Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

This lesson plan is a tool for helping students learn about the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Students will be able to summarize this environmental disaster and its effects, as well as conduct a related experiment.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson on the Exxon Valdez oil spill, students will be able to:

  • Summarize the events that led to the oil spill.
  • Describe the environmental effects of the spill.
  • Use content-specific language to describe the clean-up efforts.
  • Conduct an experiment that illustrates clean-up efforts.


60 minutes

Common Core Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.


Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.


Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics.


  • booms
  • crude
  • dispersants
  • ecosystem
  • icebergs
  • intoxicated
  • man-made disaster
  • microbes
  • radar
  • respiratory
  • skimmers
  • tanker
  • toxic fumes
  • vessel


  • Copies of the quiz
  • Copies of the lesson
  • Paper
  • Pens
  • Highlighters
  • Vegetable oil
  • Measuring spoons
  • Food coloring
  • Plastic forks
  • Craft sticks
  • Bowls
  • Water
  • Cotton balls
  • Paper towels (cut into small pieces)
  • Pieces of cardboard
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Small paper cups

Reading & Discussion

  • Pass out copies of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: Causes, Effects & Cleanup to the students.
  • Have students highlight the vocabulary in the lesson. Have students work with a partner to determine the meaning of each word.
  • Read the section of the lesson entitled 'The Spill' with students.
    • Have students turn and talk to a partner. Each student should paraphrase the events that happened with the Exxon Valdez in March 1989.
  • Read the section entitled 'Causes' with students. Ask students the following questions:
    • Where did the oil spill occur?
    • Why was the ship's course changed?
    • What are some factors that contributed to the tanker hitting the Bligh Reef?
    • Turn and talk: Who do you think is most to blame? Why?
  • Read the section entitled 'Effects' with students.
    • Discuss the effects of the oils spill, including economic, legal, and environmental impacts.
  • Read 'Clean-Up' section of the lesson to students. Discuss the following:
    • Which organizations were involved in the clean-up efforts?
    • Define booms, skimmers, and dispersants.
    • Describe the clean-up effort. Which methods were most useful?
    • Describe the affected area today.
  • Pass out the printable worksheet. Have students complete the questions independently, then check the answers together.

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