Resource Type
Completion Time
About 1 period
Middle School and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
Jo Anne Chenoweth
Clean Air Game Board, preferably laminated, see Resources section.
Dice (one per game board)
Playing pieces to move around board
Game pieces to represent pollutants (such as plastic bingo chips, or for younger students, Fruit Loops or Cheerios)
Life Science
Earth Science
Organisms and Their Environments
Environmental Studies
General Environmental Studies
Climate Change
Climate Change


In this lesson, students will play a fun board game that teaches about the sources and types of some air pollutants, and how they affect the health of both people and the environment. Students will learn that not all pollutants are greenhouse gases. This game can be a lead-in for a discussion about climate change and what people can do to help clean up the air. Note: This lesson was put together by a substitute teacher with the idea that it could be lengthened or shortened depending on the age level of students and time available.


  1. Students will be introduced to sources and types of air pollutants.
  2. Students will learn how air pollutants affect human and environmental health.
  3. Students will learn that our technological society impacts our environment.
  4. Students will learn some actions they can take to help improve air quality.

Lesson Preparation

Students may not be familiar with all the abbreviations used on the game board, so displaying the following list and a quick discussion about each will give the teacher a rapid baseline assessment of students' knowledge in this subject area. Especially for younger students, it will make the game more fun to have a basic understanding of what the symbols and abbreviations on the game board mean.

  • PM=Particulate matter
  • CO=Carbon monoxide; has no taste or smell; non-natural sources include motor vehicle exhaust, industrial activities, coal/wood burning.
  • VOC=Volatile organic compounds (found in things such as paints, lacquers, pesticides, glues, cleaning supplies, tobacco smoke, etc.)
  • O3=Ozone, which is helpful at higher levels in the atmosphere to protect us from the sun's UV rays, but close to the Earth's surface, high concentrations are toxic to people and plants and contribute to warming.
  • Pb=Lead; a naturally occurring metal, but also found in emissions from refineries, smelters, waste incinerators.
  • NOx=Nitrogen Oxide, which comes from burning fossil fuels (considered a greenhouse gas)
  • SO2=Sulfur dioxide, a colorless gas with a strong odor; sources include oil and gas processing, burning of coal and heavy oil, paper mills, metallurgical industries, etc.


  • Students should divide into teams, with about 4 students per team.
  • Pass out game boards, dice, playing pieces and pieces to represent pollutants. I like to start with 15 pieces (pollutants) in the center of the game board, which students will take from or add to, depending on the instructions of the space on which they land.
  • Students are given 10-15 game pieces (pollutants) which they add to the "atmosphere" in the center of the board when they land on a space that tells them to do so.
  • Students roll the dice and move their playing piece the number of spaces shown on the dice, and read the instructions aloud. The student then removes a "pollutant" from the atmosphere (pieces in the center of board), or adds to the pollutants from his own pile of chips.
  • Students continue to play until the teacher says "Stop", at which time the team with the fewest "pollutants" in the center of the board wins. As a reward, the game creators suggest something fun, such as presenting the winning team with a jar of "clean" air!
  • Note: This type of game that allows the teacher to decide how much time is spent playing is great for a substitute/visiting teacher.


  • This game will more than likely result in questions and comments from students. Try to allow some time for this after the playing of the game.
  • Help guide students to understand that not all pollutants are greenhouse gases. See if they can pick out the ones on the game board that are considered greenhouse gases (NOx, and ozone at ground level). You may also want to ask students if they can think of a greenhouse gas that is not on the game board, such as CO2, and explain that it occurs naturally in the environment and is not considered a "pollutant" but that in excess can cause problems/big changes for the Earth and its occupants. You may want to point out that since the Industrial Revolution, humans are adding lots of "non-natural occurring" CO2 to the atmosphere (Students may also mention methane and CFCs).
  • Have the teams brainstorm for a few minutes to come up with things they could do or actions they could take to help improve the atmosphere. Be sure to remind them that even small changes by many people can make a big difference! They should choose someone to write down their ideas and someone to stand up and share them with the class (Responses may include turning lights out when not needed, biking or walking instead of driving, recycling, etc.)


The Clean Air Game Board can be found at:


Through successful playing of the Clean Air Game and follow-up class discussion, the teacher will be able to assess the extent to which the students reached an introductory understanding of the health of our atmosphere, its effect on people and the environment, how the activities of our technological society affect the atmosphere, and how it all relates to climate change.


Jo Anne Chenoweth chenluvinlife [at]
Adapted from the book 'Teaching About Climate Change: Cool Schools Tackle Global Warming', edited by Tim Grant and Gail Littlejohn
Lesson created for the Murie Science and Learning Center (AK) - Climate Change Teacher Seminar


5-8 9-12 Content Standard F: Science In Personal and Social Perspectives: a. Personal health b. Populations, resources, and environments d. Risks and benefits e. Science and technology in society Content Standard F: Science In Personal and Social Perspectives: a. Personal and community health c. Natural resources d. Environmental quality e. Natural and human-induced hazards f. Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges

Standards Other

Alaska Science Content Standards E: A student should understand the relationships among science, technology, and society. A student who meets the content standard should: 1. Develop an understanding of how scientific knowledge and technology are used in making decisions about issues, innovations, and responses to problems and everyday events; 2. Develop an understanding that solving problems involves different ways of thinking, perspectives, and curiosity that lead to the exploration of multiple paths that are analyzed using scientific, technological, and social merits; 3. Develop an understanding of how scientific discoveries and technological innovations affect and are affected by our lives and cultures.

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This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.