Teaching About Natural Resources and Energy Sources

The study of natural resources, including renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, is a great cross-curricular unit. Uniting science, social studies, and other subject areas, it can also be framed in the context of your state or community.

We’ve highlighted lessons that fall into four categories: Introducing Natural Resources, Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources, Specific Energy Sources, and General Energy Lesson Plans. For information about a comprehensive energy curriculum, please see “Teaching About Energy: The NEED Project” in the Across the Curriculum department of this issue.

Introducing Natural Resources

Everything Comes From Something (Grades K-2)
Students and their families use a multitude of products every day. These products are manufactured in part or entirely from natural resources. In this lesson students will learn about renewable and nonrenewable resources and trace resources’ points of origin by constructing and analyzing a product map. Use this specially designed template to help students organize their thinking.

Agatha’s Feather Bed: Not Just Another Wild Goose Story (Grades K-2)
This literature-based lesson plan introduces the concept of natural resources to primary students. Use the Everything Comes From Something template for a lesson extension.

Where Did that Pencil Come From? The Study of Natural Resources (Grades 3-5)
The students will determine what goods can be produced from physical features such as rivers, lakes, mountains, and plains by looking at maps. Additionally, they will discuss the process these goods go through from nature to consumer.

Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources

Energy Teacher Resource Guide (Grades K-2)
Learning centers and activities organized around the following units: What is Energy; Finding Energy in Your School and at Home; Protecting Earth’s Resources: Renewable vs. Nonrenewable Energy; Using Energy Wisely in Your Community; and Telling Others about Energy. Use the handout for the Fossil Fuel Hunt, adapted from one of the unit’s activities.

Energy Comes in Many Shapes, Sizes, and Forms (Grades K-2)
Students will compare and contrast renewable and nonrenewable energy sources.

Energy Sources and Use (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson plan, students distinguish between renewable and nonrenewable sources of energy, investigate a variety of renewable energy resources, and compare the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Specific Energy Sources


Fossil Fuel Hunt (Grades K-5)
Students repeatedly hunt for coal (represented by pennies) to learn about scarcity and nonrenewable resources.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Mining (Grades K-5)
Students mine for coal (chocolate chips) to learn about the effects of mining and land reclamation. From the NEED Project.


Blow Wind, Blow! (Grades K-2)
Explore how wind moves objects. This section includes classroom investigations (pdf, lesson plans), recommended books, and reproducible activity sheets. Part of the PBS Curious George Discovery Guide.

Spin the Saltine (Grades K-2)
Students model turbines and windmills with saltine crackers. From the NEED Project.

Thar She Blows (Grades 3-5)
Students learn about wind as a source of renewable energy and explore the advantages and disadvantages of wind turbines and wind farms. They also learn about the effectiveness of wind turbines in varying weather conditions and how engineers work to create wind power that is cheaper, more reliable, and safer for wildlife.


Our Super Star (Grades K-5)
A multiday lesson plan about the sun. Part III, in which students create solar ovens to cook s’mores, is most relevant to the topic of solar energy. A related resource is the Cooking Cookies with Solar Power QuickTime video, which tests two homemade solar cookers.


Water, Water Everywhere (Grades K-2)
In this lesson, students will identify water and land as examples of natural resources, investigate sources of water, and identify some ways in which humans make use of water as an economic resource, specifically for agriculture, transportation and recreation.

A River Ran Through It (Grades 3-5)
Students learn how water is used to generate electricity. They investigate water’s potential-to-kinetic energy transformation in hands-on activities about falling water and waterwheels. During the activities, they take measurements, calculate averages, and graph results. Students also learn the history of the waterwheel and how engineers use water turbines in hydroelectric power plants today. They discover the advantages and disadvantages of hydroelectric power. In a literacy activity, students learn and write about an innovative new hydroelectrical power generation technology.

General Energy Lesson Plans

National Energy Education Development Project (Grades K-5)
NEED (National Energy Education Development) produces comprehensive energy curricula for grades K-12. The web site includes downloadable infobooks on a variety of topics and related activities. Teachers can become members and order kits and other materials. For more information, please see “Teaching About Energy: The NEED Project.”

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright October 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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