From Trash to Teaching Aids

01st February 2020

From Trash to Teaching Aids

By Briana Rogers

Associate ELT-Consultant

Briana Rogers is an internationally experienced trainer of trainers, teacher-trainer, and curriculum designer. She believes schools provide not only an education but also offer shelter, security, stability, and a sense of normalcy to an entire community. She has spent the last ten years working within SE Asian educational communities (refugees, immigrants, and rural communities) to help develop sound educational systems. 

She worked as an English Language Fellow with the US Embassy Laos providing training for the Teacher Training Colleges and Universities in the provinces and coached university faculty on writing new master’s and bachelor’s degree curriculum for their English programs.

She was a leading English Language Consultant for the Ministry of Education Malaysia with their up-scaling of primary school English teacher’s program. She designed the programming for 30 schools and facilitated the development of over 300 teachers and lead a team of trainers.


Like most teachers I often can’t afford the teaching aids I find online, so I am always looking for and trying to think of new games and activities for the classroom that do not cost an arm and a leg.   The following ideas are things that I have come up with myself or seen online through out the years. They are made from things that we would normally throw in the trash.  So not only are we saving money we are saving the environment as well.

Recycling our trash into teaching aids not only saves our wallets but allows us to create aids for all the students to use because the students can bring in their own trash and make their own aids. This will also generate a sense of ownership in the children and make for a more inclusive learning environment.

Additionally, these teaching aids are also geared toward making the classroom a learner-center environment. They allow the student to interact with language in a variety of ways. As professionals we are aware that over the last few decades our job as teacher has shifted from being the giver of knowledge to being the facilitator of learning.  This often seems a daunting task because to change our behaviors we must change our beliefs on what is the role of teacher.  One way to make the switch towards a learner centered methodology is to introduce teaching aids that encourage students to interact with the language and that address their different learning styles.   

The internet provides a plethora of ideas and resources. Over the years I have collected, adapted and used a variety of activities I have seen for this article I have chosen to write about some my favorite ideas that I have adapted and successfully used over the years.


Teaching Aids:

The teaching aids created here come from common everyday objects often they are things that we throw away toilet or paper towel rolls, plastic bottles and egg cartons. We are literally turning trash into treasure.


Word Rollers: 

Word rollers are a great way of practicing word families, opposites, past tense verbs and so much more.  To make a roller you need the cardboard rolls found in the middle of toilet/tissue paper.  Take one and cut it in half then cut down the length of i.  I like to cover mine with colored paper to make them more bright.  If your doing word families simply write the word family on the end of the larger roll and the initial sound on the smaller end.   Students can roll the smaller one around and see how many words they can make.  I also had teachers write present tense verb on one and past tense verbs on the other and students must match them up. These work as excellent activities for fast finishers to use. Just number each roller and have them write down the words they find in their exercises books.

Another way to use the cardboard tubes is to make sorting games with them. For early learners you could write “big or capitol” on one tube and “small” tube and stand them up right. You then give the student a pile of shells, stones, or the caps seen below that have the small and big letters written on them. The student must sort the shells putting them into the corresponding tube.


Bottle Cap Phonics/Spelling:   

This is a great way to have kids practice phonic or spelling.  Simply collect bottle caps (clean); we had students collect plastic bottle caps at one school and had enough caps for 10 sets of phoneme caps.  I used small stickers to cover the top of each cap. Write each phoneme on top of the cap.  Rather then spend my afternoon making caps I wrote the phonemes on the stickers then handed out a set of stickers, caps, and a bag to keep them in. The students made the caps in class and were eager to use them.  In class have children work in pairs or on their own with a set of caps; for lower levels or beginners don’t give a full set just give the sounds that they will work with.  You can then say a sound and the students find the cap and set in front of them give the next sound and so on on until the word is finished. Since this is for beginners it works best to keep the words simple with no more than 4 sounds. The students can then read the word back to you. Reversely you can say the word and the students have to segment it out.  We created small boards for the students to use as well this way you can ask what is sound 2.   This is great for getting students to realize that two letters together can make one sound (ch,th,sh…). Have students work in pairs and one gets to be “the teacher” saying the sounds and the other must find that sound they then check to see if they have the same caps. 

Another very fun game the students enjoy playing is Flick. They take three/four cap that form a word (C_A_T). The child tosses the caps on the table they must then flick the first cap (C) with their thumb, while saying the phoneme, so that it hits the next phoneme (A). If they miss or say the wrong sound they lose their turn and the other student gets to play.

Plastic Bottle Searches:

Plastic bottles are everywhere so here is a way to put them to an educational use.  Take a clean plastic bottle fill two/thirds full with rice. I like to use colored rice because it looks more fun; I have included a recipe at the end of this article.  I then take take sentence strips (example: I like apples.)  and cut each word out and laminate the words. I then put these into the bottle with the rice. Tape the top shut (write the number of words on the top of each cap) and shake the bottle well so the words get buried in the rice. The students shake the bottles to find the words buried in the rice, writing the words down as they find them. They then use those words to write a complete sentence.  I have done this as a group exercise so each group (4 students) gets a bottle they have 3-5 minutes to shake and find the words. After times up they pass the bottle to next group. The bottles circulate until each group has had a chance to decipher each bottle.  Another fun game is to make a set of 3-4 bottles with the same sentences. Divide the class into 3-4 teams. I set the bottles on a desk. The first person in each team runs up and takes a bottle and shakes it to read the words.  The first student to make a sentence using those words wins a point for their team.  I have used these with grades 1-6 and all had fun with them.  Very similar to above is to place small plastic toys in the bottles. I found a set of zoo animals and put 10 of them in the bottles (to do this I cut the bottoms off and then taped the bottles back up) the  students then had to write down the 10 animals they found.

Egg Carton Bounce and Sort:

Egg cartons can be used for a variety of games. One of the easiest games is to simply paint the egg cartons in fun colors. In the bottom of each cup place a small card with either a phoneme, sight word, verb or any vocabulary word.  I like to leave some cups empty to increase the challenge and make it more fun.  Give a student 3 ping pong balls or small stones, they must throw the stones or bounce the ball into the cups.  If a cup contains a card they must read the card and depending on the objective make a word, change verb tense or use in a sentence.  I have done this with teams and give a time limit the team with the most sentences or words wins.

A fun sorting activity is to take egg cartons and write word families on each dome. Take popsicle sticks and write phonemes on them they must match the phoneme to word families to make words.  For more advanced students you could write present verbs on dome and past tense on sticks.  It is fun to make this a timed game. I placed a carton, sticks and a timer in the back of the class in their free time time students could go back and see how fast they could do it. On a paper were written their names and they kept track of how fast they did it each time trying to better themselves.


With a little creativity turning your trash into teaching aids becomes second nature. Next time you see a cool teaching aid online think how can I make that or on the next trip to the rubbish bin look at what your throwing away and how it might be re-purposed into something FUN!





Back to news