Air Quality Lesson Plans

Teachers may consider implementing all or parts of the following lesson plans, developed by Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency staff. Each plan is designed to address Ohio Revised Science Standards and the Archdiocese of Greater Cincinnati Science Objectives standards as indicated. If you have questions, please contact Joy Landry at 513-946-7754.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)

Program Description: Students will be introduced to the six major air pollutants (NAAQS) that are monitored by the Agency, as required by the EPA. They'll learn each pollutant's sources and health impact.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate that U.S. air quality has improved dramatically in the United States, especially over the past 20 to 25 years.
  • Introduce students to the six criteria air pollutants, explaining their sources, environmental impact and health effects.
  • Encourage students to use the Air Quality Index to track Greater Cincinnati's air quality, especially if they or a family member has asthma or other respiratory issues.


Students will build the chemical compounds of each air pollutant, using simple Lego bricks to represent different elements. The activity will demonstrate how the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels contributes to air pollution. Activity found at PBS Learning Media.

Lesson Extensions

Compare Southwest Ohio air quality to Beijing and other Chinese cities (regrettably, China has very poor, unhealthy air quality, especially from November through March). Use these websites in the classroom to look up real-time air quality data:

Note that when temperature and wind speed decrease, PM2.5 typically increases.

Acid Rain

Students will take a closer look at how air pollution contributes to the formation of acid rain.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate that burning coal for electricity and industrial uses increases sulfur dioxide in the air.
  • Illustrate the chemical reaction of sulfur dioxide and water vapor that forms acid rain.
  • Show the impact of acid rain on wildlife and habitats.
  • Introduce the concept of the pH scale, acids, bases and neutrality.
  • Correlate baking soda (base) and vinegar (acid) to the use of scrubbers in power plants.
  • Show how technology and EPA regulations have helped control sulfur dioxide emissions and improved the environment in the United States.


Working in pairs, students will simulate acid rain absorption with different soil samples and vinegar to see how bases can neutralize acids in the environment and in a coal-fired power plant. See the EPA Acid Rain Teacher's Guide (PDF).

Traditional Versus Alternative Energy

There are a variety of energy sources and each has its advantages and trade-offs. We'll compare traditional, or non-renewable, and alternative, or renewable energy courses and explore the pros and cons of each, particularly as they pertain to air quality.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate that fossil fuel based energy sources are nonrenewable and contribute to air quality issues.
  • Introduce renewable energy concepts of solar, wind and geothermal and explore their limitations (weather dependent, still quite costly to implement).
  • Challenge students to determine if a combination of energy sources could provide a possible solution to energy demands with the least negative impact on air quality and the environment.


For middle to high school students, consider discussing the EPA's Clean Power Plan and how Ohio can best implement it, based upon its natural resources and energy needs.

Resources that students can use to compare Ohio with other states:

For younger students, download the Coloring Book from the U.S. Energy Department.

Discussion Questions

  • How can individuals reduce their carbon emissions?
  • How can entire industries and states reduce their air pollution?
  • Have any states already achieve the 30% reduction goal?
  • Which states will have the greatest challenge in reducing their carbon emissions?
  • Which state leads the country in electricity from renewable energy?
  • Which state is the most reliant on coal? On natural gas?
  • Which state has the highest electricity rate? What is their main source?
  • Which has the lowest? What is their source?
  • How does topography and weather impact an individual state's energy sources and costs?