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Cow Power! Emergency Lesson Mark as Favorite (3 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Combustion, Chemical Change, Heat, Temperature, Law of Conservation of Energy, ChemMatters Teaching Resources. Last updated February 20, 2024.


In this lesson, students will learn about energy, greenhouse gases, and chemical reactions through reading the highly rated ChemMatters article, Cow Power. The lesson includes several activities to help promote literacy in the science classroom related to the reading. This lesson could be easily used as an emergency lesson plan for a substitute teacher, as most of the activities are self-guided.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This lesson will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-LS2-3: Construct and revise an explanation based on evidence for the cycling of matter and flow of energy in aerobic and anaerobic conditions.
  • HS-ETS1-3: Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Define “biogas” and explain how it is connected to greenhouse gas.
  • Describe how connection between dairy farms and methane gas emissions.
  • Provide a general overview of the function of anerobic digesters and how they are used to harness energy.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Energy
  • Law of Conservation of Energy
  • Greenhouse Gases
  • Chemical Reactions
  • Chemical Change


Teacher Preparation: 5 minutes
Lesson: 60-90 minutes


  • ChemMatters article, Cow Power (April 2020)
  • Student handouts


  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes

  • This lesson was originally designed by the ChemMatters Teacher Guide team as a meaningful resource for teachers to use as an emergency lesson plan for a substitute teacher.
  • The lesson includes multiple components, as outlined individually below. The ChemMatters article is essential for all of the activities. Teachers can choose to do one or all of the included activities. Student handouts and corresponding answer keys are provided for each item described below:
    • Anticipation Guide: Anticipation guides help engage students by activating prior knowledge and stimulating student interest before reading. Students should read and respond to each statement before reading the article, then, while they read, students should look for evidence supporting or refuting their initial responses and again respond to each statement.
    • Graphic Organizer: This helps students locate and analyze information from the article. Students should use their own words and not copy entire sentences from the article. Encourage the use of bullet points.
    • Reading Comprehension Questions: These questions are designed to help students read the article (and graphics) carefully. They can help the teacher assess how well students understand the content and help direct the need for follow-up discussions and/or activities. You’ll find the questions ordered in increasing difficulty.
  • Teaching Strategies:
    • Conversation Starters for “Cow Power!” Before students dive into reading the article, it may be helpful to engage students with these questions/tasks:
      • Ask students if they have ever visited a dairy farm before. Can they recall any impressions?
      • Ask students to brainstorm what they think “biogas” is, and why it is important to understand.
    • An image investigation might be an engaging opportunity for students prior to reading the article. Show students the image of the anerobic digester from page 2 of the article. Ask students to hypothesize what is it. Try to give very little context about the image.
  • Further Exploration: After completing the provided activities, you can use the following lab, simulations and/or videos with your students to complement the concepts introduced in the article.
    • Lab: Greenhouse Gas Simulation from AACT. Students will create two simulations of the Earth’s atmosphere. They will compare a control model with a one that has an increased presence of carbon dioxide gas in order to analyze how this effects temperature. They will also complete research in order to learn more about the makeup of the Earth’s atmosphere.
    • Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data Explorer from the EPA. Students can use this interactive tool to explore EPA data about Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks and includes information about agriculture.
      Activity: Calculating Your Carbon Footprint from AACT. Students apply their knowledge of writing and balancing chemical equations and stoichiometry calculations to estimate their carbon footprint. Students are also asked to reflect on their carbon footprint and what it means.
    • Simulation: Carbon Tracker – CH4 from Earth System Research Laboratories. This resource explains the ways that methane impacts the environment and includes an animation of global methane.