Ten ways to use recycled milk carton cubes in the classroom
I like recycling everyday objects as educational resources, and I love when they work better than anything I could buy! Milk cartons are like that. Rinsed (thoroughly!), cut, and repurposed as cubes, they are a staple in all of my classes, from the very young learners through the teens. Here are ten of my favorite ways to use this flexible teaching tool. For activity descriptions, and ideas for content to create your own cubes, just click on the link at the end of this article.
Single cube activities
- Color and number die. For the younger set, the larger size is easier to manage when taking turns in games than small, solid die. Hollow milk carton cubes also make less dangerous weapons in the hands of over-enthusiastic game players.
- Question cubes. Of course, I could simply hold up cards with question words on them for the same effect, but somehow, the element of chance in rolling a cube with question words on each side adds a game-like feel to what is still a grammar drill.
- Answer cubes. Again, this isn’t really different than holding up Yes or No cubes to cue affirmative or negative answers
- Turn taking cubes. Rolling cubes with student names written on each side adds an element of chance for turn-taking, and some reading practice, too.
Two cube activities
- Bigger or smaller? Students roll two number or letter cubes and call out the bigger number or letter of the two shown (bigger meaning later in the alphabet, for letters). For older children, they add, multiply or divide the numbers and say the answer, to integrate math skills and practice saying large numbers.
Three cube activities
- Phonics cubes. First we start by tossing cubes and reading the letters that show face up. Then we say the sounds they make, or say a word that starts with the sounds. Finally, we blend the sounds to try and create words.
- Collocation cubes. It’s important to help students develop an awareness of words that often go together in English, and by using cubes to practice forming 3-word sentences, students can begin building this awareness through games. How do you know students are developing a feel for what words go together in English? When a toss of the cubes creates a sentence like I am cake or She can ten and students laugh.
- Story cubes. When older students start working on storytelling, we use milk cartons to create story cubes. They brainstorm characters, places, and magic objects, and then agree on six so we have one cube for each category. In the beginning, students toss the cubes and create sentences that include the character, place, and object shown (e.g., Mona Lisa flew a rocket to the volcano) but graduate to using the cubes to start and build stories.
Four cube activities
- Grammar cubes. There are always grammar points that are really hard for students to master, usually because errors don’t interfere with understanding. For my students, these include the distinction between a and an, and 3rd person singular verb endings. I can drill these points until I am blue in the face, but it’s not really something students can easily memorize. They need some time to analyze and process the language more deeply than most drills allow. A cube game, for some reason, gives them this chance, and it’s always a wonderful moment when their faces light up because they understand how the language works, in another small way.
Five cube activities
- Sentence cubes. These are based on one of my students’ favorite card games, combining nouns, adjectives, verbs and conjunctions to form sentences. What they love is that the sentences are invariably funny (they got to choose the words when we made the cubes). What I love is that they are reinforcing word order in sentences, and experimenting with different ways to put sentences together.
I hope you’ll try out a few of these activities, and I hope you’ll let me know how they work. I also hope you’ll share more ideas in the comments!