Composting Conundrum

By Joyce Perdue, May 1, 2008

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Green Design

Subject Area

  • Science

Lesson Time

Five sixty to ninety minute classes


During the lesson on decomposition in the sixth grade, students will have learned about recycling and food scrap composting. Students will research what is involved in composting food scraps from the cafeteria and apply their research to work on a design solution.
After researching and discussing the steps that are involved in composting, student will be given a particular problem that they will solve through design.

National Standards

Standard 6: Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment  (previously covered with decomposition) Standard 13: Understands the scientific enterprise

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards Writing 

Grade 6-8

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.A Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories as appropriate to achieving purpose; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.B Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.
Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards: Reading Informational Text

Grade 6-8    

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

English Language Arts Standards: Science & Technical Subjects 

Grade 6-8    

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.5 Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to an understanding of the topic.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.6 Analyze the author's purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.8 Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.


The students will:
  • research composting
  • share information about composting with other students
  • present the steps/process involved in food scrap composting
  • discuss the advantages and disadvantages of composting
  • design a container to be used by their school for composting
  • use the design process in order to design and revise their solution
  • work in groups



  • drawing paper
  • colored pencils
  • items brought from home to make students' designs
  • 5-gallon bucket for a visual
  • large butcher paper


  • composting:  converting organic debris into fertilizer
  • organic residuals:  residuals produced from food preparation
  • consumption activities which consist of fruits, vegetables, grains, fish and animal by-products, and soiled paper unsuitable for recycling.
  • waste management: administration of the reduction, collection, separation, storage, transportation, transfer, processing, treatment and disposal of wastes
  • worm bins:  a ventilated container with a drainage system, in which worms can live and eat organic residuals, turning them into rich compost
  • metal contaminants : metals and metalloids found in concentrations that exceed levels deemed acceptable for human consumption
  • biobags: biodegradable and compostable food storage bags
  • ecological sensitivity: having an awareness of ecological issues and the necessity of ecological balance
  • infrastructure: the underlying foundation or basic framework
  • waste haulers: waste and recycling collection and removal companies
  • independent contractor: a person or business who performs services for another person under an express or implied agreement and who is not subject to the other's control, or right to control, the manner and means of performing the services
  • feasible: capable of being done or carried out
  • Vermeer grinder: a brand of machine that turns waste wood into mulch


This lesson follows a unit of study on decomposition. Day One
  • Pose the question “What happens to all of the food scraps in the cafeteria?”
  • Have the student guess how many five-gallon buckets of food scraps are dumped each day. Use the five-gallon bucket as a visual. (It would be helpful to have students actually tally it one day in the cafeteria.) Write the answers the students give on the board.
  • Ask the students “What happens to all of the newspaper the school collects to recycle?”
  • Ask the students if they think there is any way to recycle food scraps. And if so, how? Do not have them answer out loud. Instead, have the students write down at least one answer. Next have them turn to a neighbor and share. Then share in groups of four.
  • As a class, have each group share out their top ideas. Write students’ ideas on the chalkboard and discuss as a class which ideas might be feasible.
  • Next, it is time to research food scrap composting. Share with the students a plan for researching. The attached graphic organizer may be helpful for students to record the information. This is not a heavy duty research project, but rather one that piques students’ interest and gets the basics covered. If your class does not have access to computers, make sure you have newspaper and magazine articles, pamphlets, books, and brochures about food scrap composting.
Day Two
  • Give students time to conduct their research on food scrap composting. Before students share the information they discovered with the class, give them time in groups to discuss what they have found.
  • Have students share their thoughts on each section of the graphic organizer with the class. As a class, discuss what the steps are for composting, as well as any problems students noted and if any solutions were given. Record important information on the board. By the time all information is shared, students should have a basic idea of what is involved in food scrap composting.
  • Next, tell the students that their assignment will be to design a solution that solves a real problem happening in a school in Oregon.
  • A school that is composting in Oregon has a problem with metal contaminants. Students often accidentally dump their silverware into the food scraps when dumping their trays. The metal then contaminates the scraps for composting. What can the school do to prevent silverware from dropping into the scraps?
The students’ challenge is to: Design something for school cafeterias to use to collect food scraps that will keep out metal utensils. The design needs to be easy to wash, clearly marked for food scraps, and economical. Have the students:
  • Divide into groups
  • Brainstorm
  • Decide on a design
  • Sketch in color a draft of their design
  • Gather feedback on their design from other groups and the teacher
  • Revise their design based on the feedback
  • Build a prototype
  • Write a description of how their works
  • Write a description of the materials needed to make their design and the costs
  Day Three
  • Students should build their prototype with their group.
Day Four
  • Student groups present to the class.
Day Five


Students will be assessed on: Graphic organizer information Group presentation Prototype

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students could research and write a step-by-step process of how they could compost food scraps in their home. Students could work to implement composting at their school and at home.

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