Classroom Activity

Martha's True Stories: Waste Not, Want Not


English language learners read the interactive, informational text “Waste Not, Want Not,” which describes the importance and process of recycling. Using the special features of the Martha’s True Stories texts, students explore the subject-related vocabulary and then make a poster about recycling.



  • Key Ideas and Details:
    With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in 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.
    With guidance and support from adults, demonstrate understanding of word relationships and nuances in word meanings.
    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).
  • Comprehension and Collaboration:
    Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.

Lesson Objectives

  • To understand what recycling is and why we do it.
  • To convey facts about recycling in a poster format.
  • To use specific strategies to learn recycling-related vocabulary.
  • To complete a K-W-L chart about recycling.

Literature Suggestions

  • Don’t Throw That Away!
    by Lara Bergen
  • Recycle! A Handbook
    by Gail Gibbons
  • The Three R’s: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle
    by Nuria Roca
  • Where Does the Garbage Go?
    by Paul Showers


Lesson Description

  1. Before you begin, print out a PDF of the story. You will use this in Step #12, below.
  2. If students are already familiar with the series MARTHA SPEAKS, ask for volunteers to explain who Martha is, why she can talk, and who some of the other characters are, especially Helen, who is shown in the text. You can also use the handouts How Martha Became a Talking Dog and Meet Martha, Her Family, and Friends.
  3. Introduce or review the topic of recycling. What do students already know about recycling? Is there recycling in the classroom or at the school? Have students share what they already know about the topic. Begin a K-W-L chart that you will revisit after reading the text.
  4. If possible, bring in some “garbage” for children to sort or separate with you into a recycling bin, a compost container, and a trash can. Include recyclable objects made from glass, plastic, paper, and aluminum, non-recyclable objects such as broken pens or toys, and food waste you can compost, such as orange peels.
    • Talk about the materials the objects are made from. Look for the recycling symbol on plastic containers.
    • Engage children in conversation as you lead the activity, encouraging them to respond to and use the key vocabulary (shown in boldface above) in “Waste Not, Want Not.” For example, say: Show me something we can recycle. What is it made of? Can we recycle a plastic bottle? How do you know? What other objects here are made from plastic? Where should we dispose of this plastic bottle—in the trash can, the recycling bin, or the compost container?
    • Return to the K-W-L chart and encourage children to add more information based on their trash-sorting experience.
  5. “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 the pictures that “pulse” after the narration is finished, how to click on highlighted words to get definitions, and how to turn the narration on and off.
    • Include a “picture walk” as you go through the screens with the audio off. Ask questions about the pictures, such as “What do you see in this picture? What do you think this picture is about?” As students discuss what they see, take the opportunity to ask questions or repeat answers using the vocabulary in the story.
    • You can preview the information in the text or read the story aloud, depending on the needs of your students. Students will then have an opportunity to read or listen to the story themselves or with a partner.
    • Show students the animated features. These can act as visual aids to help support vocabulary learning and the concepts described in the text.
    • Be sure to point out the Quizmo game and the Word Bones glossary at the end. Students can use these features once they have finished with the story.
  6. In addition to the featured vocabulary words (see Vocabulary Words, below), point out common words, homophones, idioms, and words with multiple meanings that English language learners may find challenging or confusing, such as:
    • earth
    • apartment
    • recycling center
    • magnet
    • conveyer belt
    • won’t have anything left
  7. Have students read “Waste Not, Want Not” on their own or with a partner. Depending on their reading level and English language proficiency, they can listen to the story with sound or take turns reading it aloud to each other (or both). They can have fun clicking on the animated features.
  8. Remind students that they can reread or listen to each page as many times as they want. Be sure that students click on the highlighted words to hear or read the definitions.
  9. After they finish the story, have students play the Quizmo game or listen to the Word Bones glossary to increase their understanding of the vocabulary words. Encourage them to say the words aloud as they guess or listen to the answers
  10. Discuss the meaning of the text to check students’ comprehension of the story and the vocabulary. Use as many of the words from the Vocabulary List (see below) as possible. Ask, What was this story about? What is garbage? What is garbage made up of? What will happen if we keep taking things out of the earth? As students reply, encourage them to also use words from the Vocabulary List.
  11. Revisit the K-W-L chart. Ask, What did we learn about recycling from this story? Have students dictate their answers and write their responses in the “L” column of the chart. Check to see which items in the “W” column were answered. Ask: Are there any other questions you have about recycling and composting? How do you think we could find out answers to our questions?
  12. Choose one of the steps in the recycling process and and ask for volunteers to act it out. For instance, students can mime throwing paper away in a recycling bin, make the motion of a conveyer belt, or make the sounds of a truck taking the garbage to the recycling center.

Vocabulary List

  • waste: Waste is what gets thrown away after you are done with something.
  • composting: Compost is a mixture of rotting plants, vegetables and fruit that is good for the soil.
  • container:: A container is something that holds something else.
  • decide: When you decide, you think about something and then make up your mind.
  • dispose: To dispose of something means to get rid of it.
  • garbage: Garbage is anything that you throw away.
  • materials: Material is what something is made from.
  • separated: When you separate things, you take some things away from others.
  • trash bin: A trash bin is a big metal box for sorting trash before the garbage or recycling truck takes it away.

Teacher Tip

Be sure to give students plenty of time to play the Quizmo game at the end. Students can play individually, in teams, or in pairs.

Extension Ideas

Working in pairs, have students draw a poster about recycling. They can illustrate why it’s important to recycle or what happens when garbage gets recycled. (To help students recall the steps, use the PDF of the story that you printed out earlier and post pages 9–13.) Encourage children to write a title or a message about recycling on their poster. Ask students to talk about their posters. Display the posters in the classroom and invite parents and school personnel to view them.
If new ideas about recycling in the school or classroom have come up during class discussions, help students investigate how to put their ideas into action, such as writing a letter to the principal or mayor. Invite a representative from the local recycling plant, sanitation department, or other guest speaker to come and talk with students about recycling.

© 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.