“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

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This free ESL lesson plan on recycling has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

The world is facing serious environmental threats and recycling is one way we can help as individuals. Recycling reduces the need to exploit more natural resources, helps to prevent contamination and saves energy. However, many people still don’t recycle, or their government does not provide them with the opportunity to recycle. In this ESL lesson plan on recycling, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as why recycling is important, what material can be recycled and how recycling helps the environment.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for Zero Waste Week, which takes place in September. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

Friends of the Earth | “7 benefits of recycling”

The article lists seven ways recycling can help to protect the environment including conservation of natural resources, protecting ecosystems and reducing carbon emissions. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. Did the students already know any of this? Can they add any more benefits to the list?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is called “What really happens to the plastic you throw away” by TED Ed and explains the environmental problems caused by plastic bottles if they are not recycled.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including what the students recycle, what can and cannot be recycled and how more people can be encouraged to recycle.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with recycling such as single-use, landfill and microplastics. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about recycling. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as how recycling can help the environment, countries that have good and bad records on recycling and how the world would look in the future if nobody recycled.


After the class, students will write about the importance of recycling. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.


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