Hands-on Activity Design a Recycling Game!

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-5)

Time Required: 1 hours 15 minutes

(Two 40-minute class periods; one period for designing the game and one for playing the game and discussion)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Earth and Space

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle


Students brainstorm ideas for board game formats. Then student teams design, create and test games in which players must think of alternative uses (recycling) for used products.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Three recycling bins, one for drinking cans, glass and plastic bottles and paper.
Students design a recycling game
Copyright © https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PET_bottle_recycling#/media/File:NEA_recycling_bins,_Orchard_Road.JPG

Engineering Connection

Environmental engineers are continually designing new ways to care for our environment and improve recycling techniques. Recycling is a great way to reuse items so that less waste is put into landfills and is important for materials that are difficult or costly to obtain.

Learning Objectives

  • Think creatively to reduce waste products.
  • Board game design techniques.
  • Work cooperatively in a group.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Alignment agreement:

Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Alignment agreement:

People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies.

Alignment agreement:

  • Waste must be appropriately recycled or disposed of to prevent unnecessary harm to the environment. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Identify and collect information about everyday problems that can be solved by technology, and generate ideas and requirements for solving a problem. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Compare how things found in nature differ from things that are human-made, noting differences and similarities in how they are produced and used. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Creative thinking and economic and cultural influences shape technological development. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Develop innovative products and systems that solve problems and extend capabilities based on individual or collective needs and wants. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Identify a problem that reflects the need for shelter, storage, or convenience. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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Materials List

  • poster board; alternatively, the back side of a used poster board
  • markers
  • spinner; alternatively, make out of cardboard square, paper arrow and a thumb tack
  • (optional) dice
  • game pieces; alternatively, make them out of bottle caps
  • tacks
  • construction paper; alternatively, colorful magazine pages
  • ruler


Earth is running out of space in its landfills and our non-renewable resources are being depleted! How can we reuse some of our "garbage" so that we throw away less?



Natural resources are the materials in our environment that are used to make products (for example, wood from trees to make paper).

Non-renewable resources are those materials that cannot be replaced by natural ecological cycles or sound management procedures (for example, oil, plastics).

Recycling is using a product more than once so that natural resources can be saved and so that we won't need so many garbage dumps and landfills. There are different ways to recycle. One way is to find a different use for a product. For example, we can use empty cans as pencil holders. Another way to recycle is to use heat, chemicals, bacteria or pressure to break a product down into its basic materials, and then reform these materials into a similar or different product.


  • Gather materials.
  • (optional) Make a game to show students as an example (see Figure 1).
    Photo shows a game board with a path of squares and a spinner to determine the number of moves.
    Figure 1. Example game: "Recycle and Win!"
    Copyright © 2004 Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

With the Students

  1. Introduce the Topic: Discuss recycling and different objects that are recycled. Brainstorm ideas for recycled materials. Some examples are plastic/foam cups, old tires, old clothes, egg carton, cardboard tubes, milk cartons, milk jugs, paper bags, baby food jars, shoe boxes, bottle caps, jar lids, etc.
  2. Group students and have them come up with as many different board games as they can. Once they have created lists, have groups sort their lists into categories such as dice, spinner or cards. On the board, document all of the different types of games that the students thought of.
  3. Optional: Demonstrate a game that the teacher made in advance. An example game format might be a spinner board game. On their turns, students spin the spinner, which is labeled with numbers, and move the indicated number of spaces. Each space is labeled with a used product. As the students land on the spaces, they must think of an alternative use for the product or go back to their previous space. The first to reach the end wins.
  4. Activity: Divide the class into teams of three or four students each.
  5. Have each group develop a list of ideas for materials that can be recycled and reused.
  6. Have each group design and build a board game. The games may be any type of game as long as they incorporate the idea of finding alternative uses for the materials that they listed. The games must include instructions.
  7. After each team has designed and built their game have the class switch games between groups and play another team's game.


Rubric for Performance Assessment (doc)

Rubric for Performance Assessment (pdf)

Investigating Questions

  • What different uses for used materials could you think of?
  • How can used products be reused?
  • Why do we need to recycle?
  • Which board game did you like the most? Why?
  • What game did you find the most challenging? Why?


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More Curriculum Like This

Upper Elementary Lesson
3RC (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Compost)

Students expand their understanding of solid waste management to include the idea of 3RC: reduce, reuse, recycle and compost. They look at the effects of packaging decisions (reducing) and learn about engineering advancements in packaging materials and solid waste management.


Kessler, James H. and Andrea Bennett. The Best of WonderScience: Elementary Science Activities. Boston: Delmar Publishers. 1997. ISBN: 0827380941 pg. 220, 222.


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last modified: July 26, 2021

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