The Bigger Meaning of Recycling: Green Play Structures

Warm-up: Favorite Equipment Share

1. Begin this lesson by discussing playground equipment and recess with your class:

a) What is your favorite piece of equipment at recess? Why?

b) Note: Consider taking students outside for a “mini-recess,” and carrying out part or all of the lesson outdoors!

2. Lead students to wonder what materials are used to make playground equipment.


Activity One: The Three R’s

1. Begin this activity by writing ‘Waste Management’ in the center circle of a web diagram.  Ask students what waste is. Ask students how they can improve waste management.  Answer: reduce-reuse-recycle.  Write these terms in adjacent circles to create the web.

2. Ask students to define these three terms in their own words. 

a) What does it mean to reduce? How can you reduce waste?

b) What does it mean to reuse? How can you reuse waste?

c) What does it mean to recycle? What materials can you recycle?


Activity Two: It Becomes What?!

1. Divide students into two groups.  Give one group of students images of (or actual) commonly recycled materials (See Reproducible #1 – Examples of Commonly Recycled Materials). Give the other group of students images of playground structures or materials made from recycled materials (See Reproducible #1 – Examples of What Recycled Materials Become).

2. Ask students to see if they can determine which “before-and-after” images match. Have the “before” students find their corresponding “after” students and pair up.

3. Once the pairs have determined which materials are matches, ask them to share their results. 


Wrap Up: Review

1. Once all of the student pairs have shared their findings, ask students if there were any pairings they found to be surprising.  Why was were they surprising?

  1. Review with students the ways in which they can reduce, reuse, and recycle.


Extension Activity

  1. If your school does not currently have a recycling program, consider starting one.  Students could be responsible for collecting recyclable material from each classroom.
  2. Did you know that some companies make playground materials out of the rubber from old sneakers? Organize a Shoe Drive with your class and donate used shoes to one of these organizations. (Try: is a great way to reuse beat-up shoes that may otherwise have been thrown away!



In this lesson, students learn about the waste management cycle: reduce, reuse, and recycle.  This lesson also showed students the bigger meaning of recycling; student observed commonly recycled materials such as tires, scrap metal, and cardboard that can be converted into materials used in the construction of green play structures.