The Environmental Cost of Oil Lesson Plan: How Oil Production Can Impact Oceans

Submitted by: Allyson Novy

Grade Levels: 3-5, K-3

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades K-5, students use BrainPOP Jr. and/or BrainPOP resources to learn the environmental cost of oil, and that that the ocean is a complex ecosystem that is home to a variety of animals and plant life. Students will make and test predictions about how oil and pollutants react with water, and explain how pollutants such as oil significantly impact humans and the environment. Students then work in cooperative learning groups to create a project that demonstrates what they have learned.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Understand that the ocean is a complex ecosystem that is home to a variety of animals, and which needs to be preserved.
  2. Make and test predictions about how oil and pollutions react with water.
  3. Explain how pollutants such as oil significantly impact humans and the environment.


  • Interactive white board or projector connected to a computer with speaker
  • Computers for students to use (with headphones)
  • BrainPOP Jr. access
  • The book Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Steve Jenkins
  • Materials for the experiment: cups, water, napkins, cooking oil, feathers
  • Class set of photocopies of the Ocean Habitats Activity page
  • A calculator
  • Paper and pencils
  • For extension activities: construction paper, markers, crayons, scissors, and glue


environment, habitat, sunlit zone, twilight zone, midnight zone, coral reefs, bioluminescent, vents


This lesson takes a total of 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete. The lesson may be broken up into 30 minute or 60 minute increments. Before teaching, gather the materials and make photocopies. Create groups of 2-3 students. Set up whiteboard and projector.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Introduction (30 minutes) - Begin the lesson by reading Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. Identify different organisms that that depend on the sea.
  2. Facilitate a class discussion with emphasis on how humans depend on the oceans and why we need to take special care of them. Encourage kids to make connections to the text, themselves, their community, and the media.
  3. An Oil Spill Experiment (30 minutes) - Put students in cooperative learning groups of 2-3. Review expectations for working in science groups. Explain the the children that they will be doing an experiment to find how oil affects water habitats and life.
  4. Distribute the Activity page, read over the questions, and review the procedure.
  5. Ask the students to discuss with their groups and make predictions whether it will be easy or hard to remove the oil and why they think so. Give them three minutes to discuss. Have groups share their predictions.
  6. Model for the students how to fill the cups, pour the oil, and remove the oil.
  7. Allow students to engage in the activity and complete the activity page with their groups. In their groups, have the students describe one way that an oil spill can damage the environment. Allow each group to share for one minute.
  8. Collect the activity sheets and review the steps the class took for the experiment.
  9. Viewing the Ocean Habitats Video (30 Minutes) - Review the key vocabulary, using the Word Wall as needed.
  10. Have students view the Ocean Habitats video that is projected onto the whiteboard. Turn on closed captioning. Pause the video when the pause button blinks red for short, one minute discussions.
  11. Allow students to take the Easy Quiz or Hard Quiz as a class using the whiteboard. Select students randomly to encourage participation.
  12. Have students discuss with a shoulder partner one interesting fact they learned from the video. Select 3 students to share their partner's fact.

Extension Activity:

Writing Extension: Have students research the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and write a short essay that explains how the spill has affected the economy, the environment, and wildlife.

Social Studies Extension: Students can research the methods used to prevent and clean up oil spills. You can also have students work in groups to make a proposal for preventing oil spills and/or cleaning up oil after a spill. Students can present a paper, poster, or model of the project.

Art Extension: Using construction paper, scissors, and glue, students construct and label a poster of the 3 oceanic zones and identify organisms that live within each zone. Students can also create posters that show things people can do to help the oceans.

Science Extension: Using information from the video and their research, have students construct and label a food chain.

Math Extension: Calculate the following--Researchers estimated that 25,000 barrels of oil were leaking into the Gulf of Mexico per day ( If a barrel of oil amounts to 42 US gallons, how many Mercedes Benz SLS AMG 22.4 gallon gas tanks could the leaking oil have filled in one day? Include a summary of how you solved the problem, including the steps you took and a diagram, along with a correct answer. (This problem was written by me, however the idea derived from


Assessment will be formative, continuous, and ongoing throughout the activity, focusing on questions asked during the activity, group work, basic understanding and response to questions and group discussions, as well as upon completion of assignments.

Summative Assessment

The teacher may assign or students may choose one of the extension activities to demonstrate what they have learned. Students can present their projects to the class.

Differentiation Ideas

  • Create groups that will allow student success.
  • Words and concepts that students have a difficulty understanding should be discussed either in a class discussion, or one on one with the instructor or another student.
  • If appropriate, visual examples should be provided for students to offer clarity.
  • Children that have difficulties reading or understanding the literature may have it read to them with explanations by either their student partner or an instructor.
  • Learners with more difficulties will be given one-on-one direct instruction by the teacher may have the option of working with a peer.
  • Students that have difficulties focusing or staying on task can be given scheduled breaks.
  • Closed-captioning should be used on the video.
  • Allow appropriate think time for students.