Toward a Plastic Responsible Future Unit Driving Question: What can we do to reduce the effects of plastic pollution?

The Plastic Problem Lesson Driving Question: What is the problem with plastic?

1. Engage students in a discussion about plastic pollution as a world problem.
  • Remind students that they are working to address the problem of plastic pollution around the world by using their community as a starting place to make a change.
  • Have students form groups of three that will be their policy proposal groups from this point forward.
  • Ask students to discuss the following in their policy groups:
      • Do you think plastic pollution is a world problem? Explain your reasoning.
      • Have students share out what their group discussed and record responses. 
  • Read the first paragraph of the article The World’s Plastic Pollution Crisis Explained to the class. 
  • Ask students to discuss the following with their policy proposal group members: 
      • How does this passage challenge, change, or confirm our thinking?
      • Should we care about plastic pollution outside of our community? Why or why not?

2. Introduce students to the National Geographic “Sea to Source: Ganges” river expedition.

  • Share with students that as a model for this project, they are going to learn about a place that is severely impacted by plastic pollution and what a female-led team of scientists is doing to combat the problem.
  • Engage students in understanding the power, beauty, and importance of the Ganges River.
  • Have students prepare to take two-column notes as they watch the video related to the following:
      • Facts that relate to the lesson driving question: What is the problem with plastic?
      • Thoughts, comments, connections, or questions related to the facts.
  • As a class, watch the Tracking Plastics from Sea to Source (4:18) video.
  • Debrief students’ notes and questions from their two-column notes as a class.
  • Ask students:
      • Do you think this expedition is important? Explain your reason.

3. Have students read to learn about a data collection method used in this expedition.

4. Have students reflect on their learning.

  • Student groups review their notes and take a few minutes to discuss the following questions:
      • What is the purpose of the Bottle Cards?
      • When you begin collecting data for your own project, what will be the purpose of your research?
      • What kind of information will help you achieve that purpose?
      • What questions do you have about the work the “Sea to Source: Ganges” team is doing?
  • With another pair, have students share their response to the last question, What questions do you still have about the “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition? Then, have students add to their own list of questions in their two-column notes as needed.
  • Have student pairs choose one question to share with the class and ask them to explain how this question would help us better understand the plastics problem.

5. Lead students in a wrap-up discussion to think about how places might be affected differently by plastic waste.

  • Ask students, What are examples of major rivers in the United States? (Possible answers: Mississippi, Colorado, Columbia).
  • Have students discuss the following with a neighbor:
      • How are these rivers similar to the Ganges River? (very large, important to the economy)
      • Do you think these rivers have similar plastic pollution problems to the Ganges River? Explain your reasoning? (Yes, they have a lot of commercial traffic; no, we have different methods for managing waste.)
  • Play the video First Rain, Los Angeles (1:00) for students. Draw their attention to the fact that this is in California. Remind students of Step 1, that plastic pollution is a world problem. The United States is one of the largest producers of plastic waste, and plastic pollution is a big problem here, too.

Informal Assessment

  • Record thinking in the form of two-column notes, gathering information about the “Sea to Source: Ganges” river expedition, and developing relevant questions.
  • Explain how questions help to understand the problem of plastic pollution better.

Extending the Learning

Students can find a local waterway and collect data about the plastic they find, then share with the class.

Subjects & Disciplines

  • Conservation
  • Geography
  • Social Studies

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand the problem of plastic pollution on the Ganges River and consider how and why it may be different from river pollution in the United States.
  • Identify and then summarize the purpose of the project for their community.

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Multimedia instruction
  • Reading
  • Visual instruction

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2:  Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7:  Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

The College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

  • D1.1.6-8.:  Explain how a question represents key ideas in the field.

What You’ll Need

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, 1 computer per pair, Monitor/screen, Projector

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction
  • Small-group work

Background Information

The Ganges River runs through India and Bangladesh. It runs from the Himalaya Mountains to the Bay of Bengal. The Ganges, also known as Ganga, is an integral part of society in this part of the world. It is a sacred river for Hindus, and believed to have cleansing and spiritual properties.

Although it is known as a healing purifier, Ganga has become heavily polluted. Plastic pollution is highly visible, and the chemical and fecal contaminate level is far beyond the safety level for humans. Animals in the river as well as the surrounding environment, are in danger.

Prior Knowledge

  • None


Ganges River

(2,495 kilometers/1,550 miles) river in South Asia that originates in the Himalaya and empties into the Bay of Bengal. Also called the Ganga.

land pollution

introduction of harmful materials into the surface environment.


chemical material that can be easily shaped when heated to a high temperature.


introduction of harmful materials into the environment.


descriptive information that does not use numbers.

water pollution

introduction of harmful materials into a body of water.

Articles & Profiles