Skip to content

The Clean Air Game

by Deborah Avalone-King

Playing the Clean Air Game is a great way to initiate discussion of the importance of protecting the atmosphere and help students understand distinctions between air pollutants and greenhouse gases. The objectives of the game are to acquaint students with sources and types of air pollutants, their impact on the health of people and the environment, and actions individuals can take to prevent air pollution. The game can be used in a number of ways: to spark discussion of how our energy choices create or ameliorate environmental problems; to highlight how non-living aspects of the environment change in response to human and other factors; and to assess the environmental impacts of technology.cleanairgame

Playing the game

The Clean Air Game can be played by students from elementary school (fourth grade) to high school. The suggested play time is 20 to 30 minutes for younger students and 10 to 15 minutes for older students. Additional time is needed for processing and sharing what is learned.

To play the game, students form teams of four or five. Each student has a playing piece and each team has a die. Players start on one of the two Green Spaces and move clockwise around the board. As players land on spaces, they read aloud the description and add or remove pollutants from their atmosphere as directed. When landing on pollutant spaces, players must add one of those pollutants to their atmosphere. (The purpose of these spaces is to familiarize students with the names and chemical abbreviations of pollutants.) Individual players may wish to keep track of their own scores, but the team score is what matters. The team with the lowest score (cleanest air) wins the game.

Scoring can be done on score sheets or by using manipulatives such as pieces of packaged cereals (e.g., “Cheerios” or “Fruit Loops”) to represent pollution. When using manipulatives, each student starts the game with 15 pieces of cereal and a handful is placed in the center of the game. To remove pollutants, players eat the cereal pieces. To add pollutants, they take pieces from the center of the board and add them to their own pile.

Scoring strategies can be varied with older students. For example, students may keep a general pollution score with one column for adding pollutants and one column for removing pollutants, and sum it up at the end of the game. Or they may track each of the six pollutants on the board.

Celebrate at the end of the game by rewarding the team that has the cleanest air (least points) with applause or, for fun, a jar of clean air! Have each group share examples of the actions or events that resulted in dirtier air or cleaner air. This reflection is an important way to process the information and better relate the activity to their own lives and the actions they can take to reduce pollution.

Greenhouse gas follow-up

While greenhouse gases are not directly addressed in the game, a follow-up discussion on this topic will enrich students’ understanding of the link between air pollution and climate change. Discussion could include:

• Are any of the pollutants in the game also greenhouse gases? (Nitrous oxide and ground-level ozone are called greenhouse gases because they have the ability to absorb and emit heat energy. Some volatile organic compounds undergo a chemical reaction in sunlight to produce ground-level ozone. Ozone has a split personality: in the lower atmosphere it is a heat-trapping pollutant; in the upper atmosphere it forms a layer that shields the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. The “hole” in the ozone layer is not directly related to the greenhouse effect.)

• What major greenhouse gases are not represented on the game board? Why not? (Carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs are not on the board. Carbon dioxide and methane are produced naturally in the respiration and decomposition of organisms and so have not previously been considered air pollutants. For millions of years, these gases have contributed to the natural greenhouse effect, playing a beneficial role in regulating the Earth’s surface temperature. However, human activities such as burning fossil fuels for energy, clearing forests, and raising livestock are rapidly increasing the levels of these gases in the atmosphere. As a result, the greenhouse effect is enhanced and the Earth is getting warmer. CFCs are human made compounds which are not pollutants at ground level but act as powerful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: their heat-trapping ability is thousands of times greater than that of carbon dioxide.)

• Which practices or processes represented on the game board result in the emission of carbon dioxide? (Activities involving the combustion of the carbon-containing materials such as fossil fuels or wood all produce CO2 emissions.) 

Deborah Avalone-King is an environmental educator with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in Augusta. The Clean Air Game was developed by Page Keeley.

From “Teaching About Climate Change”