Death to diesel?

diesel imageMajor car manufacturers have fitted software to diesel cars to cheat exhaust emissions tests. In this activity students use their knowledge of chemical reactions to predict the products of combustion in a diesel engine. They then develop their communication skills by drafting a video (using supplied character cut-outs on lolly sticks) to persuade car buyers not to buy diesel cars.

Science objective

Types of Reaction:  Predict the products of the combustion or thermal decomposition of a given reactant and show the reaction as a word equation (KS3 Science Syllabus)

Designed for the KS3 Science SyllabusEnquiry objective

Communicate ideas:  Know how to make it clear, concrete, correct and coherent (KS3 Science Syllabus)

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Car manufacturers have been cheating exhaust fume tests. What are the health impacts of emissions from diesel cars?


Students find out about the chemical reactions that make some of the substances emitted by diesel cars, and write chemical equations for these reactions.


Students produce a vlog to persuade car buyers to boycott diesel cars.


Students peer evaluate each others’ vlogs and decide whether they will persuade car buyers to boycott diesel cars.

Go further

Why not use the dilemma of diesel cars as a context for teaching the whole combustion topic?

  • Start by setting up the dilemma, using slides 2-4
  • Teach the science of combustion as usual way, making connections with the diesel context
  • Ask students to apply their science, using slides 6-9
  • Challenge students to reach an informed decision, using slides 10-11



Update Nov 2015: More cars with cheat tests

Information on the effect of air pollution on life expectancy.

Driving away from Diesel

Teacher background knowledge; Government report with recommendations to reduce nitrogen dioxide pollution from diesel.

Live Science article

This article poses the question: why is it so hard to make clean diesel cars?

EPA information

Article describing some health impacts of exposure to diesel engine emissions.

Clean air in London

A report on efforts to quantify the health effects of nitrogen dioxide on Londoners.

Guardian newspaper report

Information on the effect of air pollution on life expectancy.

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  • mromero says:

    Death to diesel

    Relevant topic, powerful context to inquiry, apply knowledge, develop skills and critical thinking

  • cassie says:


    Very engaging

  • maryb says:


    Tried this with lower ability Year 7 – they loved making the vlogs! I didn’t go into the equations part too much, as that was a bit hard for them, but they were engaged and interested in the topic. Thank you

  • michaelbracewell says:


    Pupils really enjoyed it and got feedback that some of them harassed parents when they went home.

  • dclay says:


    A fab resource.
    I just needed to plan for time to students to laugh at their own videos

  • maunoury says:

    Excellent tool for investigating this issue. very interesting and coming exactly at the right time.

    I have used this activity to help my pupils prepare one to one debates between an EPA expert and a VW executive. They have analysed the information given (very sytnthetic and useful) and found some more, then prepared some arguments and recorded their debates.
    Thanks for this excellent starter.

  • eastlea7 says:

    Death to diesel

    A very engaging activity

    • Philippa says:

      Thank you!

      Thanks for commenting – and I’m glad your students found it engaging. Would be great to know how students in other schools got on with this activity! Philippa, from the writing team.

  • kpilbeam says:


    Engaging activity with an up to date subject