Plastics: From Pollution to Solutions unit driving question: How can humans solve our plastic problem in the ocean?

Knowledge + Action = Power lesson driving question: How can your publishing team maximize positive impact on your community and the environment?


1. Launch the final writing session of the project.
  • Announce that publishing teams are in the home stretch. They have learned all the information they will learn in this unit, and now it is up to them to deliver their important message to their target audiences. But first, they must finalize and proofread their magazines to ensure that their products are complete, accurate, and well-organized.
  • Have students take out their Final Project Checklist and Rubric and instruct them to check off each element that is complete. Remind students that some elements of their project are still in progress, such as the glossary.
  • Introduce the Letter from the Editors handout and task:
    • Explain that the Letter from the Editors will go inside the front cover of the magazine.
    • The purpose of this letter is to introduce the target audience to the problems and solutions of ocean plastics and explain why the Call to Action is essential.
    • This letter will make a claim that human production, use, and disposal of plastics can have both positive and negative ecosystem impacts. This claim must be supported by evidence and reasoning using the C-E-R format.
  • Encourage publishing teams to discuss how they will divide the remaining tasks.
  • Once teams have a plan for dividing up the remaining elements of their magazines, provide time in class for them to work.
2. Facilitate the process of peer review for constructive feedback.
  • Remind publishing teams that every magazine needs to be proofread and edited before it can be published to ensure the target audience can read and understand the issues and information clearly.
  • During the peer review process, publishing teams will review another team’s work. Determine in advance how you will structure the process.
  • Review expectations for peer editing and feedback:
    • Every peer reviewer must use a Final Project Checklist and Rubric. They should make notes on the rubric as they go through the project.
    • Peer reviewers will not write directly on the draft magazine documents. Instead, they should use sticky notes to indicate suggested changes or questions.
    • Peer reviewers should strive to make positive comments as well as constructive comments. Feedback is most useful when it is specific.
  • As in other magazine workshop activities, peer editing teams should divide duties to edit their work.
    • Since there are 10 elements of the magazine and four students per team, each editor can be responsible for reviewing two to three elements. Alternatively, pairs of editors could each be responsible for reviewing five elements.
    • While teams are engaged in peer editing, circulate around the room and provide feedback to teams. Ensure that each group has completed all 10 elements on their Final Project Checklist and Rubric and that they are using the rubric as they finalize their work and edit the work of others.
      • Four elements of the magazine are especially writing-intensive (Letter from the Editors, Call to Action for Readers, Featured Marine Organism Profile, and profile of the winner of the Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Contest). Keep this in mind as you circulate, especially when working with teams and students who struggle with written assignments.
    • Peer editing can still take place even for teams that have not yet finished all 10 elements of their magazine.
3. Return magazines to their original publishing teams for final revisions.
  • Provide time for publishing teams to incorporate feedback from their peer editors.
  • When final revisions are complete, have publishing teams organize all 10 elements of their magazines into their project folders and turn them in.
  • When grading magazines, make comments on the Final Project Checklist and Rubric and/or using sticky notes so that the magazine can still be delivered to the target audience.
  • If the peer editing teams did not provide comprehensive feedback, or if the publishing team did not incorporate all feedback, you may consider returning magazines to their publishing teams for another round of edits before sharing them with the target audience.
  • Consider making electronic copies of each team’s magazine so that you can also share your class’ work with us and other National Geographic teachers around the world @NatGeoEducation.
4. Facilitate publication of team magazines.
  • If your class is producing hard-copy paper magazines, try to find a way to bind each team’s magazine without using plastics (see Tips for suggestions).
    • Instruct publishing teams to carefully arrange their pages exactly as they want them before binding.
    • Make sure that each team has included only the pages that will be in the final magazine, since their project folder also contains other drafts, graphic organizers, and handouts that will not be appropriate for inclusion in the published product. Teams should consult their Final Project Checklist and Rubric for the complete list of magazine pages.
  • If your class is producing digital magazines, students can produce work online, or each page can be scanned for compilation into a single document with an appropriate title.
    • Ensure that your classroom has sufficient devices available to display each group’s digital magazine during the final activity.
    • Once your magazines are digitized, consider sharing them with the broader National Geographic educator community online!


Evaluate students’ published magazines with the Final Project Checklist and Rubric to assess their fulfillment of the standards addressed in this unit. Be sure not to write on the magazines themselves so that they remain in their original condition for the final activity.

Subjects & Disciplines

  • Arts and Music
  • Conservation
  • English Language Arts
  • Storytelling

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Write a Letter from the Editors that presents an evidence-based argument that the way humans produce, use, and dispose of plastics on land can affect ocean ecosystems positively as well as negatively.
  • Provide feedback to another team using the Final Project Checklist and Rubric.
  • Incorporate peer feedback into their final draft.

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Peer tutoring
  • Reading
  • Writing

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

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

Next Generation Science Standards

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Colored pencils
  • Sticky notes

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Optional
  • Tech Setup: Printer, Scanner

Physical Space

  • Classroom


Ensure that you have ample extra copies of the Final Project Checklist and Rubric on hand for peer review.


Confirm audience attendance for the final publication presentations. Prompt teams to send reminders about timing and logistics as needed based on the outreach teams accomplished in the Choosing an Audience activity.


  • Small-group work

Background Information

There is ample evidence that the process of peer review significantly improves the quality of students’ work. Strong writing skills help students become better scientists. Scientists must be able to summarize their data, draw conclusions, communicate with colleagues, and write grant applications. Perhaps even more importantly, scientists have a responsibility to share their findings with the press and the general public so that people can make informed decisions. After all, not all science students will grow up to pursue STEM careers, but they all need a basic level of scientific literacy.


Even for an experienced science teacher, taking the dive into activism is not easy, but it is rewarding. More importantly, students often experience significant changes and improved educational outcomes as they grow from passive learners into active participants.


Scientists sometimes debate whether they should engage in advocacy and activism. But throughout history, many scientists have engaged in political movements and campaigns. The most famous scientist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, was so outspoken on subjects from racism to nuclear nonproliferation that the FBI kept a 1,400-page file about his political views. Naturalist and glaciologist John Muir fell in love with the flora, fauna, and geology of the American West and convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to establish the National Park System. Biologist Rachel Carson learned about the devastating effects of pesticides like DDT on ecological food webs, and her book Silent Spring ultimately resulted in DDT being banned. Nobel Prize-winner Wangari Maathai was a biologist who established the Green Belt Movement, which is responsible for planting over 20 million trees across Africa. National Geographic Fellow Jenna Jambeck’s research into plastic pollution fundamentally changed the landscape of studying plastics, and she has provided her expertise to national and international organizations including the U.S. Congress, the European Union, and the United Nations.



observers or listeners of an event or production.

constructive feedback

tool to enhance the teaching and learning process; highlighting strengths and achievements as well as areas for improvement.


to influence or have an effect on something.


to provide a written piece of work, such as a book or newspaper, for sale or distribution.

waste disposal

collection, transport, and destruction or storage of garbage and byproducts.