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Renewable and non-renewable, What's the difference? Grades 3-4

Lesson Plan

Renewable and non-renewable, What's the difference? Grades 3-4

Grade Levels

3rd Grade, 4th Grade

Course, Subject

Environment and Ecology (Agriculture)


This activity helps students to recognize and identify renewable and non-renewable resources.


Renewable resource:  a naturally occurring material, substance or form of energy that can replenish/replace  itself through ecological cycles and good management. For example, wind, sun, trees, wildlife.

Non-renewable resource: a substance or material found naturally in the environment that cannot replenish/rplace  itself within this geological age, for example gas, oil, copper, gold, oil.

sustainable:  using natural resources in a way that will ensure their availability for now and future generations.

natural resource: raw materials supplied by the Earth, for example, minerals, soil, water, sun, animals, plants, etc.


Students will be able to

  • Define and give example of natural resources.
  • define and give examples of renewable resources.
  • Define and give examples of non-renewable resources
  • Distinguish between renewable and non-renewable resources.
  • Identify and give examples of natural resources that people use in everyday life


Lesson Essential Question(s)


  • What are renewable and non-renewable natural resources?
  • How are natural resources used to provide for the needs and wants of living things?
  • What actions can people take to help ensure the continued availability of natural resources?


One 45-60 minute class period


Examples of natural resources (pictures or items)

Example of renewable resources (pictures or items)

Examples of nonrenewable resoruces (pictures or items)

Large paper, enough for each group

Clue cards-enough for each group

Student copy sheet- enough for 1 per student


Suggested Instructional Strategies

W  Teachers introduces concepts by writing the words natural resources on the board and letting students know we are discussing term rsources. Teachers helps students explore the many items people use that come from natural resources.

H   Teacher has actual examples of natural resources and provides students with then opportunity to work in groups and brainstorm items that come from natural resources that they use.

E. Students will  divide into groups and be given "clue sheets" in order to develop their own definitions  of renewalbe and nonrenewable.

R. Working in groups, students classify items as renewable and nonrenewable resources. Students have opportunity to develop a "not sure" list.   Individuals or class can investigate the item then classify.

E  Students will complete the student sheets- where they answer questions regarding renewable and nonrenewable resources, followed by class discussion and review.

T:       Instruction is differentiated by the use of concrete examples, working in groups, and class discussion.

O:       Learning experiences are organized by moving from teacher led activities to group activity and individual activity.

Instructional Procedures

Background:  Natural resources are materials that are naturally found in the environment that are useful or valued by people.  We use natural resources for housing, clothing, transportation, heating, cooking, etc.  Natural resources include air, water, land, minerals, plants, animals-- basically everything found in the environment that we use to meet our needs or our wants.  Natural resources are divided into 2 major categories: renewable and non-renewable.

Renewable resources can be replenished through natural processes and/or management by people. Trees are a natural resource. Even though trees die or are cut-down, trees are considered a renewable resource. Why? Trees can reseed themselves or can be replanted by people.  The same with animals. We use animals for food and clothing however, new animals are contually being born and raised. Wind and solar energy are renewable resources.  They are continually renewed or restored

  It is important to realize that we can over use a renewable resource.  Animals and plants can become extinct if we use them too quickly- without giving them time to replenish.  That is why we have state and federal agencies to manage wild plants and animals and laws describing if, when, where and how many can be harvested. The passenger pigeon became extinct due to irresponsible hunting and loss of habitat-- there were no laws regulating hunting when this bird became extinct.  Grasslands can be overgrazed so that grasses/ crops cannot regrow and the soil loses its ability to support plant life.

Non-renwable resources exist in limited amounts. These resources cannot be replace or restored in a timely fashion.  Examples of nonrenewable resources include oil, coal, gas, copper, gold and other metals.  Fossil fuels were formed through processes that took millions of years.  Copper, gold and other metals were formed when Earth was formed. Once these sources are used up, no additional sources are available on Earth. 


1. Write the terms natural resource on the board.  Ask students what these terms mean.  Give examples or have pictures of examples, such as trees, coal, copper, animals.  Ask students if people use any of these resources. Write their ideas on the board.  They may need some hints, so if possible, have pictures of a diamond ring, a fireplace, a wooden desk, etc. Explain that natural resources are those raw materials that are found in the environment that people use to help meet their needs or wants.

2. Divide students into small groups.  Ask them to list items that people use that come from a natural resource. They should list as many as they can.  Post lists around the room and review.

3. Select a few of the resources common to all the lists and write them down on the board. Ask students what would happen if we ran out of the material to make some of these items?  What would we do? Explain that some natural resources are renewable and others are non-renewable 

4. Divide students into groups of 4. Tell students that each group is to define the terms "renewable" and non-renewable" resources and give examples of each. To help them out, each group will receive clue cards.  Pass out the student page and the clue cards.  Each student in the group should get 1 clue card. 

5. Students should read their clue card and share the information with the others in their group.  Then, each team should use the information on the cards to come up with a definition for renewable and non- renewable.  (Teachers should monitor progress of groups to ensure they have accurate definitions). Ask students to list examples for each. 

6. Next pass out the student page 2.  Students should be given time to discuss the answers in their group. Then, students should record their answers on their own paper. 

7. Wrap up:  Class discussion. Go over definitions and student pages with class.  Go back to the lists hanging around the classroom. Ask students if the item comes from a renewable resource or a non-renewable resource.  Make a list of items students are not sure about, if any. Then, assign students to find out what natural resource is used to make the item. Then ask students if items come from a renewable or non-renewable resource.

Extension:  Ask students to choose a clothing or food item they like to eat or wear. Using a concept or flow map,  ask students to construct a concept map including all of the materials needed to make their item.  Then, ask them to label any materials that are renewaable resources and/or non-renewable resrouces.


Copy Sheet:


Clue Cards

Clue Card 1   On Earth, there are only limited amounts of fossil furesls such as oil, coal and natural gas.  There are also limited amounts of minerals such as iron, copper and gold.  These resources either cannot be replaced by natural proceses or require million of years to replenish.


Clue Card 2  Some non-renewble and renewable natural resources can be recycled or reused.  Recycling reduces the amount of minerals that has to be taken from the earth. For example, recycling aluminum cans reduces the amount of bauxite that has to be mined from the earth. Bauxite is used to make aluminum.  So, recycling cans helps conserve bauxite.   Recycling plastic bottles or reusing plastic items helps reduce the amount of oil that has to be used to make plastic. Therefore, recycling plastic helps conserve oil, which is a fossil fuel.


Clue Card 3  Renewable natural resources include plants, animals, and falling water when they are properly managed.  Minerals and fossil fuels, sucha s coal and oil, are examples of non-renewable natural reources.


Clue Card 4  Trees, wildife, water and many other natural resources are replaced by natural processes.  Plant and animals can also be replaced by human activities if managed properly.  Water is continually recycled and reused.  Sunlight, wind, geothermal and hot springs,  flowing water are resources that are constantly being renewed or restored.  Sand and other soils are also renewable but take much, much longer to renew.


Summary Questions--This can be done as a class or given to students to complete on their own.


1. Categorize the following as renewable  (R) or non-renewable (N):



____ Coal






_____Geothermal/hot springs





2.  Look around the classroom and list as many items as you can that are made from natural resources. Then, label them as renewalble or non renewable.

Item                        Natural Resource          Renewable or Non-renewable










3. What renewable resources could be used to replace non-renewable resources. For example, pencils instead of pens made of plastic.




4. It is possible for some renewable resources to be used up or ruined so that it is no longer a renewable resource.  What do you think could happen to a plant or an animal that would make it no longer renewable?







Formative Assessment

Formative assessment:

  • Observe students during class and group discussions, providing feedback in order to facilitate fair and appropriate group work.
  •  Monitor groups to ensure students are developing accurate definitions of renewable and nonrenewable, correct where needed.
  • Provide feedback and guide student understanding during the  activity in order to help students understand the concept an, definitions of natural resources, renewable resources and nonresource, and be able to give examples of each.


Related Materials & Resources

"A Few of My Favorite Things" from Project Learning Tree

"Renewable or Not" from Project Learning Tree


Theresa Alberici, based on a PLT activity Renewable or Nonrenewable?

Date Published

October 18, 2010
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