No Idling Young Lungs at Work


Grade Level & Subject: Grade 9 – 12; Social Studies, Health, Language Arts

Length: 1 – 4 Class Periods


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe the effects of vehicle idling
  • Construct an educated argument against idling
  • Demonstrate a marked improvement in written rhetorical skills

National Standards Addressed:[1]

This lesson addresses the following National Health Education Standards are from the American Cancer Society:

Students will comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention:

  • Analyze how environment and personal health are interrelated.
  • Describe ways to reduce risks related to adolescent health problems.
  • Describe how lifestyle, pathogens, family history, and other risk factors are related to the cause or prevention of disease and other health problems.

This lesson addresses the following National Standards for History presented by The National Center for History in the Schools:

This lesson addresses the following Standards for the English Language Arts from the National Council of Teachers of English:

  • Content Standard: NL-ENG.K-12.4 COMMUNICATION SKILLS
  • Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Materials Needed:

  • Classroom chairs for every student
  • Printed information on vehicle idling or access to internet
  • Paper, posters, markers (or other materials to make awareness posters/signs, etc.)

Students will be assessed through the following activities:

  • Participation in group activity
  • Written submission of persuasive essay 
  • Rubric that assesses:
  • Hook to grab the reader’s attention
  • Elaboration backing reasons is clear and persuasive
  • Opposing view presented in clear manner
  • Final statement or call to action presented



ReLevant Vocabulary:

  • Benzene:a colorless volatile flammable toxic liquid aromatic hydrocarbon C6H6 used in organic synthesis, as a solvent, and as a motor fuel[2]
  • Carbon Monoxide:A colorless odorless very toxic gas CO that burns to carbon dioxide with a blue flame and is formed as a product of the incomplete combustion of carbon[3]
  • Debate:The formal discussion of a motion before a deliberative body according to the rules of parliamentary procedure[4]
  • Formaldehyde:a colorless pungent irritating gas CH2O used chiefly in aqueous solution as a disinfectant and preservative and in chemical synthesis[5]
  • Nitric Oxide:a colorless poisonous gas NO formed by oxidation of nitrogen or ammonia that is present in the atmosphere and also in mammals where it is synthesized from arginine and oxygen and acts as a vasodilator and as a mediator of cell-to-cell communication [6]
  • Nitrogen Dioxide:A toxic reddish brown gas NO2 that is a strong oxidizing agent, is produced by combustion (as of fossil fuels), and is an atmospheric pollutant (as in smog)[7]
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons:any of a class of hydrocarbon molecules that have multiple carbon rings, and that include carcinogenic substances and environmentalpollutants[8]
  • Sulfur Dioxide:a heavy pungent toxic gas SO2 that is easily condensed to a colorless liquid, is used especially in making sulfuric acid, in bleaching, as a preservative, and as a refrigerant, and is a major air pollutant especially in industrial areas[9]
  • Vehicle Emissions:The various gases and pollutants that leave an automobile after the combustion of gasoline[10]
  • Vehicle Idling:The act of running an automobile engine when not in motion, sometimes used to heat up the engine during cold weather before driving[11]

Background Information:

Ah, the ideal community – less traffic and air pollution, pedestrian friendly streets, recycling bins everywhere, sunny days…we can dream right?  But we should all desire a healthy, sustainable community.  To accomplish this, we have to encourage citizens to take individual action.  That action could be taken in a variety of ways: recycling, practicing water conservation, serving as a crime-watch neighbor, reducing idling of vehicles, etc. This lesson today focuses on doing our part to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases by reducing unnecessary vehicle idling.  

Exhaust from idling vehicles and buses contain harmful substances in the form of particle pollution. Particle pollution is harmful not only to agriculture, plants, and animals, but primarily to humans.  Numerous studies have shown an increased rate of asthma cases and risk of respiratory infections in children who are regularly exposed to vehicle exhaust. Increased exposure to air pollution attacks the lungs in a way that is compared to getting “sunburned” in the lungs. Vehicle exhaust can lead to shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing, and even premature death.

Many parts of the nation are considered non-attainment areas. A non-attainment area is one that does not meet the Environmental Protection Agency's standards for pollution and can be classified as "non-attainment" of those standards. The current standards do not allow areas to exceed .08 parts per million of ozone over an eight-hour period.

In 2005, 725 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) were emitted daily in the 13-county metro Atlanta ozone non-attainment area. Mobile sources contributed more than half of the total, with 42 percent from on-road motor vehicles and an additional 15 percent from off-road vehicles, such as equipment used in construction, as well as aircraft and trains. NOx emissions from mobile sources will be increasingly important to air quality in the metro Atlanta area.  For on-road mobile sources, projected population growth means that the number of vehicle miles traveled daily is expected to increase for at least the next 25 years.


  • Climate Change Backgrounders

Gives the basics of climate change, causes and scientific research, current and expected impacts, as well as solutions that we can take to reduce greenhouse gases.

  • Student Handout: Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing

See this link for the following: Student Handout: The Truth About Vehicle Exhaust, Ford Motor Company letter regarding idling vehicles (You will not need the Teacher Handout: Social Marketing.)

  • State of Georgia’s Environment Report Georgia Department of Natural Resources

The State of Georgia’s Environment Report 2009, produced by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD). This report contains up-to-date information on what we know, and don’t know, about the current condition of our water, land and air resources. Other states may have similar information available.



Teacher Preparation Steps:

  1. Before “Activity One” arrange chairs in two concentric circles, one inside the other so that the two sets of chairs are facing each other. There should be the same number of chairs in each circle.

Warm-up: Introduction

  1. Ask students the following:
  2. When was the last time you walked down the street or stood near your school’s student pick-up line and got a lung full of exhaust from either a car or bus? Answers will vary (somewhat rhetorical question).
  3. Do you like spending your hard-earned money on gasoline? Probably not.
  4. Do you or your parents’ idle vehicles at school in a student pick-up area? Answers will vary.
  5. Inform students that when they are IDLING, they are getting ZERO miles per gallon. What a waste of your hard-earned money!

Activity One: Inner-Outer CircleNo Idling Debate

This debate involves listening to the point of view of others and writing a persuasive essay.

  1. Instruct students that they will be “debating” environmental issues with many different classmates, but in a one-on-one situation.
  2. Have students stand in a big circle. Every other person should take one giant step inside the circle and turn around facing those in the outer circle. In other words, there should be two circles with the outer circle people facing inward and the inner circle people facing outward, and everyone should be directly across from another student. (This procedure often works best if students use chairs rather than standing.)
  3. Read one of the environmentally-related questions to students. (Questions below or make up your own.) Allow approximately 2 minutes for students to discuss/debate “their view” of this issue with the person directly across from them (inner circle student that is facing the outer circle student.)
  4. After two minutes, have the outer circle rotate one space counter-clockwise and the inner circle rotate one space clockwise, so that each student is now facing a “new” debate partner.  (Teacher can designate any number of “spaces” to rotate). Present another environmental question for students to discuss.
  5. After two minutes, have the groups rotate once more.  Continue as desired with a number of questions.  Lead the students to the “main” debate for the day: Idling of vehicles.
  6. Continue with this “idling” debate/discussion, but after 2 minutes, have the groups rotate once again, but continue discussing the “idling” topic.  Continue yet for a third round of rotations on this topic so that students are discussing the “idling” topic with several classmates.
  7. Once students have spent sufficient time discussing this topic, have students return to their seats to begin Activity Two.

Environmentally-related debate questions:

  • Should marine mammals be in captivity?
  • Should recycling be mandatory?
  • Should citizens be restricted from washing their cars during a drought?
  • Can every driver do “something” to help reduce air pollution?
  • Main debate question for this lesson:
  • Should drivers turn off their engines while waiting to drop off or pick up students at school?
  • While waiting for someone to come out of a store?
  • While waiting for friend to come out of their house?

Activity Two: Persuasive Essay: Where do you stand on vehicle idling?

  1. Have students spend the remainder of the class writing a persuasive essay on Vehicle Idling.  Remind students that in persuasive writing, a writer takes a position FOR or AGAINST an issue and writes to convince the reader to believe or do something. As persuasive writing is more than just opinion, facts or examples are required to support an argument.
  2. For more details on persuasive writing, click the link below.
  3. Before they begin writing, discuss possible arguments for or against idling:
  4. To keep frost from windshield
  5. To keep car warm while you run in somewhere or wait for someone
  6. To warm up engine on cold days
  7. To prevent wear on the starter
  8. To save fuel
  9. Add to list based on student discussions

Also discuss who the target audience for the essay will be. Will the audience be parents who drive their students to school? Or will it be politicians? Or bus drivers? Depending on the audience, the students will need to tailor their essay to appeal to that particular demographic.

  1. After the students are finished with their essay, have them hand it in for a grade.

Activity Three: Develop a No-Idling Awareness Campaign for School

  1. Students will develop a no-idling campaign to reduce idling in the school parking lots and student drop-off areas.  This will help improve the health of students by asking students, parents, staff, and visitors to turn off their engines instead of idling. The program can include outreach to bus drivers as well, however, most school systems already have policies in place regarding bus idling.  Students will need to access the Clean Air Campaign’s No-Idling template to help plan and implement a No Idling program (see Extension below.)
  2. Some things students need to consider:  A timeline, how to create awareness about the campaign, finding a teacher or PTA sponsor, acquiring No Idling fliers and signage from The Clean Air Campaign, as well as conducting data collection.

Wrap Up: Debriefing

  1. At the end of the lesson, ask students if they think their No-Idling Campaign was successful. If not, what could they have done to improve it? Answers will vary. If they want to improve they could maybe hold “town meetings” to provide an opportunity for bus drivers, teachers, and students to all discuss the effect of idling on air quality and health.
  2. Ask students if they will be more conscious about vehicle idling after learning about vehicle idling. Answers will vary. Students may not realize how much gas can be wasted by idling their car in front of the school for a couple minutes every day.
  3. Ask students what other grassroots actions can be taken to improve air quality in their community. Encouraging less smoking in public areas. Encouraging people to buy more fuel efficient vehicles. Starting a fundraising campaign to buy solar panels for the school’s roof and reduce dependence on fossil fuel based electricity.

Extension: Getting Involved

  1. “Register” your school with The Clean Air Campaign and implement a no-idling program. Students will use the website to report idling data to the Clean Air Campaign.!/New-School-Registration-Form



Through this lesson, students will have learned about the environmental and economical implications of vehicle idling. They will have improved their ability to formulate persuasive arguments for environmental causes, and improved their persuasive essay writing skills. Students also gained experience in creating awareness campaigns, a skill that can be used later on in life if they decide to pursue a career in policy.



The Clean Air Campaign – Author

Nicole Holstein – Author

            Education Intern, Earth Day Network

Maggie Ollove – Editor

            Education Associate, Earth Day Network

[2]“Benzene Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 13 May 2011 from

[3]“Carbon Monoxide Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 13 May 2011 from

[4]“Debate Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 13 May 2011 from

[5]“Formaldehyde Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 13 May 2011 from

[6]“Nitric Oxide Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 13 May 2011 from

[7]“Nitrogen Dioxide Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 13 May 2011 from

[8] “Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 13 May 2011 from

[9]“Sulfur Dioxide Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 13 May 2011 from

[10]Vehicle Emissions. Rep. Kennesaw State University. Web. 13 May 2011.

[11]Andrews, Casey. "Vehicle Idling | Transportation Resources." Transportation Resources. California State University Monterey Bay, 11 Feb. 2011. Web. 13 May 2011.