Pollutants and Contaminants

Author: Sara Chavarria
Editor: Stephanie Nardei

Time: Two 50 minute classes
Photocopy class sets of Handouts 1 and 2 for re-use in each class.

Sheets of paper for drawings
Handout 1

Handout 2


This explore/explain lesson challenges students to identify pollutants and contaminants and then apply their knowledge to the Industrial Revolution. By having students create visuals and Definition and Concept Trails the student can better grasp the ideas behind needing to learn more about pollution in our past. The connection to the Industrial Revolution is made with a mini-investigative task that helps them start to understand the implications of pollution from the past and how it affects lives then and now.

Students will be able to:
1) Define pollution and contaminants by constructing a  Definition and Concept Trail that illustrates how they are connected to health.
2) Give examples of health issues during the Industrial Revolution by conducting textbook research.

National Social Studies Standards
Historical Thinking Standards

  • Standard 1F: Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration.
  • Standard 5A: Identify issues and problems in the past.

United States History Standards

  •  Era 6 Standard 1: How the rise of corporations, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed the American people.

Teacher Background
This lesson is going to seem disconnected from history, but it is important students understand basic concepts of pollution and health in order to be able to appreciate the Industrial Revolution. If students should ask why they are studying this (a very good question) note that history is dynamic and understanding our present helps us put the past into perspective so we can better understand how dynamic our lives are.

Resource Websites
New Jersey Meadowlands
New Jersey Meadowlands Commission http://www.meadowlands.state.nj.us/
Meadowlands Environment Center http://www.meadowlands.state.nj.us/ec/index.cfm
Significant Habitats and Habitat Complexes of the New York Bight Watershed   http://training.fws.gov/library/pubs5/web_link/text/hm_form.htm
Digital Meadowlands http://cimic.rutgers.edu/digitalmeadowlands/
Meadowlands.com http://www.meadowlands.com/
Meadowlands New Jersey on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Jersey_Meadowlands

Industrial Revolution Resources
Background on Industrial Revolution (short tutorial): http://www.bergen.org/technology/indust.html
Industrial Revolution of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution
Open Directory Project on Industrial Revolution: http://dmoz.org/Society/History/By_Time_Period/Eighteenth_Century/Industrial_Revolution/
Internet Modern History Sourcebook on Industrial Revolution: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook14.html
Documentary Series: The Day the World Took Off http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/270
Making the Modern World: http://www.makingthemodernworld.org.uk/



Day 1

  1. Transition: Note that the previous day ended with their being asked to make a connection to the importance of Pollution. To ensure they understand the terms used they will read about Contaminants and Pollution.
  2. Pair students up. Each student is given either the Contaminants Handout or the Pollution Handout. Have them read the material quietly. (10 minutes)
  3. When done reading have them make a drawing that illustrates the Pollution and Contaminant Relationship in a city. The teacher may need to handout drawing sheets. (10-15 minutes)
  4. They will now label what they drew to verbally identify the components they chose to draw. (5-10 minutes)
  5. In order to make more concrete connections with these words have students do a new Definition and Concept Trail using the following words: Industry, Contaminants, Pollutants, Hazardous, Environment, and Human Health.  Information to be included for each word is a definition, associations, and a visual or illustration to help remember the word. Refer to “The Parts Make up the Whole” lesson for one example of how to conceptually link the words that uses The Verbal Visual Vocabulary format.
  6. Note: All of these words illustrate the processes of unsafe sanitation that illustrate the Industrial Revolution in America.

Day Two

  1. Have students take out their Definition and Concept Trails for reference.
  2. Students will now perform a mini-investigative study using their textbooks. Without giving them any direction as to where to look in their textbooks, have students locate 3 examples of sanitation conditions during the Industrial Revolution in America. They must read through the chapter materials to look for their examples. The examples can illustrate work, home, or the city. Have them write down the example in their notes with information pertaining to location, and time period. When done have them identify how their example addresses a worker situation, a business situation, and/or a landscape situation. In other words is their example talking about working conditions, business conditions, and/or location (city, rural, community).
  3. Finally, with each example they located, have them address how that problem may have affected the future (our present).

Ponder Question Challenge: Do you think pollution problems from the Industrial Age are still with us today?

If students do not finish the Definition and Concept Trail the first day, they can do so for homework.

Embedded Assessment
The drawing can be displayed and evaluated. The Definition and Concept Trail can be assessed.
Mini-investigation using textbooks can be assessed. 

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: March 7, 2007
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