Lessons and Activities

6 Creative Uses for Plastic Bottle Tops

I hope this blog post finds you at peace and relaxed. The first post this month suggested that you take time to rest and reflect and I hope you have been doing lots of both!  Since it is still June and I really don’t want to get your mind thinking too much about planning, I want to share some ideas with you that will only require you to collect items that I am sure you come in contact with each day – plastic bottle tops.

I think it’s safe to assume you are staying hydrated with water or whatever preferred beverage of your choice (😋#nojudgementzone), so collecting these between now and the time school starts should be easy.  They will be very beneficial for you during the school year and what better time to gather them than now?  I will show you 6 creative ways to use these plastic tops and hopefully you will comment at the bottom of the post and share other ways you may have used them in your classroom.

Please be advised that small objects such as these discussed in this post present a potential choking hazard for young children. These activities are not recommended for children under three and should be supervised at all times.

1. Number Tops

One of my favorite items that I spotted in the teacher supply magazine was number tiles. They were flat tiles that had various numbers on them and could be used for so many different activities. I didn’t get an opportunity to get those tiles until my third year, due to school budget issues and low teacher fund issues on my end. In the meantime, I got creative, as I am sure you have done too, and I decided to make my own.  I thought about using plastic bottle tops since they were small enough for the children to manipulate but large enough to see numbers on. I began saving all my plastic tops and even got my friends and my parents to start collecting them for our class as well.  Once I had enough for a full set (enough for six children to have numbers 0-15), I was ready to make my own “number tops” to use during small group math and during independent math centers.

Here’s how you can make them:

1.You’ll need the three simple materials pictured.

2. Write numbers on the stickers before placing them on the tops.

3. Within seconds you’ll have number tops!

4. Add what I call “extras” on them. These can be symbols or even tally marks to make them more diverse to use.

Picture of circle labels, a permanent marker, plastic bottle tops and plastic bottle tops with numbers and symbols on them

Instructional Ideas: These number tops are great for recognizing numerals, matching numerals, games, number line sequencing, tally mark identification and even number stories. I’ll be sure to post some ideas to use them in future blog posts.

2. Letter Tops

Letter tops are similar to number tops. Instead of numbers, I wrote uppercase and lowercase letters. I used all the same materials that I used for the number tops.

Here’s how you can make them:

1. You’ll need the three simple materials from Number Tops.

2. Write uppercase and lowercase letters on stickers before placing them on the tops.

3. Smile, you’ve got letter tops!

Picture of colored circle labels with a permanent marker and letters written on the bottle tops

Instructional Ideas: These letter tops work well for letter recognition, uppercase and lowercase letter matching, word building, games and name practice. Check out this simple name practice mat I created. My students used the letter tops and matched them to the letters in their name.

 3. Creative Counters

How many times have your students gotten tired of the classroom manipulatives you always use? Most students get bored with the counting bears or the unifix cubes that we tend to use for everything. Using plastic tops as creative counters will help with what I call manipulative boredom.  Be strategic about switching out your manipulatives and add these to your rotation.

Here’s how you can make them:

1. You’ll need two simple materials.

2. Place stickers on the plastic tops and enjoy your counters!

picture of bottle tops and stickers placed on top of them

Instructional Ideas: These creative counters are good for counting, patterning, game markers and even memory games.

4. Playdough Cutters

Play dough is a huge hit with young children and is great fine motor practice. Many teachers use this and even make their own to use because it keeps children engaged. The key to keeping children continuosly interested in play dough exploration, is adding new tools that encourage them to explore in different ways. Some of my favorite tools to add were scissors, cookie cutters, rolling pins, and googly eyes.  When I added some of the different sized tops to my play dough station, it excited them more than I expected. I added the assorted plastic tops along with straws and my students let their imagination do the rest.

Here’s how you can make them:

1. Provide different sized plastic tops and the play dough of your choice along with other tools.

2. Booyah you’ve new got play dough cutters!

Picture of play dough and bottle tops and children using the tops to create things

5. Paint Tray

Love bringing out paint but hate the mess? Many teachers use paper plates to place different color paints in, allowing children to have a choice, but somehow this can go south too. Plastic tops are a quick hack for messy paint activities. You would be surprised how different sized tops and some glue could be the solution to your paint headache.

Here’s how you can make them:

  1. You will need the four materials you see.
  2. Use a glue gun to glue the small tops onto the large top and then your paint tray is ready for your little artists. (If you are feeling rather Picasso-like, you can cut a hole in the paint tray for students to slip their thumb through and hold the tray)

Paint, plastic bottle tops and a glue gun and a picture of the small plastic tops glued to the larger plastic top and paint inside one of the small plastic tops

Another variation to this tray is to add extra tops and use those additional ones for paint mixing.

6. Independent Fine Motor Activity

Having children to assist you in placing stickers on the plastic tops for any of the activities above can become an independent activity for students. Believe it or not, my students gave me this idea. They would always ask to assist me and loved stickers, so one day I decided to create a “teacher helper”activity for my early finishers, at my small group table. The children were so engaged in this simple task and it actually was very beneficial with strengthening their pincer grasp, which is a needed for writing. They took so much pride in creating the class materials and made a conscious effort not to try to peel the stickers off because of all of their hard work to make them.

children placing stickers plastic bottle tops

Don’t just stop with these six ideas. Ask your students to think of ways they can use the tops and they will surprise you with their creativity and imagination! I hope that you are convinced to begin collecting plastic tops. They are going to be a great additive to your class materials and the best part about them is that they come free with any container you buy! 😃

Once school starts, inform parents of how you use them and invite them to collect them for you as well. One year I did this and had a class contest of which student brought in the most tops. To my surprise, it turned into one of the best ongoing math lessons as we kept track of how the numbers fluctuated each month.  I know you are probably thinking…I will have way too many if I do that, but as you make them to update your “counter stash” and as you use them, allow children to take them home for extra practice. (Don’t they always want to take a few of your unifix cubes and/or counters home anyway?! 👀) Also, the more you have, the more likely you will be able to allow each student to have their own set!

If you have other ideas for how to use plastic tops, PLEASE, PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE leave a comment below👇🏾👇🏾👇🏾 so we can all benefit and build a communal place of Excellent Educator ideas!