By Siham Bouzourene

23 September 2019 - 12:36

Plastic bottles and plastic waste
'Use this activity to teach or review lexis for colours, shapes and nature. For example, the bottle is a cylinder. What other cylindrical objects can your learners find?' Photo ©

Stux used under licence and adapted from the original

Teacher Siham Bouzourene tells us how she turned plastic bottles into learning tools for her primary English language class at the British Council in Algeria.

Plastic waste is everywhere after a hot summer in Algeria. I used these ideas by Owain Llewellyn to have a craft competition at school using recycling bottles and decorations. The reward was a re-usable water bottle. 

My learners came up with creative ways to re-use plastic bottle waste and I introduced new language concepts.

These activities are for young learners who are not exposed to English in their daily lives, and you can adapt them for very young learners.

I recommend that you disinfect used plastic bottles before using them in the classroom.

Create a pen stand

Materials: Provide one plastic bottle per learner. This is also a chance to use leftover craft materials from past lessons, including scraps of crepe or coloured paper. 

Instructions: cut the tops off the plastic bottles.

Ask learners to choose one half of a plastic bottle and decorate it as creatively and attractively as they want for its new life as a pen stand.

Language focus: When the class have decorated their pen stands, they can practise language for classroom objects by naming them as they put them in the pen stand. 

You can also introduce language chunks for processes, such as:

  • cut the paper in wide strips
  • wrap the paper around the bottle
  • paste it on the bottle
  • dip the paint brush into the paint.

Make a pencil case

Materials: plastic bottles and leftover sewing supplies (often called 'remnants' in fabric shops) 

Instructions: ask learners to remove the neck of a medium-sized plastic bottle and cut off one third of the remainder of the bottle. The bottom should be longer than the new ‘top’. 

They should then glue a zipper between both parts to attach them. Learners can decorate the whole object with colourful fabric, pompom balls or any other fabric remnants that you can gather. 

Language focus: This is a great activity to end a content and language integrated learning (CLIL) lesson if you are teaching mathematical shapes. As in the previous activity, you can teach the word ‘cylinder’, with its related adjective ‘cylindrical’.

Depending on the fabric remnants you find, you could work with octagonal buttons, or make triangles and even cubes with leftover felt. 

You can also introduce language chunks such as:

  • cut the fabric in wide strips
  • glue the fabric/pompom balls to the bottle.

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Construct a candle holder 

Materials: one small candle, two small plastic bottles per student and recycled decorations for each learner.

Instructions: use two plastic bottlenecks to create the candle holder.

Learners should remove the narrow bottle neck from one of the bottles. Younger learners might need help with this.

Place the bottle top which still has its full neck on the table surface. Turn the other bottle top upside down and place it on top of the first bottle so that the neck comes through the hole where the neck of the other bottle was. This will create a holder for the candle. Then, decorate as desired.

Language focus: You can easily coincide this activity with events like birthdays or religious celebrations. 

You can teach or review words related to colours and shapes.

Introduce vocabulary related to candles such as:

  • wax
  • flickering light
  • melt.

You can also teach language chunks like:

  • blow out the candles
  • turn the bottle upside down
  • put the candle inside the holder
  • cut the bottleneck off.

Set up a mobile phone stand

Materials: plastic bottles, scissors and waste fabric.

Instructions: ask learners to cut the plastic bottle about one third/a half up from the bottom. Then, cover it with fabric and other decorations as desired.

Language focus: This is a perfect activity to end a lesson on verbal communication. You can introduce or practise vocabulary for phone conversations:

  • hang up
  • break up
  • hang off 

language chunks like

  • dial a number

or fixed expressions used to start and end conversations such as

  • Hello, __________ speaking.
  • Hi, it’s _________. What’s up?
  • See you later! 

Make a plastic piggy bank

Materials: one small bottle, remnant fabric, and leftover paint and decorations.

Instructions: if your learners are older, and you have set safety standards for using scissors in your class, ask them to turn the bottle on its side and cut a coin-sized hole in its side. If your learners are younger, do this yourself before the class begins. Then, encourage them to use the fabric remnants and other recycled materials to make a head, legs and tail. 

Language focus: This is a perfect activity to end a lesson on money and business. You can use the piggy bank to introduce vocabulary related to money:

  • notes
  • coins
  • currencies.

and to teach countable words like 'coins' and uncountable words like 'money'.

You can also teach language chunks for buying and selling, along with fixed expressions like ‘drop a coin into’ and ’empty the piggy bank’.

Older learners might want to research why a piggy bank is called a piggy bank. 

Teachers, visit our TeachingEnglish website for more lesson plans and activities, and find out how you can become a TeachingEnglish blogger.

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