Lesson Plan: Nonrenewable Energy Resources Coal, Oil and Natural Gas/Greenhouse Gases G8

Written By: Amy Beske
Grade Level: Grade 8

Time Allotment

Two - Five class periods


Nonrenewable energy resources including fossil fuels are used faster than they can be replaced. Inexhaustible energy resources are sources of renewable energy that will not run out in the future. People use a variety of earth’s mineral resources to meet a diverse range of needs.
For copies of the worksheets, go here: Nonrenewable_Energy_Resources_Lesson.pdf

Subject Matter

Earth Science, Language Arts, Geography, History

Learning Objectives

The students will:
  • identify examples of nonrenewable energy resources.
  • describe the advantages and disadvantages of using fossil fuels.
  • compare and contrast inexhaustible and renewable resources.
  • explain why inexhaustible and renewable resources are used less than nonrenewable resources.
  • Media Components - Video/Web

    1. Use earth science textbook or the following website sponsored by the U.S. Energy Information Association http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=nonrenewable_homebasics
      (have your students click on oil, coal or natural gas to read about each)
    2. Video Clips from Prairie Public North Dakota Studies website http://www.ndstudies.org/
    3. Search for the following three video clips, approximately 10 minutes in length each ‐
    4. The Formation of Fossil Fuels video clip ‐ 2 minutes 25 seconds in length. Show at the end of the day prior to the start of the fossil fuel


    • Access to website www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=nonrenewable_homebasics
    • Download/print copies from the website of the articles about the three fossil fuels.
    • Make copies of the worksheet (attached on top)
    • Small sheets of tag board – one for each student/group
    • Venn Diagram on board.

    Teacher Preparation

    • Preview the student readings. If using the website from the U.S. Energy Information Association print off the readings for your student groups or have computer access for them.
    • Gather and prepare small sheets of tag board (approx. 81/2 X 11") for each student group.
    • Preview the video clips from Prairie Public North Dakota Studies website. Have a projector available.
    • Make copies of student worksheets for the readings on fossil fuels.
    • Prepare a Venn Diagram with three circles. Identify each circle with the word Coal, Oil or Natural Gas. Prepare the formation chart on a white board or makes copies of the worksheet.
    • Makes copies of the Family Energy Contract and the student/parent signature sheet.
    • Have paper for folding into four quadrants.
    • Have enough note cards so everyone in class receives one. One of the following words should be written each of the cards ‐ PRAIRIE, WETLAND, FARMLAND or FOREST.
    • Have a can of clear soda pop and a handful of raisins for the demonstration.
    • (Optional) Invite a guest speaker from the local energy company.
    • (Optional) Find pictures of each ecosystem for discussion.

    Introductory Activities

    1. Open the class with a riddle.
      • “What’s another name for your old crazy science teacher?”
      • Answer: “A Fossil Fool!”
    2. Ask the students “How did you use energy this morning as you got ready for school and when you arrived at school?” List as many uses of energy as they can think of on the white board. (5 minutes)
      1. Learning Activities

        Lesson One:
        1. State “Today we will begin to study about Fossil Fuels.” Assign the students to read information about the three fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas. Go to this website for the articles.
        2. http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=nonrenewable_home-basics
          Students may read the articles from the site or the teacher could download and copy the articles.
        3. State “ As you read the articles on the three kinds of fossil fuels complete the worksheet.” (attached)
        4. Option – Assign groups of students to read each of the topics . Ask them to share the main highlights of their topic with the rest of the class. Ask each group to write/draw at least ten important facts that their classmates should know about the topic on a small piece of tag board. (15 minutes)
        5. Option ‐ To speed up the sharing process have all groups with the same topic bring their tag board up to the front of the classroom together (they feel less intimidated this way). Direct each group to share one main idea, then the next group shares, and so on until all of the key ideas had been given. Do this for each of the topics of coal, oil and natural gas. (20 minutes)
        6. (Option) Give each student a worksheet. Direct the students to fill out the worksheet as their peers present the information.
        7. (Option) Direct the students to create questions that they think are important for the class to answer as they share the main ideas.
        8. After the sharing of the readings review the key ideas with a Venn Diagram. (Below) Label each circle a fossil fuel; Coal, Oil, Natural Gas. Direct the students to use the completed worksheets to help with this review. Include how the fossils fuel forms and how it is removed from the ground. Identify where the fossil fuel deposit locations are in the United States. List how society uses the various fossil fuels and any negative impacts.
        9. Ask students “Should this diagram be labeled Renewable or Nonrenewable? Why?

        Lesson Two:
          • Riddle: “How can you grow your own power plant?”
          • Answer: “Try planting a light bulb!”
        1. Demonstration – Dancing Raisins
        2. Materials needed:
          • Clear drinking glass or graduated cylinder
          • Raisins
          • Clear carbonated beverage
        3. The raisin dance will get the kids thinking about the topic of this lesson ‐ carbon dioxide. Fill the container with carbonated beverage. Place a handful of raisins in the pop/soda. The raisins’ rough surface captures tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. The bubbles increase the volume of the raisin, but contribute little to its mass. Thus the overall density is lowered, causing the raisin to move upward. Once at the top the bubbles pop and the raisin sinks.
        4. Ask “Why are the raisins dancing about?” Carbonated beverages are prepared by using a high pressure of carbon dioxide gas, which dissolves in the liquid. This is what makes the bubbles in the soft drink. Ask the students to tell you hat they know about carbon dioxide. (5 minutes)
        5. Direct the students to fold a sheet of paper into four quadrants. Label each one of the quadrants as follows: 1800’s, Fossil Fuels, Greenhouse Effect, Global Warming. Direct the students to write down some facts from the video clip in relation to the four topics.
        6. Leave the lights on while viewing the video. Show the video clip from the North Dakota Studies website entitled Nature in the Balance: CO2 Sequestration:

        7. http://www.ndstudies.org/media/nature_in_the_balanceco2_sequestration_human_beings_co2_and_the_atmosphere
        8. When the video is finished have a sharing session with groups of students to see if they agree upon their ideas.
        9. Direct the students to refer to their notes (folded paper) as they discuss the following questions. (option)Could be used as a worksheet.
        10. Enrichment Activity: Discuss the local community power source. What type of power is it? If the students don’t know the answer direct them to find out.
        11. Invite a guest speaker from the local electric power company.
        12. Homework assignment or extra credit: Students may create an energy contract with their families. For example: turn off lights leaving the room, turn off the TV, restrict time in the shower, turn off water while brushing teeth, don’t stand with the refrigerator door open, etc. Post the energy contract on the refrigerator as a reminder for the students’ family. Students may return the lower portion of the contract slip to get credit for class.

        Lesson Three:
          Go to the North Dakota Studies website and locate the video clip entitled Nature in the Balance: CO2 Sequestration: Reducing CO2
          http://www.ndstudies.org/media/nature_in_the_balanceco2_sequestration_reducing_co2 (Approximate viewing time 10 minutes)
        1. Hand out four note cards to each student with the words PRAIRIE, WETLAND, FARMLAND, and FOREST - one per notecard. As the class watches the video Nature in the Balance: CO2 Sequestration: Reducing CO2 - (viewing time 10 minutes) direct the students to write down how each of the four ecosystems plays a role in the Carbon Dioxide Balance.
        2. After the video has been viewed and the students record their notes on the notecards, discuss which environment was better at storing carbon in the soil. Discuss the word terrestrial (earth/soil) as a holding facility for the carbon.
        3. Questions for discussion: Answers in italics
          • What can humans do to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere? Multiple answers: turn off lights, reduce, reuse, recycle, use renewal energy, and continue studies to improve our current methods of fossil fuel use.
          • What is CO2 Sequestration? The capture and storage of carbon dioxide.
          • Terrestrial sequestration is referring to what? Terrestrial sequestration is accomplished through plant growth. Plants use CO2 and store it within their root systems.
          • What are the four types of land cover (ecosystem) for terrestrial sequestration? Forest, grassland (prairies), farmland and wetland.
          • How do these types of ecosystems play a role in containing and storing carbon? The plants store the CO2. Wetlands are moist and contain larger amounts of carbon, while prairies are drier, usually containing lower quantities of carbon.
          • What did we do to the prairie that released carbon? Plowing releases CO2.
          • What can we do to place carbon back into the soil and help reduce quantities in the atmosphere? Minimum tillage/no till practices, good rangeland management, and restoration of wetlands are all conservation practices that help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

        Lesson Four - Enrichment:
        Go to the North Dakota Studies website and locate the video clip entitled Nature in the Balance:CO2 Sequestration: Geological Sequestration
        http://www.ndstudies.org/media/nature_in_the_balance_co2_sequestration_geological_sequestration (Approximate viewing time 10 minutes)

        This video clip is very interesting but much more challenging for an 8th grade class to understand. The teacher could turn off the sound and narrate the video in simpler terms. The video clip is excellent for senior high school earth science students.

        Culminating Activity

        Source ACMP 2006‐2008 UAF Geophysical Institute
        Students will ‐
        • explain the role greenhouse gases play in the environment.
        • compare what happens to Earth’s temperature when greenhouse gases increase.
        • state some reasons for the possible causes for a rise in greenhouse gases.
        • conduct a lab to test the simulation of global warming.
        • Student Worksheet Greenhouse Gas Lab (attached)
        • Overhead Greenhouse Gases on the Rise (attached)
        • Student Activity Materials
        • Newspaper
        • Sun lamp (or table lamp with 100 watt bulb)
        • Three thermometers
        • Two 250 ml Erlenmeyer flasks with rubber stoppers
        • 500 ml Erlenmeyer flask
        • 80 ml (1/3 cup) vinegar
        • 5 g (1teaspoon) baking soda
        • Stopwatch
        • Pencils
        • Graph Paper
        • Student safety goggles
        Introduction for students:

        Earth’s atmosphere is made up of naturally occurring gases including oxygen (02), water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). The gases are often called greenhouse gases because they reduce heat loss into space and cause Earth’s surface to warm up. These gases are essential to life on Earth.
        Critical Thinking Concepts:
        Ask students to pair up and talk about the following questions:
        1. Name some of the important uses for the following greenhouse gases; carbon dioxide, methane gas, nitrous oxide. Answers may vary but carbon dioxide in the solid state forms dry ice, plants convert carbon dioxide into simple sugars and oxygen; methane gas is used for cooking food, heating homes and can be used to power cars; nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is used by dentists to sedate patients.
        2. Name natural causes for the increase in greenhouse gases. Answers may include: wildfires and volcanic eruptions release carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.
        3. Ask “What human activities lead to increases in greenhouse gases?” Humans use natural gas, petroleum, wood, coal and other sources for heat and fuel. These add greenhouse gases to the environment. With the increase in human population over the past 100 years and a dependence on fossil fuels to heat homes, power cars and speed communication, the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere now exceeds Earth’s ability to absorb it.
        1. Ask students what happens to Earth’s temperature when greenhouse gases increase in Earth’s atmosphere. The resulting increase in these greenhouse gases is linked to a rise in Earth’s temperature. More of the sun’s warmth is trapped, which causes Earth’s temperature to rise.
        2. Display the slide/overhead: “Greenhouse Gases on the Rise”
        3. Explain that glaciers, like tree rings, grow every year trapping dust and atmospheric gases between each year’s new layer. Scientists drill out long cores of these layers and test them for levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. In this way, scientists discovered that CO2 has increased nearly 30 percent since 1750 due in part to the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and gasoline. In addition, large scale cutting and burning of the world’s forests has increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
        4. Ask students to recall the process of photosynthesis. Simply put, plants take in water and carbon dioxide and produce oxygen and simple sugars. Ask “What happens when more carbon dioxide is released and fewer trees exist to take it up and convert it to oxygen?” Atmospheric carbon dioxide will continue to increase.
        5. Inform students that methane gas (CH4) has increased 150 percent in the atmosphere since it was first recorded in 1750. In fact, methane is 20 times better at trapping heat in the lower atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Ask “What is the source of methane gas?” It is a natural by product of coal, natural gas and oil production. Methane gas escapes during the process of landfill decomposition and livestock emit methane as part of their digestive process.
        6. Explain that nitrous oxide (N2O) is produced naturally by microorganisms as they digest leaf litter and other organic materials. It is also released through the burning of fossil fuels and is used extensively as an agricultural fertilizer. This discharge into the atmosphere has caused it to increase in the atmosphere in a small but important way. Nitrous oxide molecules trap 270 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
        7. Direct the students to work in small groups and conduct a lab experiment to simulate the effect of greenhouse gases. The students make a hypothesis and use the scientific method to conduct an experiment. Then they will determine if their lab results support their hypothesis.
        8. Distribute the student worksheet Greenhouse Gas Lab and instruct students to answer the first three questions independently. Divide students into groups and instruct them to complete the remainder of the worksheet. (option) This may be set up as a demonstration. Small student groups take turns recording the temperature measurements.
        9. Ask students “How is the control thermometer different than outer space?” Outer space does not have an atmosphere. Discuss results.