Created with TaskStream Compost Stew
Author: Stephaney Eberhard
Date created: 02/14/2012 3:54 PM EST ; Date modified: 02/14/2012 11:43 PM EST

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General Comments


Agriculture, Language Arts (English), Research, Science
Topic/Unit of Study & Time Allotment

This lesson covers creating compost in the classroom. It falls under the larger unit of gardening, with a focus on Earth and life science.

Grade 2

Goal: Students will gain an understanding of compost, including the materials needed, the necessary procedures, and the overall benefits of compost to plants and a garden.

Objective 1: Given the question orally and/or written, students will be able to name four major ingredients in compost, as well as two negative (non-helpful) ingredients.

Objective 2: When asked, students will be able to knowledgeably state that compost is better than chemical fertilizer and explain why with 90% accuracy.


Students will explore the idea of creating a compost heap, acting as young environmentalists, keeping written and photographic logs along the way. They will use writing skills to explain the project and ask for the materials they need. Students will work together to actually make a natural compost and take part in an experiment to prove its beneficial qualities. 


Learning Context

This lesson is part of a larger unit on gardening. The lesson covers compost, which can connect with other lessons on the needs of plants. It can take place before or after a garden has been started, but compost should be used for or added to the garden either way.


(Days may not happen one right after the other)

1. (Day 1) Briefly discuss compost.

  • Ask students what they know about compost.
  • Define compost: decayed (broken down) natural material used as plant fertilizer.
    • Ask students what they know about natural material, pointing out things like grass, leaves, and fruit.
  • Define fertilizer: a substance added to soil to help plants grow (usually chemical).
  • Point out the difference between natural and chemical.
    • Ask students which one they think is better for plants.
    • Discuss nutrients and relate to their bodies - nutrients/good food help them grow.

2. Read Compost Stew by Mary McKenna.

  • This book provides an "A to Z recipe for the Earth." It explains in an easy-to-understand-way, the items that can be used to create compost.
    • Chart materials seen in book and talked about in class for reference.

3. (Day 2) Have environmental expert come in to talk about compost and the importance of using it in gardening. The expert will be able to review the basics of composting, helping students to better understand the process, supply motivation, and give the project a "real life" meaning.

4. (Day 3) Review compost.

5. Have students brainstorm how they will collect the items they need for the compost (chart).

  • Incorporate student ideas into letter writing and poster making.
    • Eventually students will be broken up into three letter writing groups. Individually, students in group one will write a letter to the principal, telling what we are doing and what materials we need. Group two will write letters to the maintenance staff, explaining the project, what materials we need, and asking for fresh cut grass after the lawn is done. Group three will write a letter to the kitchen staff, again explaining the project, the materials we need, and specifically asking for the donations of food scraps.
      • All items will be collected in bins by me.
    • After letters are finished, students will create posters for the lunch room to inform their peers about what materials from their lunches we could use. Students will also make easy-to-understand signs with pictures to put on a designated bin in the lunchroom for our class compost.

6. (Day 4) Have students get outside and begin looking for outdoor ingredients for the compost such as green leaves, weeds, moss, non-woody plant materials, and small bits of wood.

  • Establish a bin for collection that can also be taken out at recess.

7. (Day 5) Randomly assign students into three groups and have them discuss their letters, reflecting on the ingredient chart.

  • Students should begin rough draft.

8. (Day 6) Students will finish rough drafts of letters and create peer posters.

9. (Day 7) Students will write the final drafts of their letters (I will deliver). Students will hang posters.

10. (Days 8-10) Ingredients will be collected.

  • I will ask the kitchen staff to shred/blend fresh food scraps. If they do not wish to, I will.
  • Ingredients will be placed out in an outdoor compost bin (black rubber-maid container with drilled holes in the side and bottom) for students to observe the next day.
    • Pictures will be taken by the students and they will journal the progress.

*** (Day 9) begins partner rotation: Everyday 2-3 students will go outside to stir the compost with a shovel or rake and take a photo of the     progress. They will report results to their classmates with pictures.

  • Every 3-5 days the class will log observations based on the photographs (appear in order on overhead). (This will be done for time sake. Students may view compost at recess).
  • At the end of these days, recess and lunch room collection bins will be removed.

11. (End of 2 Weeks) The compost should be complete in about two weeks.

  • Quick compost recipe:
    • shredded leaves
    • fresh grass
    • shredded/blended kitchen scraps
    • water
    • stir and push down good (the mushier the better)
    • (Courtesy of the Department of Environmental Protection of Pennsylvania)

During this time, students will only be focusing on mixing, reporting, and journaling every couple of days.

12. (Post-Compost Completion Experiment) Once the compost is complete in about two weeks, students will begin an experiment.

  • The class will have three pots in which they will plant indigenous fast growing seeds. Pot one will have only soil, pot two will have soil and compost, and pot three will have soil and a chemical fertilizer.
    • Students will observe and journal about growth (teacher will dictate days).
    • Results should conclude that the plant which grew in soil and compost is the healthiest.

*** I would recommend linking this experiment with a lesson on plants/plant growth as it will take some time to get results.

13. Assessment: Have students write a final journal/log reflecting on the experience and hitting on the objective points.

14. Optional Lesson Follow-Ups

  • Save or add compost to class/school garden if your class has already created one OR Donate compost to a local garden or park.
  • Take a field trip to a local composting or waste management center for "real life" reinforcement and to see how compost is created on a larger scale.


Differentiated Instruction
  • Students with special needs will be given a personal list of compost ingredients to aid in the writing process.
  • Pictures will be used to identify the material make-up present with each plant in the experiment (rather than just words).
  • Have Compost Stew available on tape for repeat listening to strengthen student comprehension.
  • Have guiding pictures or words for the guest speaker's visit (his/her talk) to help keep the student focused and on track.
Sample Student Products


Students will work collaboratively & individually.  Students will work in groups of 2.
Time Allotment
30 class periods.  35 Mins. per class.
Author's Comments & Reflections

Collaboration: Students will also be working in groups of 6-8 to establish a plan for their letters.

Time Allotment: The first 10 days are strict as far as getting work done and establishing the main ideas. 35 minutes per day is not necessary when students are simply turning the compost and reporting. These days can be filled with lessons on similar topics or the time can be dispersed into other subject areas. Set-up, compost, and experiment should take about 1 month in all.

* This lesson can occur at any point during the garden-learning process.


Instructional Materials
  • Black Rubber-Maid bins with lids (5)
    • Recess, Kitchen, Maintenance, and Compost (2)
  • Large dish-washing gloves (4)
  • Rakes (2)
  • Shovels (2)
  • Drill
  • Cameras 
  • Paper
  • Journals
  • Pencils
  • Rulers
  • Computers
  • Blender
  • Compost Stew by Mary McKenna
  • Indigenous fast growing seeds
  • Water
  • Grass
  • Leaves
  • Weeds
  • Wood scraps
  • Fresh food scraps



MI- Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations
Topic: Writing Genres
Expectation: W.GN.02.05 With teacher assistance,
—gather resources (electronic and/or print)
—organize information using key ideas
—use the writing process to produce and present the final project.
Subject: Science
Grade: Grade Two
Discipline: Science Processes
Standard: Inquiry Process
K-7 Standard S.IP: Develop an understanding that scientific inquiry and reasoning involves observing, questioning, investigating, recording, and developing solutions to problems.
Expectation: S.IP.E.1 Inquiry involves generating questions, conducting investigations, and developing solutions to problems through reasoning and observation.
Statement: S.IP.02.11 Make purposeful observation of the natural world using the appropriate senses.
Statement: S.IP.02.12 Generate questions based on observations.
Statement: S.IP.02.15 Make accurate measurements with appropriate units (meter, centimeter) for the measurement tool.
Discipline: Life Science
Standard: Organization of Living Things
K-7 Standard L.OL: Develop an understanding that plants and animals (including humans) have basic requirements for maintaining life which include the need for air, water and a source of energy. Understand that all life forms can be classified as producers, consumers, or decomposers as they are all part of a global food chain where food/energy is supplied by plants which need light to produce food/energy. Develop an understanding that plants and animals can be classified by observable traits and physical characteristics. Understand that all living organisms are composed of cells and they exhibit cell growth and division. Understand that all plants and animals have a definite life cycle, body parts, and systems to perform specific life functions.
Expectation: L.OL.E.1 Life Requirements- Organisms have basic needs. Animals and plants need air, water, and food. Plants also require light. Plants and animals use food as a source of energy and as a source of building material for growth and repair.
Statement: L.OL.02.14 Identify the needs of plants
USA- ISTE: National Educational Technology Standards for Students: The Next Generation
Standard: 2. Communication and Collaboration- Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
Indicator: Students: b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
Standard: 3. Research and Information Fluency- Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.
Indicator: Students: d. process data and report results.