Air Quality Health Index classroom kit, grades 5 and 6, environment: chapter 2

1. Plug it in? Breathe it in! The environmental impacts of producing electricity

This lesson uses comic strips, rotating placemats, and sticky concept maps to teach students about how electricity connects to air quality. Topics include Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), renewable and non-renewable resources, emerging technologies, air pollution, and fossil fuels.


  • Projector
  • Chart paper
  • 2 or 3 Post-it® note pads
  • Markers (8)


Real World Connections

  • Understanding that electricity is generated in many different ways and that some produce less air pollution than others;
  • Awareness that the AQHI in Environment Canada’s daily forecast is a reflection of local air quality and can be used to inform choices.

Curricular Themes

  • Renewable and non-renewable sources of electrical energy

For a list of learning outcomes, please refer to the end of this document.

Setting the Stage

Image of a super hero
  1. Display Overhead 1: Introducing the Clean Air Heroes.
  2. Ask: What do you think it is asking? What do they mean by this?

Elicitation: Rotating Placemat Activity (10 min)

Light green lightening bolt
  1. Divide students into groups of four, seated in a circle or around a table. Assign each group with a different method of producing electricity, particularly those that are locally relevant. For example: burning coal in power plants, hydroelectric dams, tidal, windmills, solar panels, biomass, geothermal.
  2. Provide each group with an enlargement of Handout 1: Rotating Placemat or divide a piece of chart paper as indicated.
  3. Read and discuss instructions and carry out the activity, either informally or giving set times to rotate the mat (e.g. 1 min).
  4. Ask each group to share something from each section of their handout (e.g. one plus (+), minus (-), and interesting (I)).

Restructuring: Consensus-building Concept Maps (30 to 40 min)

Teal electrical plug and wire
  1. Divide your class by eight (8) to arrange small groups.
  2. Pass out Sticky Concept Maps and Group Readings, chart paper, Post-it® notes and a marker.
  3. Review instructions with the class. Then, circulate and monitor progress.
  4. Combine small groups. You should have four (4) medium-sized groups. Ask students to review concept maps and collaborate to revise them and build consensus.
  5. Combine medium groups to make two (2) large groups and facilitate consensus-building.
  6. Combine large groups and facilitate consensus-building for the full class.

Application and Conclusion (15 to 90 min)

  1. Pass out Handout 4: Comic Strip Assignment. Read and discuss the instructions with students. Decide if students will be able to complete the entire assignment in class or finish it at home.
  2. Show students Overhead 1: Introducing the Clean Air Crusaders again.
  3. Ask for ideas about what the comics might mean in a full-class discussion.


AQHI Concept map

Timesaver Adaptation

(Modified Jigsaw: 5 to 10 min)

  • Number students, one to four.
  • Assign each number a method of producing electricity (rather than each group).
  • Give each student a copy of Handout 1: Rotating Placemat and have them rotate it themselves to complete each section.
  • Ask students to share one plus, minus, and interesting item with a partner.

Teacher Tips

  • Let students work in pairs to brainstorm ideas before they get started.
  • Decide if students will be able to complete the entire assignment in class or finish it at home.
  • In-class differentiated instruction: pair students with stronger artistic abilities with those with a better grasp of science concepts.
  • Make use of online educational cartooning software to add a technology component.

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