of the exploration guide in step four and
the experiment logs listed in step five. Use these assessment tools to assist in tracking
Title: Nature''''s Recyclers: The Secret to Composting Experiment Guide Checklist
FileName: Natures Recyclers_The Secret to Composting Experiment Guide
Description: Print this sheet and use as a tool when grading the students' experiment log.
Title: Outdoor Exploration Guide Checklist FileName: Outdoor Exploration Guide
Description: Print this sheet and use when grading student's exploration guides.
Provide a challenge for more proficient students by enhancing the outdoor exploration
activity. Click on the link listed here and follow the directions in the "Compost Critter
Hunt" lesson for a more in-depth exploration.
Title: Nature's Recyclers: Compost Critter Hunt
Annotation: Click on this link and print the first three pages of this document. Requires
Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Students who are struggling with this lesson might benefit from viewing the below listed
Web site. This information is written in child-friendly text and includes a simple
explanation of how nature's recyclers help the environment.
Title: Worm World: Recyclers
Annotation: Click on this link to view the site.
For students with exceptional needs, what changes can be made in instruction and
teaching delivery to enhance student participation and learning? Each area below is a
direct link to general classroom accommodations.
Non-readers Physical Impairments Sensory Impairments Attention/Behavior
Each disability below is a direct link to general classroom accommodations specific for
Deaf - Blind
Deaf/Hard of Hearing
Emotional and Behavioral Disorder
Mild Intellectual Disability
Other Health Impairments:
Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Significant Development Delay
Specific Learning Disability
Speech - Language Impairment
Traumatic Brain Injury
For students with significant disabilities, what changes can be made in instruction and
teaching delivery to allow students to participate in classroom instruction while working
on IEP objectives and off grade level QCC standards. Below are suggested modifications
correlated to the procedures of this lesson plan.