Marine Debris Resources and Lessons for Teachers

Educating the next generation about ocean trash and how we all can prevent the spread of marine debris.

We depend on our ocean for the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. But beyond these vital resources, there exists a multitude of other reasons why we love the water, from the creatures who call it home to the shores we visit and explore.

Marine debris is one of the greatest threats our ocean faces, but luckily it is an issue with which we can all play a part in the solution. Talking Trash & Taking Action is a marine debris education partnership between Ocean Conservancy and the NOAA Marine Debris Program. It was developed as a means to educate the next generation about ocean trash and, most importantly, how we all can prevent it.

This instructor’s guide was designed in a flexible manner to fit your needs. Whether you have one hour, one day or one week, the information and activities in this guide will allow you to develop a personalized marine debris education program. The guide is designed to be a resource for activities and information that can fit into existing lesson plans or can be followed verbatim as its own set of lesson plans. Just a few examples of materials included in this useful guide and supplemented on our marine debris outreach and education page include:

An ocean trash pre-survey


This quick quiz can help instructors gauge a learner’s knowledge of the current state of marine debris, the land-to-ocean life cycle of trash, and who is in charge of leading the way when it comes to fighting pollution and coming up with creative environmental solutions to the problem. For example, one question asked in the survey is “What is the main cause of marine debris in the ocean?” If you think you know the answer, take the quiz and find out if you’re right!

Fun mad libs that explain the ocean trash problem in an entertaining way


When it comes to the marine debris conundrum we’re facing today, it may feel difficult to present such a heavy topic in an appealing way. Fear not; by mixing in a bit of humor, students’ attention (especially that of younger kiddos) is much easier to get a grip on and maintain, keeping them engaged and interested in solving this worldwide problem.

Search and color pages


Coloring to save the ocean? Yes, you read that right! By mixing art with search exercises, both the ‘left and right’ sides of the brain are activated. The creative side of the brain is able to be engaged while students simultaneously learn about what does and doesn’t belong in a healthy marine environment, making for the ultimate mix of fun and education.

Kid-friendly infographics

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The ocean trash problem is incredibly nuanced, and is sometimes hard for even adults to fully understand. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s where our infographics come in. These visual content pieces, like the one below, demonstrate in an incredibly simple yet effective way just how plastic goes from its origin to harming our ocean’s ecosystems and marine wildlife.

Hands-on activities to demonstrate  the composition of marine debris


Activities like our ‘Matching Trash’ game are incredibly effective, as they enable participants to simultaneously learn different sources of marine debris as well as what those sources are primarily comprised of. By sorting collected trash using our Debris Decks, students will visually understand how many different items play into the ocean trash problem on a regular basis. This is also an excellent activity through which habits like sorting one’s personal trash for recycling and compost piles can be fostered and encouraged.

And there’s so much more where all these came from! By visiting our marine debris outreach and education page, you can find so many more activities and resources like these to help demonstrate to students just how important solving this problem is, as well as how big their own individual impact truly is. The Talking Trash and Taking Action program is available in both English and Spanish, and educators of any kind can request a hard copy of the Instructors Guide by emailing [email protected].

Through fostering awareness and knowledge of the ocean trash epidemic and presenting youth with the tools and resources they did to make a difference, we can ensure our ocean has the best chance possible at recovering from pollution as well as a healthier, more vibrant and trash-free future.


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