Lesson plan: Positive Potions

This 75-minute lesson plan – in which primary school pupils make ‘magic potions’ from materials found outdoors – builds on literacy skills and is ideal for Valentine's Day or Halloween.

'Love potions' in bottles, with labels on

Activity details

Making potions or smelly cocktails is a classic outdoor learning activity. We’ve added some linked literacy activities and given it a seasonal twist for Valentine’s Day – although you could tweak this for any season.

Year group: The potions activity works well for any primary age, but the literacy tasks included here are particularly suitable for years 4-6.

Activity length: 75 minutes

Skills and curriculum links

This lesson enables students to:

  • consider other’s feelings by deciding what gift or wish would be appropriate for someone close to them
  • use their senses in unusual ways; close observation and lots of smelling!
  • use language creatively to describe their potion and create magical instructions

We've designed the lesson to help teachers cover the following subject areas:

  • English KS2: Composition; use vocabulary creatively. Breadth 9a Creative use of language, 12 Instructions
  • PHSE: 4c To be aware of different types of relationship, including marriage and those between friends and families, and to develop the skills to be effective in relationships

Resources

You need the following equipment to do this activity:

  • Outdoor space with some plant material available for picking. Even the edge of your playing field or a nearby public park will do. If your outdoor space is a concrete jungle we suggest you collect a couple of carrier bags’ worth of plant material beforehand. (Obviously, don’t pick anything in a flowerbed or any rare wild plants.)
  • Six sets of smelly items – enough for one per child, in a bag or box. Jump down to the Smelly Friends section for details.
  • Whistle
  • Mixing cup for each child
  • Perfume bottle (a small bottle with a lid) for each child. We found them for 20p each at www.naturallythinking.com or you might find something suitable down at your local scrap store (www.scrapstoresuk.org).
  • One bottle of ‘magic water’, ie a nice glass bottle containing water that has food colouring and maybe a little glitter added
  • Sparkly stuff and PVA glue

Optional resources:

  • Six egg boxes
  • Cocktail swizzle sticks – you find them online from as little 99p for 25 + P&P
  • Card luggage labels – find them online for as little as £2-£3 for 100

Lesson plan

Pre-starter (0-5 minutes)

Ask the children to think about someone they love; a family member or a friend. If they could grant them a wish for Valentine’s Day, what would it be? The song ‘I promise you’, by Show of Hands, might be worth a listen to get pupils thinking about wishes that are a bit more abstract than chocolates and flowers. Watch a video of the song on YouTube.

Getting started (5-25 minutes)

Set the challenge. Pupils are to create a positive potion with magical powers to grant a Valentine’s wish to a loved one. Take them outdoors and set boundaries. 

These two warm-up activities are designed to help children get their eye (and nose) in before you start the main task. See the model Risk Assessment (in our download section on this page) for what you need to mention at this point.

Smelly Friends

You need about six sets of items; enough for one item per child. These could be leaves (from your garden or supermarket) or kitchen items (from your fridge or the shop). Ideas include bay leaf, rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, mint, root ginger, garlic clove, cinnamon stick.

Give out one smelly item each to the children. You’ll need a bag or box to conceal them in, and make a big deal about the children having to hide their item in their hands so that no one else can see it.

The children then have to find their ‘smelly friends’ by milling about and trying to identify who has the same scent as them – no peeping allowed. You should end up with six groups which you can ask the children to stay in for the next activity. 

Scavenger Hunt

There are a million varieties of this brilliant game – they all help children to really see and notice what’s around them. This is a quick and simple version.

Issue each group with an egg box (this is nice, but not essential) plus a list of six things to find, eg something round, something beautiful, something tickly, something that has been eaten, something useful to a bird, and something smooth. You can think up your own criteria or print out our pdf worksheet to hand-out (in our download section on this page).

Make sure you’ve set clear boundaries for where the children can roam and always have a no tasting and no poo rule! You’ll also need to explain to pupils how to forage sensibly, taking plant and animals in the area into consideration.

After a few minutes of searching use your whistle to call the scavengers back in. Lay out the finds in the middle of a circle, grouping together the different categories. Ask children to tell the group about their favourite, most unusual or most troublesome find.

Potion making (25-40 minutes)

Give each child a plastic cup and swizzle stick (you can use bought or foraged sticks). Their task is to collect small pieces of other plant and natural material and mush them up in the cup to release the odour. They need to bear in mind the person they are making it for and the magical properties they want the potion to have.

When everyone’s potion ingredients are gathered, pour a tiny amount of ‘magic water’ into each cup to release the smell. Ask the children to come up with a name for their potion linked to its properties and mingle, sharing their potion smells and names.

Gather some feedback from the class. Finally, give out the perfume bottles and ask the children to decant their potion and a few bits of prettiness into the perfume bottle, then seal.

The label (40-60 minutes)

This part can take place indoors or out. Ask the children to draft, edit and then make a finished label for their potion (using the luggage labels or making something similar).  A search for ‘potion labels’ in Google images will give plenty of ideas – although they’re all a bit grizzly and Halloween.

The label needs to include the potion’s name, the potion’s powers – eg ‘guaranteed to bring you sunshine on a rainy day’ – and instructions for use – eg ‘sprinkle three drops onto your pillow when the moon is full’. This is an opportunity for the children to get creative with their language. The labels can be decorated with bits of plant or flower material and a bit of sparkle.

And finally (60-75 minutes)

Ask the children to return to their Scavenger Hunt group and share their work with each other. Make sure they explain who the potion is for, what its powers are and why those powers are important for that person. Gather some feedback from the whole class on favourite examples, then display all the potions to look lovely somewhere until it’s time for the children to take them home and present them as Valentine’s gifts.