It All Adds up to Cleaner Air


Show students the cumulative effect of their actions on air quality


  • A large clear bowl or jar
  • Red, green, blue, and yellow food coloring
  • Spoon or stick for stirring
  • Water


There are a huge number of potential contributions to air pollution generated by everyday human activities. These activities may not be immediately apparent as a source of pollution when you observe from the individual viewpoint. However, the cumulative effect can be profound. This activity attempts to simulate the cumulative affect of various air pollution sources upon the "airshed". Water is used to simulate mixing which occurs in the air. For purposes today:

Red represents car and truck pollution; Green represents lawn and garden, motor boat, construction engines; Blue represents consumer products and paint; Yellow represents electrical, industrial, commercial activities


  1. Place bowl filled with water on table so that all students can see it.
  2. Explain to students that the water represents the air around us and we are going to look at the many ways in which we pollute the air on the average day.
  3. Lead the students through an average day and what they may do.
    1. The alarm goes off, what powers the alarm?
    2. Electricity.
    3. What type of pollution is this?
    4. Yellow. Ask a student to drop 1 drop of yellow into the bowl of water. During each step have a different students add the drop of pollution to the water to reinforce that their actions have consequences.
    5. You then go for a shower, ask students how does this add pollution to the air?
    6. Water heated: 1 drop of yellow.
    7. Soap, shampoo, deodorant, etc.: 1 drop of blue.
    8. Travel to school Carpool or bus: 1 drop of red, or in car without carpooling: 2 drops.
    9. Arrive at school.
    10. Heating and electricity: 1 drop of yellow.
    11. Lunch time food: 1 drop of blue.
    12. Electricity: 1 drop of yellow.
  4. Continue the day, asking questions like did they grill out for dinner, mow the lawn, or anything like that.
  5. Ask the students if air pollution stays in one place? Number Ask, what moves it? The wind.
  6. Have a student be the wind by mixing the water gently with the spoon.
  7. Ask students about other things that they do that they never thought of before that may pollute the air.
  8. Give students this example: Watching a movie now seems to cause four trips in a vehicle.
    1. Drive to the movie store and pick a movie.
    2. Drive home.
    3. Watch the movie.
    4. Drive to the store and drop-off movie.
    5. Drive home.
    6. Ask "What could you do instead, that will cause no pollution or less pollution?"
  9. Talk to students about responsible decision making. Every choice that we make can have an impact on the air we breathe. Explain to students that you do not expect them to completely change their lifestyle, but if we all make ne small change each, think of how much cleaner and healthier our air would be. Ask students to write down one thing that they will do for cleaner air.


There are many ways in which this lesson can be adapted and expanded, including adding to each step of the day, looking at their after-school activities, and focusing more on the different types of pollution that are created such as nitrogen dioxide from vehicles, and particulate matter from grilling.