It’s a Wrap

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 29, 2006

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Green Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Science

Lesson Time

One fifty-minute class period


In this problem-solving, action-oriented activity, students will explore the impact that wrapping paper has on our landfills. Students will brainstorm ideas to address the problem and also write an article to educate adults and peers about the issue and inform them as to what action they can take to alleviate the problem.

National Standards


Students will do the following:
  • identify the impact of wrapping paper on the environment
  • generate ideas and solutions to help solve the wrapping paper problem
  • compose a newspaper article that addresses the issues and possible solutions for the wrapping paper problem
  • design a reusable gift bag


  • Internet websites


  • paper and pencils
For the enrichment activity:
  • plain colored cloth bags
  • fabric paint, markers, sequins, buttons, beads, etc.


Building Background Wrapping Paper Facts

The purpose of this activity is to provide an opportunity for students to engage in a problem-solving, action-oriented activity as they investigate the use of wrapping paper in the United States. 1.  Share and discuss the following wrapping paper facts with your students:
  • Half of the paper America consumes is used to wrap and decorate consumer products. (The Recycler's Handbook, 1990)
  • In the U.S., annual trash from gift-wrap and shopping bags totals four million tons. (Use Less Stuff, 1998)
  • Thirty-eight thousand miles of ribbon are thrown out each year. The Earth's circumference is 25,000 miles - enough to tie a bow around the Earth.
  2. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a piece of paper. Ask students to brainstorm alternatives to using wrapping paper to wrap presents.

Brainstorming Process

Step One - State the problem that you are trying to solve and write it on the top of your paper. Step Two - Take time to think about the problem. Step Three - Have each group member take a turn talking while all members listen. Accept all ideas and record them on a piece of paper. Step Four - Take time to think about the ideas your group generates. Step Five - Reflect on your ideas and decide which ideas should be developed. Step Six - Share your ideas with the rest of the class. These ideas will be used in the next activity. 3. Have groups share their suggestions with the class. Record the groups' ideas on the board. Discuss how each idea could help reduce the amount of wrapping paper that is used each year. Teacher Note: Ideas might include using magazine pages, Sunday comics, making recycled paper, or saving wrapping paper from year to year. Items that avoid using paper completely might include decorative tins, baskets, cloth bags and cloth ribbons.

 Steps for Learning Sharing Ideas

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to inform adults about the wrapping paper issue. Teacher Note: This activity may be started in class and completed as a homework activity. 1. Explain to students that they are going to write a newspaper article about the use of wrapping paper and its impact on the environment. 2. Tell students that the article should include the following information:
  • An overview of the wrapping paper problem. Wrapping paper facts from the brainstorming activity.
  • An explanation of the ideas that were generated in the brainstorming session.
  • A conclusion that includes what action they want people to take.
  3. After the newspaper articles have been completed, ask students to select articles to send to the local and/or school newspapers.


Ask students to respond to the following journal prompts: 1. Does the wrapping paper issue impact me personally? Explain. 2. How did your group work as a team in the brainstorming session? 3. How did I function as a team member during the brainstorming session? 4. Can individuals make a difference in environmental issues? Explain.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: In the Bag
Create unique fabric gift bags that students can use when giving gifts. Provide students with plain colored fabric bags. Have the students customize their bags using fabric paints or markers, beads, buttons, sequins, etc.
Activity Two: The Japanese Art of Furoshiki
For centuries the Japanese have practiced an eco-friendly way of wrapping presents. They use squares of cloth called furoshiki to wrap and cover presents. Visit the site listed below to learn more about this Japanese tradition.

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