Message in a bottle

An activity that uses the ‘message in a bottle’ metaphor to engage learners in thinking about what their place means to them.

KS2 | 60 Mins | Individual

KEY QUESTION: What would you choose to represent where you live to the outside world?



If you could send a message about your place using a limited selection of words, images, and objects, what would you choose? The metaphor of a message in a bottle provides an interesting focus for pupils to think about where they live from both a personal and collective perspective. Once comfortable with the basic idea, there are several ways in which it can be easily adapted into a larger unit of work, to compliment other activities in this module, or as a linking opportunity.

The concept of message in a bottle is about having limited scope to communicate with the outside (and often unknown) world. This limitation can provide a sharp focus for thinking about what are the really important things you would want to say. It also encourages you to think about how you would say them. How would these combine, and what would they tell the person or people that stumbled upon your bottle?

There are various ways that you could approach this activity. Here we share four approaches that have a popular relevance that may offer an opportunity to introduce them to pupils.

Approach (click title for activity) Concept/Question Issues to consider
Message in a bottle Making contact with an unknown other
  • What would you to tell them about your place?
  • What language would you use?
  • How would you communicate without words?
Time capsule Recording a place in time for future generations to learn about their past.
  • How long will it be before recovered?
  • What technology will be available?
  • Will things survive that long?
Space probe/explorer Trying to communicate with aliens.
  • What would we let them know our place was welcoming?
  • What would we let them know we were humans?
Desert island memories What memories of place would you want if you marooned on a desert island?
  • What would you want to remind you?
  • If you save only one thing, what would it be? (the most important thing about your place)


The following section offers suggested activities for using each approach. It also offers extension and linking opportunities where relevant.

Message in a bottle

1. Introduce the idea of a ‘message in a bottle’ and some of the issues you would like pupils to think about.

2. Ask pupils to draw a bottle shape on a piece of paper. Alternatively pupils could bring in a clean bottle (a washed plastic milk or soda bottle may be safer than a glass one).

3. Pupils then gather or produce the items to include in their bottle. As well as selecting or producing the items ask pupils to reflect on why they chose them.

4. Once completed, the learning can be enhanced by pupils sharing their ideas. This could be done by:

swapping with a partner in class to compare individual bottles;

presenting bottles to whole class and sharing ideas as a group;

creating a display (bottle and contents list) to share ideas with wider school and community.

In all cases pupils can be encouraged to think about commonalities and differences. Have their ideas about their place changed through sharing ideas with others? What have they learned about the importance of place to individuals? Make the connection to the idea of geographical identity.

Time capsule

1. Introduce the concept of a time capsule and the issues you would like pupils to think about. There may be local time capsules in your area to use as a stimulus/inspiration for this activity.

2. Pupils then need to think about the things they would like to put in the capsule. This could be done individually or as a group, depending on the emphasis required. The contents could be recorded as a list, or as artwork. A little further planning may allow the inclusion of real objects.

3. Encourage pupils to give reasons for their choices. What are they trying to tell future generations and why?

Space probe/explorer

1. Introduce the idea of a space probe or explorer being used to send communications into outer space. With limited space and an unknown audience, how would you choose to represent our planet and our species?

2. Pupils will need to think about commonality at a global scale, thinking about all of humanity. The universal declaration on human rights could be a useful stimulus to this. Pupils will also need to consider how they represent the planet we share and the species we share it with.

3. Central to this activity is the challenge of reaching consensus. There will only be limited space on the probe! How will you guide your pupils to help them reach consensus. How does this process mirror the real challenges of reaching agreement at a global scale?

4. At the end of this activity pupils should be able to reflect on what they understand by commonality. How does this feed into their understanding of the global community? You could also get the students to reflect on the skills needed to reach a consensus.

Desert island memories

1. Introduce the notion of being marooned on a desert island. If you could only take a few things (perhaps 5) with you to remind you of home, what would you take and why?

2. This activity can help pupils to prioritise what are the most important things about where they live. It could be a creative activity where pupils draw or make a desert island before populating it with their chosen items. You may have to set and agree rules for the choice of items.

3. Pupils could be encouraged to share their islands with each other. They could reflect on the things that they value the same and look at the things they value differently. Why is this? Respect for difference, celebration of diversity are key learning outcomes here.


Based on original material created by The Linking Network and Lifeworlds Learning

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