How are plastics made?

Lesson overview

In this chemistry Key Stage 3 (KS3) lesson, students will learn how monomers and polymers dictate the properties of plastics. This lesson focuses on how plastics are made. Included are teacher resources for students to make their own polymer, using PVA and borax, to observe how changing the structure of a substance changes its properties.

Learning outcomes
  • State that plastics are made from oil
  • Describe the steps involved in making plastic
  • State what a monomer and a polymer is
  • Describe how changing a substance’s structure can change its properties
Lesson steps
  1. What can we do with oil? (5 mins)
    To recap prior knowledge, students guess what can be done with oil.
  2. Plastic production carousel (15 mins)
    Students are invited to discover how oil is made by moving to different stations around the room while they fill in Student Sheet 1a: Plastic production table.
  3. Monomers and polymers (5 mins)
    Students learn how the physical changes to the hydrocarbons happen through the process of polymerisation.
  4. Thermosetting vs thermoplastics (10 mins)
    Students sort plastics by their properties into two categories: thermosetting and thermoplastics.
  5. Making Slime (20 mins)
    Students make their own polymer using PVA and borax.
  6. Reflection: love, recycle, bin (5 mins)
    Students reflect on the lesson. They state one thing they loved, one thing they would bin (had rather not have done), and one thing learned that they would like to recycle (needed for the next lesson).