Lesson Plan: Poison Prevention

This document provides a detailed explanation with background information of the poison prevention message. If you are new to the program, this would be a good place to start.
Lesson Plan: Poison Prevention - Articles


Learning Objective

A pest is an organism living and growing where they are not wanted and can cause damage to plants, humans, structures, and other creatures. Students will learn about different types of pests and problems caused by pests. Integrated pest management is when different controls methods are used to manage pests, including chemical controls. Poison prevention, including understanding signal words, proper storage, and Mr. Yuk, can help to keep everyone safe in the home.

Lesson Details

Suggested Audience: 1st - 3rd Grade

Suggested Time: The lesson can be covered in a thirty minute class period, but additional time may be needed for further explanation and possible activities. Determine what is best for your class depending on students and available time.

Pennsylvania Academic Standards:

  • Environment and Ecology 4.5.1.B. - Describe why people consider some insects, plants, and other living things to be pests, and ways to control their population numbers.
  • Environment and Ecology 4.5.3.B. - Define the term pest and identify various plants and animals that humans may call pests.
  • Health, Safety & Physical Education 10.2.3.B. Identify health-related information: signs and symbols, terminology, products and services.
  • Health, Safety & Physical Education 10.2.3.E. - Identify environmental factors that affect health: insects/animals.
  • Health, Safety & Physical Education 10.3.3.A. - Recognize safe/unsafe practices in the home, school, and community.
  • English Language Arts CC.1.5.1.C. - Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to gather additional information or clarify something that is not understood.

Provided Materials

  • Signal Words Poster
  • Mr. Yuk Poster
  • Student Packets, which contain a parent letter, activity sheet, homework sheet, and Mr. Yuk stickers. (If needed, please visit our Parental Packet web page for copies of the letter and sheets, and .)

Additional Materials (optional):

Several other possible materials are suggested throughout the lesson plan under the Action, Discussion, and A Step Further sections. Review the lesson plan to determine which materials may be suitable based on audience, allocated time, and presenter preference.

Lesson Instructions


If you are a classroom teacher using the lesson plan, your students may already understand why this information is being covered as part of the science, health, or other unit. Please feel free to move ahead to Section 1 or, if desired, adapt the message below.

If you are a presenter that is going to teach the lesson to a group of students, an introduction may be appropriate to explain to students why you are going to cover the content, such as if the program is being given during National Poison Prevention Week, included as part of Safety unit, or facilitated at the conclusion of an Introduction to Insects Week.

For example, if you are a Master Gardener volunteer, the following is an example of a short introduction:

"I belong to a group of gardeners known as the Master Gardener Program. That means we like to grow things like flowers, vegetables, fruits, trees, shrubs, plants in the home, grass for our yards, and more. It's our job to help teach people in our community the best way to grow things and care for them. Gardens are full of living things and sometimes we have problems with pests in our gardens. Pests can cause problems. Today, we are going to talk about the ways to keep pests away and, most importantly, keep ourselves safe!"

Feel free to adapt or omit an introduction, based on what might be best depending on your preference, students, and allocated time.

Section 1: Pests

Action: Make a sign that reads Pest, print the Pest sheet from the downloadable PDF file, or write the word Pest on a chalkboard in the classroom. Have the students repeat the word "Pest" several times.

Pests are organisms living and growing where they are not wanted and can cause damage to plants, humans, structures, and other creatures. Simpler explanations of a pest can be:

  1. Pests are something that is out of place and unwanted
  2. Pests can cause problems in our homes, or
  3. Pests bother us!

Like all creatures, pests need food, water, and shelter. Pests often bother us as they search for these three items, such as when pests can slow growth and destroy crops that we need for food. Pests such as mice and cockroaches come into our homes looking for food, water, and shelter, but also bring in germs, get into our food, and sometimes cause damage. Mosquitoes and ticks can transmit (give) diseases to us as they search for a blood meal. Weeds absorb water, soak up for sunlight, and take nutrients that are needed by the desired plants and flowers in our gardens.

Discussion: Have students share an example of a pest and explain why the organism is a pest. Another option is to bring some pest examples as visuals, which could be plastic or stuffed versions, drawings, posters, printouts, a book, or other available options that helps to illustrate pests. Pest examples are available in the downloadable PDF file. Or, if possible and within reason, bring in a real pest, such as an ant in a jar or pulling a weed from outside.

Section 2: Integrated Pest Management

Note: As the instructor, if you feel the terms "Integrated Pest Management, Cultural, Mechanical, Biological, and Chemical" may be too complex for students, modify to focus on how different ways are used to help us control pests.

Action: Make a sign that reads Integrated Pest Management, print the Integrated Pest Management sheet from the downloadable PDF file, or write the word Integrated Pest Management on a chalkboard in the classroom. Have the students repeat the words "Integrated Pest Management" several times.

As pests can affect our food supply and health, we need to control the pest population numbers, which means making sure not to allow too many of a certain pest. A simpler explanation could be if we have a pest around our homes, schools, or gardens, we probably want to get the pest to leave our home, school, or garden.

To control pests and get them to leave, different things that can be used. This is known as Integrated Pest Management - a combination of ways to control pests, including Cultural, Biological, Mechanical, and Chemical.

Adults and kids can clean up crumbs, keep food in closed containers, and throw out trash. This is Cultural control - changing the environment to keep the pest away by removing access to food, water, and shelter.

Adults (and sometimes kids can help) use devices like a flyswatter or tools in the garden to control pests. This is Mechanical control - using physical objects like traps, machines, and devices.

Adults (and sometimes kids can help) use animals, like cats in the home or ladybugs in the garden, to control pests. This is Biological control - using natural enemies, like animals and other creature, to control the pest.

Only Adults should use chemicals to repel or poison the pest, as the adults must read and follow the label directions for proper use. This is Chemical control - using pesticides that are poisonous to the pest, such as sprays, dusts, and baits.

Discussion: Have students share if they have ever had a mouse in their home or school. Ask students how the mouse was controlled in the home or school. Use their examples to explain Cultural, Biological, Mechanical, and Chemical controls. Another option is to show images (available in the downloadable PDF files) or collect objects of mouse control, including a food wrapper to represent Cultural Control in telling participants to keep homes free of crumbs, wrappers, and trash; a cat to represent Biological Control for mice; a mouse trap for Mechanical Control; and an example of mouse/rat poison for Chemical Control. (For mouse/rat poisons example, take just the packaging; not the actual chemical product.) Besides a mouse, other integrated pest management examples can be shared, such as a flyswatter as mechanical control for flies or how a ladybug can be a biological control for aphids.

Section 3: Poison Safety

Chemical control is an option in Integrated Pest Management. Pesticides are chemicals used to control organisms living and growing where they are not wanted. On chemical and other household products, Signal Words are used to alert us of the potential hazard of a product. We can also put a Mr. Yuk sticker on those products to alert of a potential poison.

Discussion: If a chemical control option for a mouse or other pest was shown, discuss how that chemical is a pesticide that was used to control a pest that was bothering us. Point out the signal word on the chemical product and explain that signal words show us that we need to be especially careful with the product and the product must be used in the appropriate way. Have Mr. Yuk already on the chemical product or put Mr. Yuk on the product at this time to explain that anything with a signal word needs a Mr. Yuk sticker. Inform students to continue to listen as more information is going to be shared about signal words and Mr. Yuk.

Action: Use the Signal Words Poster to show students the four signal words. Point to each signal word and have students repeat the signal words after you.

Signal words represent toxicity, or how poisonous a product may be. This means the product could make you sick or hurt you if not used in the right way. Emphasize that these products can be used safely when used according to the label directions. But when not used according to directions or when someone accidentally consumes or inappropriately contacts the product, that is when an accidental poisoning can occur.

A Step Further: Find empty containers or packages of household products with different signal words. Product images are also available in the downloadable PDF file. Show participants the product containers and identify the signal words. Or, show the product to the whole group, tell them about its label use, share the signal word on it, and ask the participants if that is a signal word. For example, "This is laundry detergent. We use detergent to keep our clothes clean. This product has Warning on the label. Is Warning a signal word?" Be sure to reiterate to participants that this product can be used safely to wash and clean clothes, but it could be toxic, or poisonous, if we would drink it.

Action: Use the Mr. Yuk poster to show students an important symbol that can help keep everyone poison safe. Tell students that Mr. Yuk on a product means "Do Not Touch" as it can be poisonous. Tell students that you are going to say "Mr. Yuk means…" and they are to say "Do Not Touch!" together in unison. Repeat this several times with the instructor saying "Mr. Yuk means" and the students responding "Do Not Touch!"

A product that has a signal word needs a Mr. Yuk sticker. Mr. Yuk can be used as a symbol to alert children and adults of the potential hazard of the product. Young children might not be able to read the signal word or product label, but they can be taught that if they see Mr. Yuk, it means "Do Not Touch." Even as older children and adults are able to see and interpret the signal words, Mr. Yuk alerts kids of all ages that a product could be poisonous and must be used according to the directions on the label.

Mr. Yuk is green so that he is easily seen and identifiable on products, has a sick face to indicate that a product could make one sick if not used properly, and shows the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh trademark to show where Mr. Yuk was created. Mr. Yuk displays the phone number for the Poison Center (1-800-222-1222) which is the number to call in case of an accidental poisoning. It is free to call and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your call is automatically directed to your regional Poison Center, where doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals are able to assist you. The Poison Center can be called if anyone contacts or consumes something they are not supposed to, from chemicals, household products, cosmetics, personal care products, painkillers, medicine, and more.

A Step Further: Show students examples of chemical and household products that need to have a Mr. Yuk sticker. (This pairs in well with the previous A Step Further of finding signal words on products.) Whether Mr. Yuk is already on the products for safety or from previous presentations or if you put Mr. Yuk on the products in front of the students, remind students that Mr. Yuk helps keep everyone safe, whether its young children to know "Do Not Touch" or the adults to know to use the product according to the label directions. Examples of possible chemical and household products can range from toilet bowl cleaners to windshield wiper fluids to insect repellents to pet flea medicines to automobile additives to household cleaners. Find products that have signal words. Product containers should be empty, triple-rinsed, and cleaned.

In addition to signal words and Mr. Yuk, storing products in appropriate locations and leaving products in their original containers are two important safe practices for poison prevention. For storage, products should be stored up high, particularly 5 feet or higher, out of reach of children, or in a locked cabinet. Always keep products in their original containers. Do not move products to unmarked containers, as children or adults might think it is something they can drink when it is really a poison.

A Step Further: Mix food coloring and water in an unmarked container, such as a 16-ounce plastic bottle. Ask participants what they would do if they ever saw an unmarked container around the home. Emphasize that they should NEVER consume or smell anything in an unmarked container, but that they should tell an adult. The appropriate storage and leaving products in their original container are two very important safe practices for chemicals.

After teaching participants about signal words and Mr. Yuk, encourage students to teach their families about what they have learned in this lesson. Explain to students that Mr. Yuk stickers and a Homework Sheet are provided in a student packet envelope that can be taken home to their families. The homework sheet can be completed by the children and adults, in which they search the home for specific household products, identify the signal word, put a Mr. Yuk sticker on the product, and evaluate the current storage of the product. If the product is not in a locked area or over 5 feet, adults are encouraged to try to find a more secure area to safely store the product.

Action: Give student packets to the teacher for distribution. Ask students what they have learned or answer any questions. Remind students the presentation covered what is a pest, how to control pests, and how to be safe around poisons. Engage students by asking "Mr. Yuk means" in which they should respond "Do Not Touch."

A Step Further: Teach students the Mr. Yuk song. The Mr. Yuk song is adapted from past public service commercials. The song can also be presented as more of a chant. If desired, motions are indicated below in parenthesis. Consider writing the song on large poster board for students to see. Mr. Yuk song lyrics are also available in the downloadable PDF file.

Mr. Yuk is mean (Scrunch eyebrows together.)

Mr. Yuk is green (Make a sick face.)

When you see him (Point to eyes.)

Stop and think (Raise hand and keep flat for a stop motion. Take hand and point to head.)

Do not smell (Wave finger to indicate "Do Not" and then move finger to nose.)

Do not drink (Wave finger to indicate "Do Not" and then cup hand to mouth to replicate drinking.)

Do not touch (Wave finger to indicate "Do Not" and then wiggle fingers together.)

Do not eat (Wave finger to indicate "Do Not" and then move hand to mouth to replicate eating.)

Or you will be sick, sick, sick (Slightly hold stomach to replicate being sick.)

For More Information:

The Penn State Pesticide Education Program strives to educate all pesticide applicators and users across the Commonwealth about pest management alternatives, including the safe, proper, and legal use of pesticides. The program promotes responsible decision-making, which will protect pesticide users, public health, plant and animal health, and the environment. Please visit Penn State Pesticide Education website for more resources.