Upcycling in the classroom

Jade Glennon

Cambridge Dictionary announced ‘upcycling’ as Word of the Year 2019 earlier this month. Upcycling is defined as the activity of making new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used things or waste material. In this article, we’ll be sharing some interactive upcycling activities, paired with relevant environmental vocabulary to bring some upcycling fun to your class.

Upcycling vocabulary

Begin this fun lesson by brainstorming some valuable environment focused vocabulary with your students. That way, while your students are busy crafting, they can also communicate to one another about the topic in English without prompts. Use both Cambridge and community word lists for inspiration to create an upcycling word list for your class.

Plastic bottle plant pot

You will need:
• Empty plastic bottles (any size)
• Masking tape
• Decorations, e.g: googly eyes / buttons / paint / coloured pens
• Non-toxic, child-friendly glue
• Plant and soil
• Scissors

1. Map out the shape you want your plant pot to be with masking tape to make a line around the bottle.
2. Cut the bottle [carefully] along the line with scissors.
3. Decorate the plant pot with paint, pens, buttons, googly eyes, or whatever you like!
4. Fill with soil and plant.

Upcycled plastic bottle plant pots

Cereal box magazine holder

You will need:
• Cereal boxes (or any other box around A4 size)
• Decorations e.g: scrap wrapping paper / stickers / paints / coloured pens etc.
• Pencil
• Scissors

1. Using a ruler, mark out exactly where to cut your box.
2. Using scissors [carefully] cut your cereal box into the desired shape.
3. Decorate with wrapping paper or anything else, such as stickers, paints, coloured pens etc.


Tin can pen pot

You will need
• Tin cans
• Decorations, e.g: scrap wrapping paper, felt, paints, coloured pens
• Scissors
• Tape

1. Make sure the tin cans are clean, inside and out.
2. Decorate your tin can! For a quick and easy option, cut and tape some wrapping paper around the can. Alternatively, get creative with paints, pens, and stick-on items.
3. Place your pens and pencils inside.

Upcycled tin can pencil holder

Get creative

As a homework task, why not ask your students to plan out their upcycling project to do in class or at home? This is a great way for them to utilise their environment vocabulary, and to unlock their creativity at the same time.

To take it a step further, challenge your students with our ‘words about sustainable living’ word list with key vocabulary inside. Alternatively, use it as inspiration to make a challenging word list of your own.

Below are some really easy to find craft items that can be used for upcycling:

• Sweet wrappers

• Scrap wrapping paper

• Old magazines and newspaper

• Discarded buttons

• Scrap paper / cardboard / fabric

• Toilet roll tubes

• CDs that can’t be given away


If you enjoyed this post and want to find out a bit more about word lists, check out Matthew Ellman’s article which outlines 4 benefits of using word lists to teach vocabulary.

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