The Total Package

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 23, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

One fifty-minute class period


In this activity students will use the design process to solve a packaging problem. After examining the materials used in the packaging of everyday products, students gather and analyze information about a specific product, create a new design for the product and generate a written report that contains the suggested changes for the product.

National Standards

Standard 6. Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
Standard 14. Level IV. Understands how human actions modify the physical environment 2. Understands the role of humans in decreasing the diversity of flora and fauna in a region (e.g., the impact of acid rain on rivers and forests in southern Ontario, the effects of toxic dumping on ocean ecosystems, the effects of over-fishing along the coast of northeastern North America or the Philippine archipelago) Standard 16. Level IV. Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution and importance of resources 4. Knows issues related to the reuse and recycling of resources (e.g., changing relocation strategies of industries seeking access to recyclable material, such as paper factories, container and can companies, glass, plastic, and bottle manufacturers; issues involved with the movement, handling, processing, and storing of toxic and hazardous waste materials; fully enforced vs. consistently neglected approaches to resource management)
Standard 1. Level IV.  Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 9. Writes persuasive compositions that address problems/solutions or causes/effects (e.g., articulates a position through a thesis statement; anticipates and addresses counter arguments; backs up assertions using specific rhetorical devices [appeals to logic, appeals to emotion, uses personal anecdotes]; develops arguments using a variety of methods such as examples and details, commonly accepted beliefs, expert opinion, cause-and-effect reasoning, comparison-contrast reasoning)
Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.


Students will do the following:
  • identify packaging problems of a product
  • design a prototype for an improved product package
  • compose a written report that contains recommendations for their new design



  • A variety of everyday objects that use excessive or non-environmentally friendly packaging
  • product suggestions are listed in the activity


Building Background

 Packaging Problems

The purpose of this activity is to provide an opportunity for students to examine how products are packaged, as well as the costs surrounding packaging and the impact that packaging has on the environment. 1. Share and discuss the following quotation with your students: Did you know that up to one out of every $10 you spend at the store pays for packaging? When all packaging is accounted for, it adds up to about one-third of all the trash that's thrown away in the United States. 2. Explain to students that not all packaging is wasteful or undesirable. Brainstorm a list of the reasons why manufacturers use packaging for their products. Reasons might include the following: protects products from damage during shipping, protects products from contamination and spoilage, contains necessary information regarding the product, provides tamper-proof and child resistant safeguards. 3. Share with your class an example of an item that uses excess packaging and an item that uses "smarter" packaging.  Involve the students in a discussion about how the items were packaged.

Steps for Learning Let's Make Some Changes

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to use the steps of the design process to solve a product-packaging problem. 1. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of the "Let's Make A Change" handout and an item that contains excess packaging. Teacher Note: Suggestions for products that use excess and/or non-environmentally friendly materials include individually wrapped containers of applesauce with foil lids, an Oscar Meyer Lunchable, a Campbell's Quick Lunch Microwaveable, McDonald's Happy Meal, Dentyne Ice Gum, and M&M Minis. 2. Ask students to imagine that the companies that produce their assigned product have asked them to design a new, less-wasteful and more environmentally friendly package for the item. Explain to students that they are going to analyze the item and make recommendations for how the package design could be improved to use less, and/or more environmentally friendly materials. Teacher Note: The written report mentioned in step five below may be completed as a homework assignment. You may also choose to have the groups prepare a PowerPoint type presentation and present their design to the "company" officials.



Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric. -How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? Excellent         Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem. Excellent         Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate the effectiveness of your solution. Excellent         Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve. Excellent         Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated your solution. Excellent         Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate your effectiveness as problem solvers. Excellent         Good            Adequate            Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Mini Landfill
Build a mini landfill in your class. Fill the landfill with a variety of packaging materials. Observe which packaging materials break down in the landfill. There are several Internet sites that provide instructions for the creation of a mini landfill. You may find one of these or use the instructions on the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection website.

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