Classroom Activity

Martha’s True Stories: A Tale of Two Soup Cans


Students read the interactive, informational text “A Tale of Two Soup Cans,” which explains the fate of a soup can after it is used—what happens if it’s discarded, reused or recycled. Using the special features of the Martha’s True Stories texts, students explore words related to the topic and discuss the importance of protecting the environment. Working in pairs, they choose an item to reuse and present their work to the class.



  • Key Ideas and Details:
    With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
    With prompting and support, identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
  • Craft and Structure:
    With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
    With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the text in which they appear (e.g., what person, place, thing, or idea in the text an illustration depicts).
  • Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:
    Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 1 reading and content, choosing flexibly from an array of strategies.
    Use sentence-level context as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
    With guidance and support from adults, demonstrate understanding of word relationships and nuances in word meanings.
    Identify real-life connections between words and their use (e.g., note places at home that are cozy).
    Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts, including using frequently occurring conjunctions to signal simple relationships (e.g., because).

Lesson Objectives

  • To learn content-specific vocabulary about the environment and recycling.
  • To reuse a common household object (milk carton) and make something useful (bird feeder).

Literature Suggestions

  • Don’t Throw That Away!
    by Lara Bergen
  • Making a Difference, Respecting Our Earth
    by Sue Barraclough
  • Recycle! A Handbook for Kids
    by Gail Gibbons
  • The Dumpster Diver
    by Janet Wong
  • The EARTH Book
    by Todd Parr
  • The Three R’s: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle
    by Nuria Roca
  • Where Does the Garbage Go?
    by Paul Showers


  • Art supplies (colored paper, crayons, markers, glue)
  • Milk cartons (1/2 gallon, rinsed and cleaned)
  • Scissors and/or hole puncher
  • String
  • Sunflower seeds (or other bird food)
  • Wooden stick, dowel, or tree branch
  • PDF of Teacher's Guide
  • PDF of ELL Tips

Lesson Description

  1. Lead a discussion in class about the environment. What does the word environment mean? What are some of the ways we take care of the environment? Why is it important?
  2. Walk” through the interactive text with students. For students who are less familiar with computers, explain how to use features such as the forward and back arrows, how to click on highlighted words to get definitions, and how to turn the narration on and off.
  3. Working in pairs, have students read “A Tale of Two Soup Cans.” Depending on their reading level, they can listen to the story with sound or take turns reading it aloud to each other. They can have fun clicking on the animated features.
  4. Be sure that they click on the highlighted words to hear or read the definitions. (See Vocabulary Words, below.) Have each student choose two words to remember from the story.
  5. As a class, discuss the text. Check for understanding of the highlighted words. Ask: What was the story about? Why was it called “A Tale of Two Soup Cans”? What was your favorite “interactive” feature that you clicked on? What did it show? Why was it your favorite? What happens when you throw a used soup can in the trash? What happens when you recycle or reuse it?
  6. Invite students to talk about two words (and their definitions) that they remember from the story. Create a Word Wall for students to refer to during the week. Encourage students to use one of the words in class discussions and as they do the activity.
  7. Make connections by asking students what they do at home with their trash. What do they recycle? How do they recycle it (e.g., single stream recycling, sorted recycling bins, going to the dump)?
  8. If you have recycling in your classroom or school, revisit the school rules about recycling.
  9. Make a list of items at home and at school that are commonly thrown away. Have students brainstorm ideas for reusing the items. You can refer back to this list if you decide to do additional projects.
  10. Explain to students that they will be reusing a milk carton to make a bird feeder. Ask, How can this activity help the environment?
    • Help students cut out two facing sides of the carton.
    • Next, make a hole on two sides of the base of the carton so students can insert a stick or dowel through the carton for birds to perch on. (Make sure that the dowel is longer than the bottom of the carton.) Poke or cut a hole in the top of the carton for the string. Fill the bottom of the carton with sunflower seeds or other bird food.
    • Students can take their bird feeders home or choose several to hang on trees around the school. Have them watch the birds that come to the bird feeder and report back to class on what they observe.

Vocabulary List

  • choice: When you make a choice, you pick between different things.
  • consequences: Consequences are things that happen because of something else.
  • decompose: When something decomposes, it means it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until it’s gone.
  • garbage: Anything that you throw away.
  • environment: All the things in nature—plants, animals, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.
  • landfill: A landfill is a place where garbage is taken and covered with dirt.
  • reuse: When you reuse something, it means you use it again.
  • pollute: When you pollute something, it means you make it dirty.
  • repurpose: When you repurpose something, you use it different than how it was originally used.

Teacher Tip

There are many different ways to make bird feeders from common household items. You may want to research additional ideas online and offer a variety of options with different materials. Display the related books and encourage students to browse through them.

Extension Ideas

Have students view the related MARTHA SPEAKS video, “Paws and Effect,” or interactive texts, “Can You Dig It?” and “Waste Not, Want Not.” Have students make pencil containers with used soup cans, as is shown in the story. You can arrange a visit from the school janitor to explain how the school or town recycles. Invite parents to talk about how they reuse and recycle in their home. If possible, take a field trip to a recycling plant.

© 2015 WGBH Educational Foundation. All rights reserved. “Martha” and all characters and underlying materials (including artwork) from the “Martha” books are trademarks of and copyrights of Susan Meddaugh and used under license. All other characters and underlying materials are trademarks of and copyrights of WGBH. All third party trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Used with permission.

Corporate funding for MARTHA SPEAKS is provided by Chuck E. Cheese’s®. Additional series funding is provided by the WGBH Children’s Educational Media Fund including The Germeshausen Foundation and by public television viewers.