Compute how many barrels of oil your family uses.

  1. Display the graphic that one barrel = 42 gallons. Begin by explaining that all of the energy used by a person each year can be expressed in oil equivalents. Experts tell us that in the United States, on average, a person consumes twenty-two barrels each year. Write the formula on the board that each person uses twenty-two barrels of oil each year.
  2. Have each student calculate how many barrels of oil his/her family consumes each year based on the number of people in the family.
  3. How many barrels are used by the whole class together? The whole school? The whole town? The state? Have the students compare their family's, class', school's or town's energy consumption to the 11 million gallons spilled in Alaska.

Use the formula of one barrel=forty-two gallons to figure how many barrels of oil were spilled in Alaska. (11,000,000 gallons by the Exxon Valdez.)

  1. How many years would it take your family/class/school/town to use 11 million gallons of oil?
  2. Discuss ways that students can reduce their oil consumption. (Turn down the heat, walk to school, improve housing insulation.)

Oil and Plastic

Generate a list with the class of all of the ways they use oil in their everyday life. Plastics and polyester-based fabrics (including the ever popular "fleece") are also oil-based products. Add to the list all of the ways students use plastic materials every day, and suddenly the list becomes quite long.

Oil Embargo

What happens when there is no oil? Have students investigate the oil crisis of the 1970s. Have them look into the politics that caused the embargo. A number of environmental policies were implemented because of the necessity of limiting the amount of oil each consumer used. What were some of these policies and how do we see their lasting effects today, twenty years later?


  • paper
  • pencils
  • town population figures