The Amazing Drink Project

Ok, here it is….my number one requested blog post!  And it also happens to be what I’m now famous for in my middle school.  Kids come into Grade 8 with me and on the first day of school I tell them they can all write down one question they desperately want me to answer.  It never fails….there is always one kid who asks, “When do we get to do the Amazing Drink Project?”…..

This particular project came about as a complete fluke, I’ll admit it.  I came up with it on the spot as I was teaching one day.  Smack dab in the middle of an English unit on Advertising and Pop Culture, I was about to assign the kids my typical project of create your own invention and do up an advertisement for it when THIS ideas struck me out of the blue.

The gist of it is this…..the kids create their own drink, they market it for two weeks, and then on ONE day they all set up booths and do their best to sell as many drinks as they can.  It now has a life of it’s own and it’s a huge project, but the kids love it and they learn so much.  Parents come in and tell me that it’s by far the most talked about school assignment around their dinner table.

So here is the outline (If you want copies of handouts, criteria lists, and scoring sheets please feel free to email me at – I can’t promise I’ll respond right away but I usually get there within 24 – 48 hours.)

If you are an English teacher…..


This project is the culmination of a unit of advertising.  I go through several mini lessons including:

a) Target Audience – understanding your market and how to cater to them

b) Advertising Influence – looking at the goal of advertisers and how ads can create “popular demand” as well as promote certain values (I specifically look at the notion of body image here.)  My favourite website with tons of lessons and resource, especially if you are a Canadian educator, is, and this particular page on Media Awareness Literacy Week has lots of good ideas too.

c) Propaganda Techniques (handout with terms available…or google it)- Just how do you influence someone through advertising.  We look at popular propaganda in advertising here as well as propaganda in general (so there’s a bit of a Social Studies element to this as well when we talk about Hitler, Stalin, political elections, etc.)

d)  Focus Groups: How to ask for feedback and what to do when you get it.

The English part of the assignment is this:

You must create an effective marketing campaign to advertise your drink.  We have a detailed discussion on the criteria of what makes an “effective” campaign and search for exemplars in current print that we can use to model our campaign after.

I give them two weeks to advertise their drinks.  All advertising must meet Canadian Advertising Standards (in other words, they must be legal advertisements).  They must also create their own drink name.  They may not use anything that is a current brand name (no infringing on copyright).

They must also submit an advertising plan in advance.  It must include sample ads and a detailed list of EVERYTHING they are planning to do.  They may only begin advertising once they have an approved plan (so if they miss the start deadline, too bad!) and they cannot add anything to the plan once it has been approved (and I’m hard core on this one!)  Anyone who violates these instructions has their ads removed and their company suffers a “fine” that must also be incorporated into the loss/profit margin (explained later….)

If you’re a math teacher…..

Unit Price and Proportion

a)  Unit Cost:  I begin by looking at some pretty simply drink recipes.  125ml of 7-up and 50mL of orange juice.  We then investigate things like, if I have 1 2L 7-up and 1 500mL container of orange juice, how many drinks can I make (kids will need to figure out that 2L = 2000mL so they will need to know conversions)?  How much waste will there be?  What is the cost of each drink?  Is there a way to make sure there is no waste (working with a bit of “common” denominators).  How much will I lose in “waste” cost?  Is there an acceptable loss?

There is so much learning that goes on just in this first part.

B)  The Recipe:  Kids start creating their own recipes.  I tell them that they may invent one purely from scratch or they can use a recipe they find off the internet but if they choose that route they must call it by their own drink name.  Then I have them do some consumer shopping.  I ask them to tag along with mom or send her with a list of recipe ingredients to find out just how much these things cost in real life.  Kids usually hone in pretty quickly that if they avoid “brand name” products they can save a pile of cash.  They know the goal is to make their drink as cheaply as possible.  I’ve even had them compare (using a spreadsheet) brand name prices vs store brand prices.  They are astonished by the results!  I once had a mom tell me that based on what her child learned in this unit, they no longer buy brand name anything!

C)  Focus Groups:  New this year I am also going to have them run through a focus group study.  They will collect and analyze data to see if people really like their drinks BEFORE they go about selling them.  We will also find out if the gummy worms really sell the drink (presentation appeal) or if it’s about colour and taste (quality appeal).  I am going to have my students come up with things they want to find out in their focus group.

D) The Sale:  All students sell their drinks on the same day if there is enough space.  If not, you may have to split your groups into two days.  I try to have them all sell on the same day to keep conditions fair.  I asked for feedback from last year’s group and they had tons to say!  They noticed thing like the fact that elementary students typically only had a single dollar to spend so if your drink was more than $1 you lost the sale.  High school kids had more money but would often give you a $20 so you needed to have enough change.

E) The End Result:  The kids all know well in advance that the single goal of the project is the same as any other company, to make the most profit!  They have to keep track of expenses included the drink ingredients and any other “extras” such as cups, little umbrellas, gummy worms….etc.

Last year I had them figure out an “ad campaign cost” (I charged them per poster/per billboard/per sheet of paper they used, etc.) but that got way to complicated so I’ve eliminated that element this year.  We are going to stick to the cost of the drink.

They must present proof of profit (or in some cases….loss).  All of the money goes into a class fund and we use it to subsidize their field trip later on this year.  All students buy their own ingredients and they must figure out how much they need based on how many drinks they think they can sell.  They take whatever money they have made selling drinks, subtract expenses (they must produce grocery receipts as proof) and then VOILA!  They have their profit margin.

The interesting part is that I used to tell them all that they were selling their drinks for $.50 but last year I let them set their own price based on how much each drink cost to make and what they considered to be “reasonable profit”.  One group noted that while their drink only cost $0.35 to make, they made an error by charging $1.50.  While their profit margin was huge, they hardly sold any drinks so they took a loss as a result.  In their section on what they would do differently, this group noted they would sell their drinks for only $0.50.  While their profit margin would have been reduced, they would have sold far more drinks.  Who knows?

To Sum It All Up:

So basically the kids are looking to run an effective ad campaign in order to maximize their profit margin on the day of sale.

While they all have the exact same amount of time and the drink sale is held on the same day for everyone, you are ultimately going to wind up with the “that’s not fair” kids.  One group last year advertised their drink each day on the announcements (it was quite clever actually).  Another group got a popular teacher sponsor to endorse their drink.  Groups that didn’t come up with this plan ultimately do a fair bit of whining.  I take this as an opportunity to explain that this is what happens in  real life though.  You must be creative and innovative and put in the effort or else you don’t get very far in life.

Fair warning….the kids get SUPER competitive with this.  Normally I don’t promote competition at all but the cons of this assignment are far outweighed by the pros.  This unit runs itself.  They learn so much without ever touching a textbook.  They beg to work on this project with every spare moment they have.  I next to never have to hassle kids for work because they meet every single deadline (they know the natural consequences are that other groups will get ahead of them otherwise.  A day of lost advertising can be the make it or break it for this assignment).

When I debrief this with the kids I make sure they we celebrate the LEARNING that we have accomplished.  We all have a “drink” party where they finally share their drinks with the class (because up until now drinks have been “top secret”) and we share in how much money we have raised together as a class.  Then we decide where we are going to go on our field trip with our money.  The debrief is really important to bring them all back together.  Of course they want to know who the ultimate victor was, and I am honest in telling them who was the most profitable.  But we then talk about our successes, our best learning, and ultimately what we would do differently next time.  The sharing part of this is huge!

This is my fourth year running this project.  What is super cool is that the first group to do this is now in Grade 11.  When they catch wind that “Mrs. O is running her amazing drink project!” many of them come racing down from the high school (along with the 10s and the 9s) to hijack my Grade 8’s and tell them everything they remember and give them tips and tricks on how to be successful.  Years later they still remember…..and they are dying to share their ‘expert’ knowledge.

Every year is a little different.  Each year the classes evolve as they take in the ideas from previous years.  It’s never the same twice, it’s always completely hectic and chaotic on the day of the sale….and it’s the most fun I have with them all year.

Just so you know, I don’t give them this project and let them run wild with it.  There are checkpoints along the way that they MUST hit before they can move on:

Check point 1:  Approval of the advertising campaign.

Check point 2: Proof of how much their drink will cost to make (accuracy is crucial here). It also fair to note that often kids are working on checkpoint 1 and 2 simultaneously as one is a focus in English class and the other is a focus in Math class.

Check point 3:  Submission of the grocery list (includes how many drinks they plan to be prepared for and how much they will buy of each ingredient).

Check point 4:  Final spreadsheet with all totals and a “deposit” of sales money.

On the day of the event, I give them one hour before lunch to set up their “booth”.  Drinks go on sale with the beginning of the lunch hour.  Drink sales end with the final bell.  Booth take down and clean up is usually another hour.  Then we go back to the classroom where they figure out final totals and what not.

If you choose to do this project or any version of the project, my class would love to hear how you made out!  Heck they’d probably even Skype with your class to compare notes!  I am beginning with this project right after the Christmas break.

It will take two teaching weeks to give them the skills they need to start the project.  They will need another week to create advertisements.  We then take a two week break to work on some other stuff while their advertisements “work their magic”.  The drink sale is held on one day.

I accomplish this project usually with 18 English classes (I teach in 63 minute blocks), and 10 math classes.  I’m happy to give you a full breakdown of my mini-lesson plans if you’d like them.

Any questions?  Feel free to email me or ask them here.  If I don’t get back to you, one of my students absolutely will 🙂



About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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2 Responses to The Amazing Drink Project

  1. Deb says:

    Cheryl, this looks like a great project. I’d like to try this and add science(mix and flow of matter). Please email me your mini lessons if you are willing to share!

    • My mini-lessons are math and LA based but I’m happy to share. What are you thinking of for Mix and Flow….that’s my next unit in Science but I hadn’t thought about working that into this….??? I’m intrigued!

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