“Oil Spill!” Lesson Plan for Primary Grades on the Environment

Teach children about the effects of an oil spill with this primary grade lesson plan. It can be used to compliment a unit about oceans or a unit about taking care of the environment. This lesson uses a book and simple demonstration to show young children how devasting an oil spill can be to ocean plants and wildlife.


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Oil Spill! by Melvin Berger

Chart paper and markers

Cooking oil

Clear plastic cups

Pitcher of water

Craft feathers

Pipe cleaners

Experiment Recording Sheet

Pencils, crayons


Begin by asking the children what they know, if anything, about oil spills. What causes them? What are their effects? Do they remember hearing about any recent oil spills? Write their ideas on chart paper.

Next, tell the class that they are going to do an experiment to demonstrate what happens when oil is spilled into water. Give each pair or small group of children a clear plastic cup. Give each child a copy of the Oil Spill Experiment recording sheet. Go around and fill each cup about halfway with water. Tell the children that next you are going to add some oil to the water. Ask them to predict what will happen when you add the oil and have them write their predictions on their recording sheets. Then add a small amount of oil to each cup. The children should observe what happens, looking at the cups from above and from the side. Then they can draw a picture of their cups on their recording sheets.

Next, give each group a craft feather and a pipe cleaner. Tell the children to dip each item into their cups of water and take them out, observing what happens. Have them touch the feather and the pipe cleaner. What do they feel? Have them record their observations.

Finally, give each group another cup with clean water in it. Ask them to dip the feather and pipe cleaner into the clean water. What happened? Were the objects clean? Did the oil rinse off? Have the children answer the last two questions on the recording sheet.

Discuss the experiment and how it relates to an oil spill in the ocean. How would it affect the plants, birds and other animals?

Finish the lesson by reading the book Oil Spill! by Melvin Berger. Talk about the cover. What do they see? What do they think has happened to the otter? The book from the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series begins with the events of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the damage it caused. It continues with information about cleaning up and preventing oil spills. Discuss the story and information as you read the book.


Look over their recording sheets, especially the last question about how the experiment relates to an ocean oil spill. Were they able to draw a reasonable conclusion? You might also ask them to write about oil spills in their science notebooks to see which children have a good understanding of the topic and which ones are still trying to understand it.

Extension Activities

Here are few ways to follow up your oil spill lesson.

  • Read other books about oil spills. Some other good choices are Peter’s Place by Sally Grindley and Michael Foreman, Prince William by Gloria Rand and Gulf Coast Oil Spill: Poor Little Pelican by Carole Marsh.

Younger students will begin to understand the importance of protecting our natural resources with this oil spill lesson plan.


Source: Author's personal classroom experience

Book Photo Source: Amazon.com