Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Life Is Like a Jar of Pickles

Danica Norris


Can a jar of pickles affect the quality of your life? Yes! In this lesson, students discover how the production of a jar of pickles can affect their lives. Students will gain an understanding of the interconnectedness between humans and the Earth's systems. Students analyze how a jar of pickle's life cycle (from creation to discard) impacts the Earth's systems, predict possible effects to their quality of life, and then suggest improvements to current practices in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, etc., that create less impact.


The student understands the interconnectedness of the systems on Earth and the quality of life.


-Butcher paper
-One jar of pickles
-Internet access
-Closure questions, one copy for each student


1. Buy a jar of pickles (which will be used only as an example, not for consumption).
2. Review information about pickles at the websites included and do additional research as needed.
3. Copy closure questions (enough for each student to have his or her own copy).


Day 1

1. Gain the students’ attention by showing them a jar of pickles and asking them how a jar of pickles is created. To encourage discussion, use the following questions: From what fruit vegetable is a pickle made, how are they preserved, and from what material is the jar made? (See weblink for more information on fruit vegetables.) Who picks the pickles, where are the pickles grown, and how are they manufactured and jarred? What raw material(s) is(are) used to create the jar, how is the jar made, etc.?

2. Ask the class to brainstorm questions about the life cycle (from creation to discard) of a jar of pickles. Students should include questions about the resources used, agricultural process and resources, manufacturing, transport, packaging, use, and discarding/recycling.

For example, manufacturing: What companies manufacture pickles, where are the factories, how does the manufacturer prepare the cucumbers for processing, what ingredients or artificial flavors/colorings are used in a pickle’s production, how are the cucumbers processed, how much time is required to produce one jar, what happens after the pickles are jarred, etc.?

3. Separate the students into teams of two and give them a question(s) from the previous brainstorming session to research. (Students can be divided into larger teams or research questions individually depending on the number of questions that are brainstormed by the class.) Instruct each team to research information on their question(s), summarize their findings on a piece of paper, and be ready to present their research to the class on the next day. Students may use the Internet, their local grocery store, the local cooperative extension service, an expert or farmer, etc., to research their question. Give students twenty to thirty minutes in class (with an Internet connection) to research their question. (Research time can be extended as needed.)

4. Tell the students that they will be using the information from their research and from this lesson to analyze and predict effects (or trends), suggest improvements to manufacturing and agricultural systems (or other systems), and determine whether the current use of technology in the jar of pickle's life cycle is appropriate with respect to the Earth's natural systems.

Day 2

1. Ask the teams to present their information to the class. Tell each student to take notes during the presentations.

2. Review how to construct a webbed graphic organizer (e.g., a food web) or a network. (See weblink for graphic organizer information. Also, see attached document: picklewaterweb.doc.)

Day 3

1. Separate the students into groups of no more than four. Give each group a large piece of butcher paper and markers. Instruct the groups to analyze how the jar of pickle's life cycle impacts the Earth’s systems using the information they gathered from their research or from the class presentations. Each group may analyze a whole system (e.g., living organisms) or a part of a system (e.g., wildlife). Suggest that the groups give at least one impact from each part of the jar of pickle's life cycle: raw materials, agricultural process, manufacturing process, packaging, distribution, use, and discarding/recycling). Give students fifteen to twenty minutes to brainstorm and create their web. (See attached file: picklewaterweb.doc.)

The following are some examples of the systems on Earth:

A. Air (atmosphere): Air quality, Ozone layer, etc.
B. Living Organisms (biosphere): Wildlife, Plant life, Insects, bacteria, and other small organisms, etc.
C. Land: Soil (agricultural impact), Geologic Resources (mining impact), Habitats (forests, marshes, etc.)
D. Water (hydrosphere): Oceans, Freshwater (rivers, lakes), Estuaries, etc.

2. Walk around to each group to formatively assess the webs to determine students’ understanding of the impact the creation of a jar of pickles has on the Earth’s systems. Students should give more than one impact, if possible, for each part of the jar of pickle's life cycle. See the attached document, picklewaterweb.doc, for an example of how a jar of pickles impacts the Earth's water systems. Provide feedback to students as needed.

Day 4

1. Review what impact the jar of pickle's life cycle has on the Earth’s systems by asking a few groups to share their webs with the class.

2. Write the following question on the board or overhead: How do our actions or the products we use affect our quality of life? Start the discussion by first talking about the physical law that every action has an effect. Actions can have both immediate effects or long-term effects (i.e., effects that occur after a period of time). Also, effects can be seen as either positive or negative depending on the point of view. For example, if car use increases, a car saleperson might see the increase as a positive effect on his business; however, an asthmatic child might see an increase in cars as a negative effect on the quality of air he or she is breathing. Usually society, culture, and individual preferences will determine what is seen as a positive or negative effect.

At this time, humans do not understand enough about natural systems to predict every effect that an action might have. So, some actions that humans take may have effects that we cannot predict or that may occur far into the future.

Ask students why they think this lesson is called Life Is Like a Jar of Pickles. (Answer: Because a jar of pickles has an impact on the quality of our life just as every action or product we create or use has an effect on our quality of life).

3. Ask each group to go back to their web and examine the impacts of the jar of pickle's life cycle on the Earth’s systems. Then, ask students to determine or predict how these impacts on the Earth’s systems can affect our quality of life.

For example, if the group wrote that pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer used in the agricultural process run off into our freshwater and ocean systems, then what effect will that have on humans and the quality of life? Possible effects include pollution of our water supply, contamination of our food supply (e.g., fish), possible damage to human health, job loss for fishermen, job increases for scientists and environmentalists, increase in community awareness, etc.

Give students fifteen minutes to brainstorm about the effects to the quality of life. Students should write the effects on their webs (near or next to the impacts).

4. Walk around to each group and formatively assess students’ understanding of the effects on the quality of life. Students should try to predict at least one effect for each impact. Students can predict using what-if questions. For example, what if the pesticides on the cucumbers ran into a pond that was used for fishing? What effect would that have on the fish, the people who ate the fish, the water and the aquifer, etc.? Provide feedback as needed.

5. Display and briefly explain the closure questions for this lesson (see the attached document: closurequestions.doc). Tell students they may use these questions as a guideline of what to listen for during the presentations.

6. Ask each group to present their findings to the class. During the presentation, each group should explain the impacts on the Earth’s system and the effects on the quality of life. Encourage discussion and give students opportunities to ask questions about each group’s presentation.

7. Display each web or network in the classroom (or in a communal or display area in the school).

8. Distribute the closure questions and direct the students to answer them and turn in after they are completed. (The closure questions do not necessarily have to be completed in class.) After students turn in their papers, formatively assess and give feedback. Provide additional instruction as needed. Closure questions may also be used as a summative assessment.


Students demonstrate their understanding of the interconnections between the Earth’s systems and our quality of life by creating a web or network. The students’ webs or networks contain at least one reasonable impact of the jar of pickles on the use of raw materials, agricultural production, transport, packaging, manufacturing, use, and discarding/recycling on each of the Earth’s systems. Students add at least one possible effect on the quality of life to their web or network.

After the students present their finished web or network to the class, formatively assess students’ answers to the closure questions. (See associated file.)


1. Watch AIM Manufacturing Videos as a class. Analyze the creation of one product and its effects on the Earth’s systems. Formatively assess student’s understanding by asking:
-Are you surprised by how much energy, time, resources, and labor go into the creation of the product?
-What did you learn from this video?

2. Use the AIM website under Process Info to learn more about manufacturing processes.

Web Links

Watch Manufacturing and Virtual Factory Tours
AIM Manufacturing Videos and Virtual Factory Tours

Quick Process Pickles (what ingredients are present in common pickles)
Human Nutrition

Information about Cucumbers
Vegetable Research & Information Center

Information about Fruit Vegetables
Vegetable Research & Information Center

Information about graphic organizers
Graphic Organizers

Attached Files

Closure Questions.     File Extension: pdf

Pickle Water Web: An example of an Earth System Web.     File Extension: pdf

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