Student Activity - Air pollution activities

Activity idea

In this activity, students investigate exhaust emissions, class car use and air quality.


What you will need:

  • clean white socks
  • vehicle(s)
  • gloves
  • white card
  • scissors
  • vaseline
  • tape, drawing pins
  • microscope

Exhaust emissions

An average car produces approximately 2 kilograms of pollution for every 35 kilometres it travels.

  1. Place the sock over the exhaust pipe of a car and run the car for 5 minutes. Stand back while the engine is running.
  2. Remove the sock – use gloves as the exhaust pipe will be hot! – and turn it inside out.
  3. Discuss what you see. How dirty would the sock be after longer periods of time?
  4. If possible, conduct the same experiment to compare different types of car, for example, diesel versus petrol, old versus new, big versus small.

Car use

As a class, conduct a survey about how your family commutes in the morning and create a visual human graph by putting students into categories depending on their answers. For example you could investigate:

  • how many students come to school by car
  • how far students travel by car
  • how many trips students do by car in a week
  • how students parents commute by car, for example, alone, car pool and so on
  • what types of car are involved, and relate this to the exhaust emissions activity.

Air quality

  1. Cut out several 5 cm x 5 cm squares of white card.
  2. Smear the surface of each with Vaseline
  3. Fix the squares to as many different areas you can think of, for example, by the bus stop, inside the classroom, under trees, by a car park, on a post by traffic lights, on your back door and so on. Leave for 24 hours. (As an alternative, you could use slightly damp cotton wool to swab different surfaces, such as road signs, leaves on trees, window panes, and so on.)
  4. The squares will now have tiny particles stuck to them making them grey. Most particles will be too small to see – try looking at them under the microscope.
  5. Devise a particle pollution indicator for your cards based on the results you get (see below for an example). It is best to have about five categories.

  6. Score each card on how polluted it is.
  7. Use this data to draw a graph showing the level of air pollution in the various areas.
  8. Can you make any statements about your graphs? What areas were least polluted? What areas were most polluted? Are there any links between the areas that are most polluted?