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Renewable and non-renewable are terms related to resources replenishing themselves or being used up.  Renewable power resources are commonly thought of as solar, hydro, geothermal, wind, and tides.  Non-renewable power resources include fossil fuels and are generally defined as finite.

What can the average person do about renewable versus non-renewable?  The answer is consumption. As consumers we are often faced with choices related to products that are renewable.  The more we use renewable resources then the longer that non-renewable resources will last.


By the end of this lesson students will be able to explain the benefits of using renewable resources as opposed to non-renewable resources.



Preparation of the Lesson (approximately 30-60 minutes)

Lesson Plan & worksheet [PDF]

  • One package, approximate net weight 16 oz, or 453g, white baby lima beans.
  • One package, approximate net weight 16 oz, or 453g, red kidney beans.
  • Small snack size plastic bags (6.5” x 3.25” or 16.5 x 8.25 cm) with zip lock
  • One copy of the worksheet for every two students. 

Set bags to contain a ratio of 80 red (non-renewable) / 20 white (renewable) beans.  Mix the beans within the bag.  Create enough bags to supply one bag per every two students.
Set up another set of bags to contain a ratio of 70 red (non-renewable) / 30 white (renewable) beans. Create enough bags to supply one bag per every two students.

NOTE:  substitution of bean type and color is acceptable as long as the sizes are similar to each other and there is some sort of color distinction. 

Introduce The Lesson / Instructions for Demonstration

Our world has a finite set of resources and depending on how we choose to use the resources there will be enough to last for generations. 

On the whiteboard or overhead projector build a list of renewable and non-renewable resources as they relate to a pencil.  Possible answers include; Renewable – wood and metal.  Non-renewable – plastic, paint, glue, graphite. 

In this activity, students will conduct a simulation of resource usage.  How long the supply lasts depends on the ratio of renewable and non-renewable resources.  The disclaimer is drawing beans out of the bag will be done randomly as opposed to the deliberate decisions we make in our lives. 

Demonstrate for the class two rounds of taking beans out of the bag, documenting results, and replacing renewable beans.  Without looking, draw out of the bag ten beans and separate the red (non-renewable) and white (renewable).  Record the number of red and white beans using the worksheet.  Set the red beans aside and replace into the bag the white beans.  Repeat for ten rounds. 


Part 1

  1. Group students into pairs.  Assign the roles of “recorder” and “excavator.”  Explain to the students the roles will change each round therefore there is no need to stress out about who gets which role. 
  2. The recorder will fill out the worksheet and the excavator will pull beans out of the bag. 
  3. Continue drawing beans out of the bag, recording results, and replacing beans until round 10.  Calculate totals then go to Part 2.

Part 2

  1. Set aside the bag from Part 1 and pick up the bag for Part 2.
  2. Have students record a numeric prediction relating to having more renewable resources and what the outcome could be for Part 2.
  3. Conduct Part 2 and for the conclusion of Part 2 have students analyze if their predictions were correct and comment on their opinion of using renewable versus non-renewable. 


This activity could be modified to build charts from the worksheets, and/or changing the ratio of renewable and non-renewable beans, and/or researching what is the current ratio of a renewable versus non-renewable resources in the country where you live and setting up the bags accordingly. 

This activity could conclude with a whole class sharing results.

California Standards

  1. Sources of energy and materials differ in amounts, distribution, usefulness, and the time required for their formation. As a basis for understanding this concept:
    1. Students know the utility of energy sources is determined by factors that are involved in converting these sources to useful forms and the consequences of the conversion process.

Students know different natural energy and material resources, including air, soil, rocks, minerals, petroleum, fresh water, wildlife, and forests, and know how to classify them as renewable or nonrenewable.   


           All content property of microdocs project.                                                                                                                          Last updated April 11, 2012.
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