1. Have students discuss their personal and family energy use.

  • How does the local power company generate electricity used in homes in your area? (Possible answers will likely include a combination of several types of power plants.)
  • What other types of energy does your family use, and for what purposes? (Possible answers for types of energy include electricity, natural gas, oil, wood. Possible answers for purposes include for lighting, electronics, cars, cooking, and home heating.)


2. Build background about connections between energy use and pollution.
Tell students that sulfur dioxide, or SO2, is an indicator of pollution. Explain to students that chemical reactions in the atmosphere cause SO2 emissions to contribute to acid rain. Acid rain, which falls in rain or snow, is harmful to plants and animals. One cause of SO2 emissions is the burning of non-renewable resources. Ask:

  • What is a renewable energy source? (energy resources that are replenished naturally, but the supply of which can be endangered by overuse or subject to weather)
  • What is a non-renewable energy source? (energy resources that form in extremely slow geological processes)

Have students brainstorm a list of energy sources. Write their ideas on the board.

3. Have students sort energy sources into renewable and non-renewable.

Draw a 2-column chart on the board with heads: Renewable Resources and Non-Renewable Resources. As a class, sort the energy sources they brainstormed into the correct columns in the chart. Answers should include:

  • Renewable: timber, solar, wind, hydro-electric, biomass, biogas and liquid biomass, and geo-thermal
  • Non-renewable: coal and coal products, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power


4. Create a pie chart of the estimated energy use of the class.
Have students use the completed chart to estimate the percentages of their energy use that are renewable and non-renewable. With student input, sketch a pie chart for estimated energy for the class as whole, and label the two categories.

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • describe their personal and family energy use
  • explain the relationship between energy use and pollution
  • estimate the energy use of the class

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Geography Standards

  • Standard 14:  How human actions modify the physical environment

National Science Education Standards

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Pens

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction

Background Information

Renewable energy sources are those resources that are replenished naturally. Non-renewable energy sources are those resources that form in slow geological processes. It's important for students to understand the relationship between energy use and pollution in order to make decisions about energy use at different scales.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Activities

  • None



energy resources that are exhaustible relative to the human life span, such as gas, coal, or petroleum.

renewable energy

energy obtained from sources that are virtually inexhaustible and replenish naturally over small time scales relative to the human life span.