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Buy Nothing Day

Secondary, Middle


This lesson plan focuses students attention on the issue of consumerism and asks them to consider its benefits and drawbacks.  Students identify the different influences on their spending habits with special attention to the role of the media.  Students must track their recent purchases and consider how many should be considered needs  as opposed to wants. 

They are then introduced to Buy Nothing Day and its goal of  causing people to think about the role of shopping in our culture and more broadly to appreciate the impact that 'what, why and how much we buy' has on our planet as well as our quality of life. 

As a culminating activity students work cooperatively to plan either a pageant or television program to celebrate Buy Nothing Day and spread its message.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The resource teaches the students to:

  • evaluate wants versus needs
  • analyze the messages they receive through the media


  • Interesting topic and activities
  • Theme and activities are highly relevant to the students' own ives & experience
  • Background information is provided in order to support the teacher


  • Not a lot of  freedom for student choice within activities
  • Lack of independent discovery activities
  • Lack of assessment tools

Relevant Curriculum Units

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  • Alberta
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    • Grade 9
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      • English/Language Arts
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Explore thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences.
        • Manage ideas and information
    • Grade 11
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Economics
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Economics For Consumers 20: Course Content
      • Psychology
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • General Psychology 20: Course Content
    • Grade 12
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Economics
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Microeconomics 30: Course Content
  • Manitoba
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    • Grade 8
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      • English/Language Arts
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        • Comprehend and respond personally and critically to oral, print, and other media texts
    • Grade 12
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      • Social Studies
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Citizenship and Sustainability: Area of Inquiry: Consumerism
        • Global Issues
        • Global Issues: Citizenship and Sustainability: Area of Inquiry: Media
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland & Labrador
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    • Grade 7
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      • Home Economics
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        • Home Economics Intermediate: Money Management and Consumerism
    • Grade 8
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      • English/Language Arts
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        • Reading and Viewing
      • Home Economics
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        • Home Economics Intermediate: Money Management & Consumerism
    • Grade 9
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      • Business Studies
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Consumer Studies 1202: The Consumer as a Decision-Maker
        • Consumer Studies 1202:: The Consumer and the Business World
    • Grade 12
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      • Environmental Science
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Environmental Science 3205: Introduction to Environmental Science
  • Nova Scotia
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      • English/Language Arts
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        • Media Studies (Open) Media and Society
        • Media Studies (Open) The Media Industry
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        • Environmental Science (Univ/College Prep.) Reducing and Managing Waste
        • Environmental Science (Univ/College Prep.) Scientific Solutions to Contemporary Environmental Challenges
      • Marketing
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        • Marketing: Goods, Services, Events (College Prep.) Marketing Fundamentals
        • Marketing: Goods, Services, Events (College Prep.) The Marketing Mix
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        • Marketing: Retail and Service: Marketing Fundamentals
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    • Grade 11
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      • English/Language Arts
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        • Media Studies 20: Exploration of Other Media and/or Advertising
        • Media Studies 20: Exploring the Medium of Television
        • Media Studies 20: Media & Cultural Studies Project
        • Media Studies 20: Media Awareness
      • Psychology
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Psychology 20: How Do We Make Sense of Our World?

Themes Addressed

  • Citizenship (2)

    • Media
    • Sustainable Consumption
  • Human Health & Environment (1)

    • Quality of Life
  • Waste Management (1)

    • Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Very Good

The activities provide an opportunity to discuss arguments for and against consumerism.  It also offers the teacher some suggestions for ideas to support both positions.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Very Good

The activities allow for the discussion of the social, environmental and economical impact of consumerism in both a positive and negative light. While not explicitly addressed, the activities provide many opportunities to connect consumption to resource depletion, solid waste and pollution.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good
Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

The action experience is offered as an extension and offers great potential to enhance the resource  as a culminating activity.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Very Good

The lesson draws on personal experience and students are provided with thoughtful questions for self-reflection.

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

This is not the focus of the resource.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Poor/Not considered

This is not the focus of the resource but opportunities to explore the environmental impact of over consumption abound.

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Very Good

The activities are not locally focused in terms of the students' communities but the activities are very relevant to the lives of the students as they often have money to spend and are often targets of ad campaigns.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Good
Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Very Good

Students base their 'answers' largely through participation in activities that cause them to reflect on their own experiences.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Good

The focus of the lesson lends itself largely towards the Language Arts and Media Studies with a focus on communication, writing, and performing.  Valid connections can be made to Environmental Science, Psychology and Social Studies content outcomes as well.

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Satisfactory
Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.


Differentiated Instruction Good

There are strong activities provided that would engage most learning styles; however, no accommodations are suggested for those learners who may struggle.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Good

Although there is no case study included, the students do look at their own spending and buying habits which helps them to understand the concept taught.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory
Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Poor/Not considered

There are no tools or suggestions provided for assessment purposes.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory
Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Poor/Not considered

Case studies are not included.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Satisfactory

Choice is restricted to the final activity.

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.