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Popcorn Generation


This lesson plan makes use of popcorn to help students understand and explore the concepts of renewable and nonrenewable resources and their use over time.


To learn what happens to nonrenewable natural resources over time


  • Large jar full of popcorn, nuts (watch out for kids’ allergies), or candies
  • 14 slips of paper and container to put them in
  • 14 lunch bags


  1. Fill a large jar with popcorn, nuts, or candies.
  2. Mark 14 slips of paper as follows: Two “1st Generation,” four “2nd Generation,” and eight “3rd Generation.” Put the slips into a small container.
  3. Have 14 kids each draw a slip of paper from the container. They should not tell anyone what the paper says. Give each kid a lunch bag and explain that they will be part of a demonstration.
  4. Ask the two 1st Generation kids to come up to the big jar of popcorn. Explain that the food in the jar represents the world’s supply of a nonrenewable resource, such as a mineral or petroleum. Tell them they can take as much of it as they want. Let them fill their bags while the rest of the group watches.
  5. When the 1st Generation kids have gotten their fill, invite the four 2nd Generation kids to go up and take as much of the remaining popcorn as they want.
  6. After they’ve finished, have the 3rd Generation kids come up and take what’s left.
  7. Discuss with the kids what is happening to the world’s popcorn supply. The kids should realize that as new generations come along, there will be less and less of the resource available to them, and eventually there will be nothing.
  • What happened to the total amount of the resource?
  • How much was left for each successive generation? 
  • Was anything left for a fourth generation? 
  • Did any of the kids who were part of the demonstration think about those who might be eating after them, or were they only trying to get as much popcorn as they could? 
  • What parallels do the kids see between what happened in the demonstration and what happens in the real world?

Discussion Questions 

Have a kid explain what renewable resources are. Then ask:

1. If a resource is renewable, does that mean it will continue to exist no matter what people do? Explain your answer.

2. What two factors would you say are most important in determining how fast natural resources are used? (This question may be difficult for some kids. By recalling the demonstrations, though, they should be able to deduce that the number of people using a resource and the amount each person uses are very important in determining how fast resources get used.)

This lesson plan is an activity from the Environmental Activities for Youth Clubs and Camps, a resource developed by the Peace Corps Office of Overseas Programming and Training (OPATS). It was contributed by Peace Corps/Armenia.