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Paper Making

Objective: Students will learn how to make recycled paper.

Grade Level: 2-6

Groupings: Small groups

Materials: Examples of recycled paper products; scrap paper; water; natural materials (see below); 1-2 kitchen blenders; iron; cloth and large kitchen strainer (all optional). Per group: large container; wide mouth jar; dish basins; sponges; pieces of window screen (cut to the size of the paper you want and duct taped around the edges); newsprint.

Time Allotment:  1 hour


This activity works best if it is done on two consecutive days. Collect the natural materials and prepare the paper pulp on the first day and make the paper on the second day.

1. Tell the students that in 1992 each person in the United States threw away about 262 pounds of paper (of a total of 1,480 pounds of trash). That is a lot of paper! Brainstorm a list of all the paper products people use and record the list on the blackboard. What happens to all of this paper? (Some of it is recycled, but most of it is used just once and thrown away.)

2. Show the students examples of recycled paper products; greeting cards, wrapping paper, computer and copy machine paper, toilet paper, handmade stationary. Explain that they will be making recycled paper from scrap paper in the classroom and natural materials.

3. Divide the class into small working groups. Have them rip their scrap paper into one to two inch pieces. Each student should make about two cups of shredded paper. Have each group put all their pieces together in a large container. Cover these with water and soak them overnight. The soaking makes it easier for the blender to process the paper scraps. Have the students collect some natural materials and soak them separately.

4. Have each group put one handful of their wet paper pieces and three to four cups of water in a wide mouth jar. Have them pour this mixture into the blender. Process the wet paper pieces and water in the blender for several seconds, until fairly smooth. This blending creates a mixture called a slurry, composed of water and paper pulp. Pour the slurry into a dish basin. Have the groups continue making slurry until their basins are half full. Blend the natural materials separately and combine with the slurry in the basin. Add water until the basin is 3/4 full.

5. Hand out the screens to the students and explain that the screen will be used to catch the paper pulp. When the paper pulp dries, it will be a new sheet of paper.

6. One student in each group should stir the slurry in the dish basin with his or her hand. This insures that the paper pulp is suspended in the water. Have another lower the piece of screen at an angle under the slurry. When the screen is completely under the slurry, have the student slowly lift it out, keeping it as flat as possible and catching the paper pulp on the surface of the screen. If the paper pulp layer is too thin, strain off some water from the basin and try again. If it is too thick, dilute the slurry with water.

7. Have the student hold the screen and paper pulp over the basin for a few seconds to let the excess water drip off. Then, quickly and carefully, have the student flip the screen and paper pulp over onto several thicknesses of newsprint.

8. Keeping everything in place, have them sponge the screen to soak up excess water in the pulp. Squeeze out the excess water from the sponge into the slurry bucket. Continue sponging until the paper seems fairly dry.

9. When their new sheet of paper is dry enough, it will seperate readily from the screen and remain attached to the newsprint. Have the students slowly lift one corner of the screen. If the screen and paper pulp separate, they can gently lift the screen from the paper. If the screen and paper pulp stick together, they need to sponge off more water.

10. Have each student set the new sheet of paper aside, still attached to the newsprint, in a safe place to dry. Have each student label the newsprint with his or her name.

11. While the paper is still damp, it may be covered with a piece of smooth cloth and ironed (with the assistance of the teacher or other supervisor).

12. When the paper is fully dry, peel the newsprint off. Use the new paper as stationery, greeting cards, or for any other creative project. The quality of the paper varies depending on the type of scrap paper used to create the slurry and the natural materials added. Some kinds of paper will be more difficult to write on than others.

Important clean up note: do not put extra paper pulp down the drain. The drain will clog. Strain as much of the pulp out as you can with the screen or a large kitchen strainer and discard it in the waste basket. Pour the rest of the water outdoors.


a. Experiment with different shapes and sizes of window screen to create interesting paper shapes. Plastic window screen stretched over circular embroidery hoops makes wonderful circles of paper.

b. Research the discovery and history of paper making.

c. Have each student keep a tally of the number of times and the types of paper he or she uses in one day.

d. Save the paper that is used in the classroom for a week. Weigh it and multiply by the number of weeks of the school year to find out how much paper the class uses. Brainstorm ways to recycle this paper.


Paper has been around for a long time. In 105 B.C. a man in China named Tsai-Lun watched some wasps as they chewed up wood and molded it into thin sheets to build their nest. Impressed with the nest's texture and inspired by their methods, Tsai-Lun mashed rags, bamboo and mulberry wood into a liquid pulp. He filtered the pulp on a flat screen, lifted out a thin sheet formed from the fibers, let it dry and the first sheet of paper was made!

Paper making has come a long way since then, but the basic process is similar. Every piece of paper still begins with a tree. Logs are sent to paper pulp factories where the bark is removed and the logs are then shredded. The wood chips are then added to a digester, which works like a large pressure cooker to separate the cellulose and lignin fibers which make up wood into fiber bundles. Inside a blow tank, these bundles are burst apart into individual fibers. These fibers are then run over screen drums, washed, filtered and refined.

These fibers then go into a head box where they are pumped as a watery pulp onto rolling wire screen mats. Water drains off and the mats vibrate slightly to help the fibers interlock into sheets. Different types of paper are made by variations in the amount of pulp pumped onto the rolling mats, the speed of the mat and the speed of the vibrations.

The sheets then pass through a long series of rollers which press out any remaining moisture. Next, steam heated drying drums dry the paper, and finally, a process called calendaring polishes and smooths out wrinkles. Large sheets of paper are wound onto rolls which can be cut to produce a wide array of paper products.


Leaves (green, brown or colored)

Grass clippings

Flower petals (roses, marigold, dandelions, violets)

Milkweed silk

Scented herbs

Onion skins

* This material has been used with permission from Shelburne Farms, Copyright © 1995.

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