50 Ways to Go Green in the Classroom

By Sarah Russel

Most of you teachers are wrapping up the school year, but we have an important homework assignment for the summer. Can you think of 50 different ways to go green in your classroom starting this fall? Don’t worry: we really want you to enjoy your time off, so we came up with this little cheat sheet to help you and your students make a pact to make more eco-conscious choices and take real steps to saving our planet.

Class Projects

Make going green a class project by sponsoring a recycling competition, planting a class garden or adopting the rainforest.

  1. Recycle Competition: Many classrooms already have recycling barrels next to the trash can, but you can start a competition with your hall to see which class can save the most newspapers, soda cans, water bottles or any other recyclable item.
  2. Compost heap: If your school isn’t willing to start composting, you can create a mini compost pile outside your classroom to get rid of some of your garbage, though it’s probably a smart idea to make sure it’s cleared with the administration and fire codes.
  3. Start a garden: Use the compost to fertilize a class garden. You can grow vegetables or flowers, and let the students sample what you grow.
  4. Recycle technology: If you’re lucky enough to be getting new computers this fall, invite your kids to join the Goodwill and Dell Reconnect program, which recycles computers and other electronics.
  5. Go Green Database: Browse this database for fun eco-friendly projects that encourage awareness.
  6. Plan an end-of-the-day room check: During the last few minutes of the day, have your children make sure all the water faucets are completely turned off, blinds are closed, lights are off and windows are closed. You can give different groups a checklist for each part of the room.
  7. Adopt a rainforest: This project works with any unit you’re teaching. Your class can adopt the rainforest, whales, a block on your street or any other place you want to make a difference.
  8. Use real plants for class pets: If your classroom has a pet turtle, lizard or fish, use real plants instead of synthetic or plastic plants. It’s better for the greater environment, as well as your little friend.
  9. Calculate your carbon footprint: You can use this calculator to calculate your classroom’s carbon footprint, or the combined effect all of your students have on the environment. Then, discuss ways to minimize your effect on the environment.
  10. Take an eco-friendly field trip: Walk to a nearby park to examine the local ecosystems without using extra gas.
  11. Start a class website: Older students will respond to a class website, where they can get homework help, submit discussion questions, and play with interactive study guides, all of which save paper.
  12. Raise monarch butterflies: This teacher started a class project to raise monarch butterflies in order to teach her students about natural ecosystems and the developing stages of life.

School Supplies

It’s time to reevaluate your school supply closet and figure out how to introduce safer, more environmentally friendly pens, paints and tissues into the mix.

  1. Use water-based paints: The Green Guide recommends using water-based paints for a non-toxic creative project.
  2. Green art projects: This list of green art projects are all good for the environment, and some utilize natural ingredients and products like clay and wood.
  3. Use green tissues: These Seventh Generation brand tissues are chlorine-free, so they aren’t a threat to the ozone layer and have no dyes or artificial fragrances.
  4. Make your own cleaning kit: Free your students of breathing in harmful chemicals and help the environment by whipping up your own batch of non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning supplies.
  5. Stock your room with green school supplies: If you or your school’s budget can afford it, stock your room with green school supplies, like recycled notebook binders and biodegradable corn starch pens.
  6. Write with recycled pencils: This number two pencil is also made of recycled wood.
  7. Acid-free glue stick: For all your art projects, use acid-free glue stick, which is less messier than liquid glue and better for the environment.
  8. Take Classes Online: Attending accredited online universities saves both in the travel resources as well as the energy costs of the brick and mortar system.
  9. Recharge batteries: Rechargeable batteries can save the earth from harmful metals and compounds that can’t be broken down when you toss out old batteries.

Preserving Resources

Preserve our natural resources by following these tips, which save water, electricity and paper.

  1. Make sure water faucets are turned off: The WaterWiser Drip Calculator reveals that 5 drips per second is the same as letting water run in a steady stream. Make sure your kids turn the water off all the way.
  2. Open windows: If the temperature is nice outside, regulate your inside temperature by opening up the windows. Fresh air will also rejuvenate you and your students.
  3. Water your garden with your leftovers: If you have leftover water from a cooking or science assignment, use it to water your plants outside instead of throwing it down the drain.
  4. Check for leaks: Check your windows for insulation leaks and your faucets for water leaks, which can waste electricity and water. Notify your school’s maintenance department to have it fixed as soon as possible.
  5. Use biodegradable cups and utensils: For class parties and snack time, keep a stash of biodegradable plates and utensils.
  6. Reusable napkins: If you have older students who (theoretically) shouldn’t be as messy as elementary kids, you may want to consider setting out resuable napkins that you can wash whenever you have snacks.
  7. Use the right lightbulbs: This guide goes over the right “green” light bulbs, including compact fluorescent light bulbs and Energy Star bulbs.
  8. Encourage students to use both sides of the paper: Teachers have been battling this problem for a while. Ask your students to use both sides of the paper for homework assignments. You can even reward them an extra bonus point or two if they remember.
  9. Open the blinds: Let in natural light and turn on a desk lamp when you’re packing up for the day or in your room by yourself during lunchtime.

Teachers Only

Going green at school isn’t just about student involvement. Teachers can learn how to make eco-conscious choices in the teacher’s lounge and when designing lesson plans, too.

  1. Unplug your mini-fridge: Consider sharing a mini-fridge with the teachers down the hall instead of having your own private refrigerator that soaks up extra electricity
  2. Keep your grades online: Online gradebooks like this one save paper and invite parents to take a more active role in evaluating student performance.
  3. Drink Fair Trade Coffee: Introduce Fair Trade Coffee to the teachers’ lounge for an eco-conscious, humanitarian pick-me-up.
  4. Bring a mug or glass to school: Instead of pouring coffee or water into a styrofoam cup, bring your own mug or glass to school, which can be washed and reused over and over again.
  5. Use recycled paper: All teachers go through a ton of notebooks and papers each year, so using recycled paper and then recycling all your files after the year is over will positively impact the environment.
  6. Use PowerPoint: Start creating PowerPoint presentations to deliver notes, photos and study guides without wasting paper.
  7. E-mail other teachers and administration: If your school hasn’t already, try to start an e-mail only campaign that eliminates needing hard copies of substitute requests, field trip proposals and meeting RSVPs.
  8. Send Rescue Paper thank you notes: Send thank you notes for teacher gifts or notify a parent of a high-achieving child with these Rescuse Paper stationery.
  9. Insulate doors: At the end of the day, slide draft guards under your door to insulate the room and keep energy consumption down.

More Green Ideas

From organic snacks to carpooling to applying for environmental program grants, this list is full of even more green ideas.

  1. Offer organic snacks: Besides going green, having a party with these snacks is better for students’ health and focus.
  2. Plant a tree: A popular tradition for many schools on Earth Day, find out if your class can plant a tree or bush any other day.
  3. Turn off your computer: Don’t just put your computer on sleep mode: turning it off during your lunch break and especially at night saves a lot of energy.
  4. Carpool with other teachers: Even if you don’t have to commute across town, carpooling with teacher friends decreases air pollution, and of course, saves you money.
  5. Put on a show: Educate the rest of your school by putting on a play or presentation that goes over an environmental topics like global warming, preserving ecosystems or recycling. An extra challenge would be to only use organic, natural or non-toxic supplies to organize the event.
  6. Campaign for an Idle-Free School Zone: These Idle-Free School Zones are catching on and encourage parents who arrive at school to pick up their kids to turn off their engines and reduce pollution.
  7. Apply for a grant: The Live Green Teacher Grants award teachers $1,000 to put their original green ideas and campaigns to work in the classroom.

Networks and Groups

Encourage your students to join these networks independently or as a class to enter contests and connect with other conscious students around the world.

  1. Student Environmental Action Coalition: This group provides information on local events and global campaigns that are devoted to saving the environment.
  2. Lexus Environmental Challenge: Compete for online university scholarships and grants in this contest, sponsored by Lexus and Scholastic.
  3. Earth Force: This organization “engages young people as active citizens who improve the environment.” The Tools for Teachers section provides resources for getting involved in the classroom.
  4. Save a Snowman: Introduce your students to global warming by sponsoring a snowman and learning ab