Air Quality Lesson Plans

Air Quality Lesson Plans

Air quality is a topic that personally affects more and more people each year. Whether it's higher ozone levels in the troposphere or increased particulate matter from forest fires and burning fossil fuels, poor air quality impacts people's health and the well-being of the environment. SubjectToClimate has compiled a list of air quality lesson plans for students in grades K-12 that address all kinds of air quality topics. From hands-on activities and experiments to stories about youth activism and data analysis, these air quality lesson plans contain all the resources teachers need to teach students about the air we breathe daily!

What's Up There Besides Air?

Grade: 3rd, 4th, 5th

Subjects: Science, Earth and Space Sciences, Health

Resource Type: Experiment, Activity, Article, Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students will read about air pollution, observe the air outside, complete an activity on air particle pollutants and discuss the results. The lesson plan also includes several extension activities. This no-tech, hands-on lesson introduces upper elementary students to invisible and visible air pollutants. Students will build simple devices to capture particle pollutants using milk cartons and double-sided tape. The results will allow students to visualize the presence of air pollution in the air around them. The activity will also give students an opportunity to reflect on sources of air pollution in their community. 

Teachers may want to start gathering (and washing) milk cartons the week before doing this lesson. In preparation for the activity, teachers could provide students with some information about the likely air pollution sources in their community. After the activity, students could make a map showing the school as well as the air pollution sources to see if there is any relationship between the amount and type of air particles collected in different parts of the school. 

Air Quality Unit

Grade: 3rd, 4th, 5th

Subjects: Social studies, English Language Arts, Social-Emotional Learning, Health, Math, and Climate Action

Resource Type: Unit Plan

This fantastic SubjectToClimate air quality unit includes five lesson plans that use the Inquire, Investigate, Inspire framework to teach students about all aspects of air quality. Students will learn about the health impacts of poor air quality,  how particle pollution can affect air quality, why some communities have better air quality than others, and how they can help raise awareness about equity in air quality.

These well-rounded air quality lesson plans were created by real teachers. Each lesson is filled with helpful resources like videos, articles, data, maps, discussion questions, and journal reflection prompts. The unit also includes printable vocabulary cards that can be used for a word wall or shared digitally with students. While the pressing problem of poor air quality might make students feel overwhelmed, the unit ends with a project that will empower students and leave them feeling capable of helping to improve air quality for all communities.

These lessons provide many opportunities for cross-curricular connections. Elementary teachers may find that they can incorporate entire lessons or parts of lessons into other subject blocks to help students make connections about air quality in English language Arts, Social Studies, or Math.

Mapping Air Pollution in Oakland, CA

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Biology, Justice, Health

Resource Type: Lesson Plan, Video, Worksheet

In this lesson, students will learn about air pollution associated with vehicle traffic, watch a short video about a youth climate activist, answer questions, and make a heat map of nitric oxide air pollution in Oakland, California.

This detailed lesson plan provides teachers with objectives, vocabulary, procedure notes, a list of linked resources, and answer keys. The lesson plan and the student worksheets are available as PDFs and Google Docs, both of which are easily modified. In the lesson, students will learn how poor air quality affects communities in close proximity to freeways in California. They will also learn that higher temperatures caused by climate change have led to increased levels of smog, making the air quality even worse.

ESL teachers can maximize the resource by connecting it to a lesson on geography, perhaps asking students to locate some states on the map that suffer from extreme heat. ESL students can also record the average temperature in their classroom each day as a science activity. For ELA, teachers can ask students to identify the main idea of the text and note supporting details. ESL students can also highlight key evidence in the article that shows how extreme heat affects student learning.

Field Testing for Ozone

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Chemistry, Earth and Space Sciences, Health

Resource Type: Experiment, Worksheet, Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students will test the levels of tropospheric ozone present in the air, analyze their data, and learn about ways to reduce tropospheric ozone. It can be confusing for students to understand why ozone is dangerous when it is in the troposphere and helpful when it is in the stratosphere. This lesson plan does a great job of explaining the differences between tropospheric and stratospheric ozone. The directions for the experiment are well-written and easy to follow, and the lesson plan offers solutions to decrease tropospheric ozone and improve air quality.

This lesson will take more than one class period. The test strips will need to be exposed for eight hours, so teachers will have to seal the papers in an airtight container until the students can evaluate the results of the experiment. The lesson plan offers a variety of questions for students to consider after completing the experiment, some of which could lead to interesting research projects. For example, students could explore the reasons for potentially higher levels of ozone during warmer or sunnier weather.

Bird's Eye View Lesson Plan

Grade: K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Health

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

In this engaging lesson, students will learn about air pollution, including particulate matter, and construct paper birds that will collect particulate matter in different locations around the school. After a week students will analyze the particulate matter on the paper birds and determine which birds were most affected by air pollution.

This lesson is a great introduction to air quality! Students will enjoy making their birds and choosing locations around the school campus to hang them up. When it is time to analyze the birds, students will see the visual evidence of the pollution in the air that they breathe. The birds are constructed using easy-to-acquire items and the lesson plan includes printable templates for the heads, wings, and tails. 

Poor air quality can cause serious health problems, especially for the most vulnerable members of the population. It can be caused by several factors, and many types of air pollution are invisible. This is why students must learn about the importance of good air quality. As the air quality lesson plans described above illustrate, students of all ages and abilities can learn about air quality! The more today’s students know about the importance of clean, healthy air, the more likely they are to fight for clean energy solutions!

About the Author

Emily has a bachelor’s degree in English and French and a master’s degree in library and information science. She spent seven years teaching information evaluation and research skills as a school librarian in K-8 public schools. As a lifelong resident of Southern Louisiana, Emily has a particular interest in how climate change affects coastal regions. She hopes to connect educators with resources that will help them to teach their students about the disproportionately adverse effects of climate change on historically marginalized communities.