Lesson Plan: Coal Washing


Based on the article “Meeting the Energy Challenge! There are More Ways Now Than Ever!

Click here for a printable PDF version of this lesson.


Important: In order to implement this lesson, coal samples are required.

Objective: To simulate washing coal as an example of clean coal technology.

Overview: Students will observe coal samples from the ACF kit before and after washing. Bits of the coal will come loose in the washing process, demonstrating lesser emissions in the electricity production process.

Standards Addressed: National Science Education CONTENT STANDARD B:

  • As a result of the activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of:
    • Properties of objects and materials
    • Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism
    • Position and motion of objects


  • Plastic or latex work gloves (be sure to check for potential latex allergies)
  • Coal Kit from American Coal Foundation
    Note: Subbituminous coal is another type of coal that is not included in the Coal Sample Kit. It is medium-soft and has less moisture than lignite. It is generally used to produce steam for electricity generation. Reserves of subbituminous coal are found mostly in the western United States and Alaska.
  • Crushed coal (available through science supply companies)
  • Clear plastic drinking cup
  • White paper towels
  • Water
  • Hand lenses

Activity Steps:

  1. Have the students put on gloves while handling the coal samples.
  2. Pass out as many coal samples as possible. Have the students observe the coal samples against the white paper towels and document their observations. Guide them to discuss color, texture, size, and feel.
  3. Then have the students compare the crushed coal to the whole pieces of coal. What similarities or differences do they observe?
  4. Fill the cup about 2/3 full of water. Put a few spoonfuls of crushed coal into the water. Have the students observe what happens. The bits of coal that contain sulfur should sink to the bottom of the cup, as the more pure coal will float. The less sulfur in coal, the “cleaner” it is considered.
  5. Ask the students what they think has happened and why. Then explain the process of coal washing. This is done at some power plants on a much larger scale with huge tanks of water. This is one example of clean coal technology.

Extension: Research other processes considered clean coal technology. Present these findings to classmates in a debate about which clean coal technology is the best and why.