Monday, March 14

The Lorax Unit Study - Earth Day

One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books is "The Lorax," and it's been a family favorite for movie night, too!  Yes, the story teaches life lessons, but the kids also enjoy it because the music is catchy and there's just the right amount of goofiness -- Betty White's character, anyone?  While Earth Day is a great time to revisit this story, it's really fantastic any time of year...

How do trees become products?

  1. To make wood products, people first harvest trees and process them into lumber. 
  2. After the trees have been cut down, the branches are removed and they are cut into logs. 
  3. Then, the logs are loaded onto trucks and transported to a sawmill. 
  4. The first machine at the sawmill strips off the bark. 
  5. The logs are then measured and then cut into lumber. 
  6. Depending on how the wood will be used (whether for buildings, furniture, baseball bats, etc.), the trees will be cut in different ways. 
    • What products a tree is used for depends on the type of tree it is. For example, hardwood trees such as oak and maple are often used for flooring and high quality furniture, while softwood (coniferous) trees are usually used for papermaking, lower quality furniture, houses, and crates.

What else can we make?

Paper was made by hand for nearly 17 centuries following its invention in China about 100 A.D. In Asia, plant fibers were beaten into a pulp, suspended in water, and formed into sheets by draining the fibers through a screen. As knowledge of paper making moved westward, paper makers began to use rags rather than plant fibers to furnish pulp. Papermaking spread to Europe through the Middle East, reaching Spain from North Africa by about 1200. From Spain, the craft eventually was brought to the North and South America. The Spanish established a European-style paper mill in Mexico around 1580.

All land plants contain a compound called cellulose, which provides them with rigidity and support. It’s the primary component in wood. People use cellulose from wood to make a variety of products besides paper. For example, cellulose can be mixed with certain chemicals and squeezed into fibers that are used to make carpets, wigs, and fabrics such as rayon for clothes and furniture. Cellulose is also used as a key ingredient in cellophane, sausage casings, explosives, shatterproof glass, sponges, shampoo thickeners, imitation leather, and many other products. Processed with certain chemicals, cellulose may also be used to produce molded plastics for eyeglass frames, hairbrush handles, steering wheels, and so on.

It would be hard, if not impossible, to find a part of a tree that people do not use in some way. The bark of many trees, for example, is used for many different products. Most bottle corks are made from the bark of cork oak trees, which grow in Europe and Africa near the Mediterranean Sea. The spongy bark of these trees is made into bulletin boards, the inner cores of baseballs, and many other products. Quinine, the drug used to cure and prevent malaria, comes from Peruvian bark and had been used by Native Americans long before the Europeans arrived. Some tree bark has an abundance of a chemical called tannin. People use tannin to process leather.

Some trees produce saps called gums and resins that are used to make paint thinner, chewing gum, medicines, and many other products. For hundreds of years, South American Indians have extracted the sap or latex from the rubber tree to make products such as rubber-soled shoes and containers. They processed it by heating the rubber and mixing it with sulfur to improve its strength. Maple trees produce a sap that people turn into maple syrup. Trees provide people with fruits and nuts such as apples, coconut, pecans, lemons, and olives, and spices such as allspice and nutmeg. Tree leaves, trunks, and other parts also provide ingredients for paints, road building materials, medicines, artificial vanilla, adhe sives, inks, and hundreds of other products.

Many private forests, most of them family owned, choose to grow trees for wood products such as paper and lumber. Like other forests, family owned forests not only produce timber and other forest commodities, but also provide homes for wildlife, produce oxygen, reduce soil erosion, help protect water quality, and offer recreation areas. Although family forest owners often have different goals for managing their lands, most have one thing in common: they want to manage their forests in an aesthetically pleasing and ecologically sound way, while growing trees for forest products. 

Through various techniques that include harvesting (cutting and thinning), planting, and vegetation control (herbicide use and prescribed burning), a forest owner can manipulate the variety and age of tree species within a forest, the density of trees, the arrangement of different layers or stories of vegetation, and lighting and shading. Even before a forest matures, owners must consider how the next forest will be regenerated and managed. The management techniques a forest owner applies to his or her land not only affect the present forest but also influence its future characteristics.

For this unit, you'll need:

Optional resources (most are free downloads):


  • How did the thneed factory change over time?
  • How did the thneed industry affect the physical environment (water, air, soil etc.)?
  • Byproducts are materials or chemicals remaining after the production of a product.
    • Name two byproducts that resulted from making thneeds.
    • Were any animals affected by the byproducts of thneed production? If so, how were they affected?
    • Were the byproducts that resulted from the making of thneeds harmful or helpful to the environment?
  • How could the Once-ler have managed his company to protect natural resources and not run out of trees to manufacture Thneeds?
  • Compare the Once-ler’s attitude toward the environment at the beginning of the story with his attitude at the end.
  • The Lorax says he speaks for the trees. What does this mean to you? What is the Lorax’s attitude at the end of the story?
  • How would you help the Lorax take care of the earth? Give two or three examples of things you can do in your neighborhood.


Cutting down all the trees in Thneed-ville damaged the environment and caused the animals to look for a new home.  Can you think of other man-made problems that damage the environment and hurt the animals? Why do you think it’s important for us to protect the environment and animals around us?

Make / Do

  • 101 Ways to Help the Earth with the Lorax
    • Get creative with these simple suggestions for helping the planet that kids can do themselves—ideal for nurturing a love of nature and for celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax!
  • Write and illustrate a sequel to The Lorax. The sequel might explain how the Truffula Tree made a comeback through replanting and proper care or how the company finds a balance between creating products and protecting the environment.

  • Try out a sample project from Recycled History.

  • Elementary & lower middle school students - use the movie guide to check your comprehension.

  • Middle & high school students - use 'The Lorax' to work on your art of argument and persuasion. This is a fun way to practice recognizing ethos, pathos, and logos. 

  • Plant a tree!  Use the Arbor Day Foundation's Tree Wizard to find the perfect tree for your yard.

Reading Connections

  • Acorn Alone A story of dramatic effects of deforestation and how the Earth reclaims and renews itself.
  • Just a Dream When he has a dream about a future Earth devastated by pollution, Walter begins to understand the importance of taking care of the environment.
  • A Tree is Growing Tells about the structure of trees and how they grow, as well as their uses.
  • The Tree Farmer A proud grandfather takes his grandson on a magical journey through his tree farm where they discover the majesty of the forest and the many benefits of trees.
  • In the Trees, Honey Bees! This book describes amazing insects that are also critically important to humans. Simple verse engages the young child, while sidebars with fascinating information satisfy the older audience.
  • The Giving Tree A moving parable about the gift of giving and the capacity to love, told throughout the life of a boy who grows to manhood and a tree that selflessly gives him her bounty through the years.
  • Mighty Tree Three seeds grow into three beautiful trees, each of which serves a different function in nature and for people. 
  • Trees: Fantastic Facts Reveals for young readers the secret life of trees – what really goes on inside the trunk, how leaves make food, when trees first grew on the earth, and more. Includes 19 information sections on the different parts of a tree and their functions, 23 practical projects that help you discover the life-cycle of a tree, and more than 250 illustrations, photos, and explanatory artwork.
  • A Sense of Wonder Filled with words and pictures to help keep alive the sense of wonder and delight in mysteries of earth, sea, and sky.
  • The Man Who Planted Trees Written in the 1950’s, its message was ahead of its time, inspiring readers to rediscover the harmonies of the countryside and prevent its willful destruction.

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