Lesson Plan: Paper From Paper: A Hands-On Approach to Recycling

Objective: Students will learn how to create their own recycled paper.

Problem Statement: How do we make new paper from used paper?

Materials Needed:

  • 2 Buckets
  • Blender
  • Used classroom paper, ripped into 1 inch pieces
  • 5"x7" Wooden Frame
  • Screening Material large enough to cover frame
  • Small nails, tacks or staples to attach screening to frame
  • Basin at least 8" deep, wide enough to fit frame
  • Pieces of felt 9"x12"(at least one per student)
  • Warm water
  • Old newspapers
  • Wooden Spoon for stirring
  • Smocks(optional, this can get messy)
  • Sponge
  • Several Magnifying Glasses
  • Vocabulary Related to this Activity:

    pulp fiber fibrous


    1. The day before doing this lesson, show the students that the scraps of paper are being placed into the first bucket and covered with warm water. (Use twice as much paper shredded as you want to make into new paper).
    2. Wrap the screen around the wooden frame and tack or staple it down.
    3. The day of the lesson, take a handful of the wet shredded paper from the bucket
    4. and put into the blender. Cover with warm water and blend until the paper is broken down into pulp. Pour the pulp into the basin and repeat until all of the paper is processed.
    5. Lay newspapers in an area that can be undisturbed for a day and place felts on them. You may want to mark these with the students' names so they will know which paper is theirs. Before the students begin to make their individual pieces of paper, you can briefly have them touch the pulp with their hands and you can explain that the paper is fibrous; it contains little fibers that fit together to form a mat that becomes paper.
    6. Have the students take turns dipping the frame into the basin and lifting it up horizontally. The students should gently shake the frame from side to side and hold it for a minute to drain off the excess water. It is also helpful to try to absorb some of the water by applying the sponge to the other side. Wring out the sponge.
    7. The student should then flip the frame onto his/her piece of felt. Use the sponge and light tapping to peel the paper off of the frame and onto the felt. While students are waiting to make their paper, in addition to watching the other students, they can take a magnifying glass and examine notebook or computer paper to try to see fibers within the paper.
    8. Let the paper dry overnight. Voila! Paper from paper.

    Special Notes: A tablespoon of liquid starch can be added to the basin of pulp so students can decorate the finished product without having the ink run. Good sources to read about this subject are a book called Making and Decorating Your Own Paper by Kathy Blake and Bill Milne, and the Marcal website at http://www.marcalpaper.com . The Marcal website has a kids page that gives a paper making experiment. I have modified it for classroom use, however, because I don’t think using a hot iron is a safe idea in a classroom. Be sure that when you are done with the pulp you do not pour it down the sink or it will clog the drain.

    Student Outcomes: Students will have an appreciation of how companies create new, recycled paper from used paper.

    Lesson Plan: What is Made of Paper?

    Objective: Students will become aware of how many products are made of paper and get a better understanding of why paper recycling is important.

    Problem Statement: What common things are made of paper products?

    Materials Needed:

  • Bucket
  • All of the following materials should be in portions of one per student: Very small paper bags
  • Crepe paper streamers cut into three inch lengths
  • One quarter of page from a magazine
  • Piece of cardboard from a cereal box
  • Piece of newspaper
  • Piece of corrugated cardboard
  • Clipping from an advertising circular
  • Old dittos from class
  • Vocabulary Related to this Activity:

    Waste stream Paperboard Junk Mail Recycling Packaging


    1. Place a piece of the various types of paper into the small paper bags and distribute one bag to each student. Fill the bags before class so the students are unfamiliar with the contents.
    2. Direct the students to take out the contents of their bags and examine them.
    3. Ask them to comment on the textures and other factors they notice about the papers.
    4. Start a word bank on the board under the heading "Paper Products", and begin a discussion about where students believe these papers came from.
    5. Expand the discussion to encompass other types of paper. When students comment on the cereal box piece, you can ask what other foods they know that come in boxes like that. Then you can further expand the discussion by asking what other things(like computer program boxes, school supplies and even candy bar packaging) use light cardboard in their packaging.
    6. Lead the students in a discussion about packaging. Explain that the bits of paper that you gave them were packaged in the small paper bag. How does paper play a role in the packaging of products they encounter in their lives?
    7. Walk around with the bucket and ask students to place their scraps and bag into the bucket. Optionally, you can also have the students tear the bag and larger pieces into smaller one inch pieces when placing into the bucket. This will prepare things for the next day’s activity and give the students a better feel for the differing textures of the paper.
    8. Once the scraps are collected, hold up the bucket and ask the students what they think should happen to the paper now. Introduce the concept of recycling: making something new out of something old. Begin the discussion by telling the students how quilt making in America had its start from old fabric scraps being re-used to create something beautiful. Ask the students what other examples they can think of where things are re-used instead of thrown away.
    9. Explain that the total garbage that we generate becomes part of all garbage and is known as the waste stream. The students will now have a better understanding of how many products are made of paper and can see that the paper portion of the waste stream can be considerable.
    10. Dump the contents of the bucket on a large desk. Have the students try to come to an understanding of how little scraps of paper add up to a larger stack. Lead them into the next step which is to try to have them extrapolate that tiny stack of paper to the huge mounds of waste paper that accumulate every day. Lead a discussion on what the students would do with the piles of paper if they ran a town. Explain that present technology dictates that this waste paper is dumped in a landfill, burned(discuss waste to energy plants whereby burning garbage heats water to steam and generates electricity), or recycled into new paper products.
    11. Put the paper scraps back into the bucket and cover with water. This will prepare the paper for the next day’s lesson on paper making.

    Student Outcomes: The student will have an understanding of why it is important to recycle paper.

    Recommended Web Sites About Paper Recycling:

    www.marcalpaper.com This web site is a very student friendly, informative one. Cartoon characters explain the process of paper recycling in easy to understand terms. There is even a kid’s section that has the paper making activity upon which I based the paper making lesson, and related games.

    Www.epa.gov/recyclecity This site, put out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is designed to educated students about recycling. The scope of the site goes beyond paper recycling to include other recyclable materials. Students click on an area in a place called "Recycle Town" to see how things are being recycled.

    For more advanced students, they can gain an understanding of the scope of recycling paper as a big business by having them go on:

    www.recycle.net and go to the waste paper recycling section. There they will see waste paper recycling associations, publications, recycling traders, and companies that manufacture related equipment. The advantage of exposing students to the business aspect of environmental concerns is that it helps them make the connection between the science they learn in the classroom and the larger world outside of school. The material covered in class becomes more relevant.

    Another option is to let students do a search of the net using the keywords paper recycling. This assumes that they will be supervised. I do not recommend unsupervised net surfing.

    Glossary of Terms Related to Paper Recycling:

    Curbside Collection- A program that collects the paper from people’s homes as a special garbage pick up. It is called that because the paper is being collected at the curb.

    Fiber-Tiny thread-like particles. In the case of paper, they come from the tree from which the paper was made.

    Junk Mail- No, this doesn’t mean bills. This is the advertising, mail-order catalogues, and requests for donations that come to your mail box.

    Packaging- Like its name implies, packaging means the materials that hold a product. For example, when you buy eggs, they come in cardboard cartons. Those cartons are the packaging.

    Paperboard- Another name for this is chipwood. A light cardboard type of paper often used for cereal boxes and school supplies.

    Pulp-Wet wood fibers used to make paper.

    Recycling- Taking something that otherwise would have been thrown away and making it into something that can be used.

    A Teacher’s Introduction to the Unit:

     Solid waste is a problem that is never going to just go away. Students will inherit this problem in an increasingly disposable society. This mini-unit on recycling of paper is a two day time commitment and is compatible with the New York State curriculum for Earth Science. These two lessons are designed to make the students aware of how many different types of paper products there are, and how much they contribute to the total waste stream. The first lesson sensitizes the student to the problem; the second lesson is a hands-on paper making activity to give the students a better understanding of how paper is recycled on a large scale. I do recommend trying the paper making experiment at home before embarking upon this as a classroom activity. That way you will be more familiar with the processes yourself, and can troubleshoot any potential problems you might encounter in your classroom.