Unit 3: Protecting the Earth: Plastic Pollution
Students explore how plastic pollution is choking the world’s oceans, and explore a variety of solutions for reducing plastic waste and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean.
In this unit, students explore how plastic pollution is choking the world’s oceans. Students first learn about the history of plastic, how plastic ends up in the ocean, how plastic in the ocean impacts the ecosystem, and why it’s so hard to remove plastic from the ocean once it’s there. Students then explore a variety of solutions for reducing plastic waste and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean. Students will learn about large policy-based changes that can be made and also explore smaller voluntary actions they can take that will make a difference. Finally, students end the unit by doing a research project aimed at educating others about the dangers of plastic and its impact on the environment.
In this informational unit, students will be challenged to explain the relationship between two or more scientific ideas, noticing how authors use description, sequence, or cause- and-effect paragraph structure to help readers notice and explain the connections between events. Students will also analyze how authors use a variety of reasons and evidence to support their points, depending on their purpose for writing the text.
Throughout the unit, students learn how to prepare for class discussions, determining which evidence best supports a particular idea and how to elaborate on that evidence. By writing daily in response to the Target Task question, students build their writing fluency, seeing the power of writing as a tool for understanding what they are reading. Students also set the foundations for strong literary analysis and opinion writing by learning how to craft strong paragraphs and multiple-paragraph essays.
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Book: Trash Vortex: How Plastic Pollution Is Choking the World's Oceans by Danielle Smith-Llera (Compass Point Books, 2018)
Article: “Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability” (United Nations Environment Programme, 2018)
Article: “Ten "stealth microplastics" to avoid if you want to save the oceans” by Sharon George and Deirdre McKay (The Conversation)
Rubric: Grade 5 Literary Analysis and Opinion Writing Rubric
Article: “Queensland passes laws banning 'killer' single-use plastics” (The Guardian)
Article: “"People need them": The trouble with the movement to ban plastic straws” (The Guardian)
Article: “Mythbusting: 5 common misperceptions surrounding the environmental impacts of single-use plastics” (University of Michigan News)
Template: Two-Paragraph Outline
Template: Three Paragraph Outline
Template: Plastic Pollution Note-Taker
Article: “Little girl, big difference: 4th grader’s idea helps reduce trash at Pikes Peak region-area elementary school” by Lindsey Grewe for CBS
These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.
Download Content Assessment
Download Content Assessment Answer Key
Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit. Essential Tasks can be found in the following lessons:
Suggestions for how to prepare to teach this unit
Prepare to teach this unit by immersing yourself in the texts, themes, and core standards. Unit Launches include a series of short videos, targeted readings, and opportunities for action planning.
The central thematic questions addressed in the unit or across units
Authors use description, sequence, or cause and effect paragraph and sentence structure to help readers notice and explain connections between ideas.
Authors use a variety of reasons and evidence to support their points. The type of evidence an author uses depends on the author’s purpose.
Write strong topic sentences that clearly state an opinion or answer the question.
Logically group details and reasons to support the opinion.
Identify and elaborate on details and reasons that support the opinion.
Use coordinating conjunctions to explain supporting details.
Provide concluding sentences or statements.
Generate strong questions and use reliable sources when starting a research project.
Determine which details are the most important and best support the main point.
Use details to create topic sentences and coherent paragraphs.
Elaborate on reasons by providing more facts and details.
Prepare for discussion.
Elaborate to support ideas. Provide evidence or examples to justify and defend a point clearly.
Use specific vocabulary. Use vocabulary that is specific to the subject and task to clarify and share their thoughts.
Literary terms, text-based vocabulary, idioms and word parts to be taught with the text
To see all the vocabulary for Unit 3, view our 5th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.
In order to ensure that all students are able to access the texts and tasks in this unit, it is incredibly important to intellectually prepare to teach the unit prior to launching the unit. Use the intellectual preparation protocol and the Unit Launch to determine which support students will need. To learn more, visit the Supporting all Students teacher tool.
Explain what it means to have a plastic problem.
Explain how plastic ends up in a gyre and what happens to it once it is there.
Explain why the author uses the words grotesque, astounding, and dramatic to describe what Moore and his team found.
Explain how Leo Baekeland invented plastic.
Analyze how plastic became such a large part of everyday life.
Explain what evidence the author uses to emphasize how much plastic is in the ocean and its impact on the ecosystem.
Analyze how plastic has a negative impact on ocean ecosystems and humans.
Explain what the author means by the quote, "we need to think about the items we are using not just on beaches, but also inland and communities far upstream as well."
Writing – 3 days
Write two strong paragraphs describing why we have a plastic pollution problem and how plastic pollution impacts the ocean.
Opinion Writing – 4 days
Write an opinion piece defending whether or not single-use plastics should be banned by citing evidence from multiple texts and building an argument.
Explain what strategies the author recommends to help reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean and the pros and cons of the strategies.
Explain what strategies the author recommends to help reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean and the pros and cons of the strategies.
Explain what "stealth microplastics" are and what steps we can take to reduce plastic waste from microplastics.
Describe how Shelby’s actions show that a single person can make a difference.
Write multiple paragraphs that describe a solution for reducing the school’s use of plastic after researching different alternatives. Create a presentation to convince others around the school to take part and minimize the school’s use of plastic.
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The content standards covered in this unit
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
— Use punctuation to separate items in a series.
— Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.
— Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
— Expand, combine, and reduce sentences for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.
— Compare and contrast the varieties of English (e.g., dialects, registers) used in stories, dramas, or poems.
— Consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation and determine or clarify the precise meaning of key words and phrases.
— Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.
— Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).
— Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
— Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
— Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
— Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
— Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, using formal English when appropriate to task and situation.
— Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information
— Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer's purpose.
— Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.
— Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
— Introduce a topic clearly, provide a general observation and focus, and group related information logically; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
— Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
— Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented
— With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
— With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting.
— Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
— Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources.
— Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Standards that are practiced daily but are not priority standards of the unit
— Explain the function of conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections in general and their function in particular sentences.
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
— Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 5 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
— Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., photograph, photosynthesis).
— Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
— Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal contrast, addition, and other logical relationships (e.g., however, although, nevertheless, similarly, moreover, in addition).
— Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
— Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
— Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
— Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 5 topic or subject area.
— Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.
— By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 4—5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
— Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
(Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1—3 above.)
— Apply grade 5 Reading standards to informational texts (e.g., "Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point[s]").
— Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
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