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Top 10 polluted cities

  • Teaching Idea
  • GCSE

Type: Teaching Idea
Learning Strategy: Information retrieval
Topic: Human impacts

In the developed world, industrial pollution is little more than occasional worry. The Blacksmith Institute has published its list of the Top 10 most polluted cities in the world, where air, water and soil pollution are a major cause of death, illness, and damage to children's development

Why is the pollution so bad? This teaching idea is designed to get pupils thinking about the underlying causes - increasing populations and their needs, unclean technologies and lack of environmental controls over waste. upd8 'teaching ideas' are suggestions for topical activities, but do not come with full-colour pdf activity sheets. If you can think of other ways to use this topical context, write a review below.

Published: 17th September 2007
Reviews & Comments: 6

Learning objectives

Students will:
- understand that increasing human populations and economic growth such as industries, can cause high levels of pollution and serious impacts on human health, without good environmental control

Try the idea

Top 10 cities
This is the source of the story, and gives a page of information on each city in the Top 10
Accessed: 7264 times
How science works
4a: the use of contemporary technological developments and their drawbacks and risks

Environment, Earth and Universe
8a) the effects of human activity on the environment

Additional, Unit B2: Interdependence
the impact of human activity on the environment

Twenty First Century Science
Module C1: Air pollution
Is air pollution harmful to me, or to my environment?

Module B2: Understanding our environment
Increasing human population and increases in pollution levels.

Unit Biology 1b
Rapid growth in the human population produces more waste and pollution

Running the activity

One way to make pupils concerned about the issue is to show them some of the shocking images of the conditions or health effects of living in the world's top 10 polluted cities (See weblinks)

Having got pupils' attention, we can interest them in the question that drives the activity: "Why is the pollution in these cities so bad?"

The activity is to identify the underlying causes, by reading and selecting information from the one page summaries of the pollution produced on the Top 10 website (see links)

To help pupils identify common factors and causes, you could give them tables with the following headings, in which to insert the information:

What's polluted?
- Air
- Water
- Soil

What substances are causing the pollution?
- Heavy metals
- Organic chemicals
- Particulates
- Gases
- Radioactive materials

Then you could get them either to come up with reasons why pollution is so bad in these cities, or give pupils the reasons below and ask them to discuss which are most important:

- Dated technologies
- No pollution controls
- Poor disposal of industrial waste
- Unregulated expansion of industry

Alternatively, you could ask pupils to nominate the worst city in the world, and put together a supporting case. What criteria will they use? (for instance: how many people are exposed, the level of pollutant, how certain we are of the health impact)

If you want to focus on air pollution, choose the following cities:
Linfen, China, La Oroya, Peru, Norilsk, Russia
From the 'dirty thirty', Lanzhou, China, see p35 of the report. , Urumqi, China p36, Magnitogorsk, Russia, p55

Image: Photographer: Stephen Strathdee | Agency:

Media links

Pollution images
Images of impacts of pollution taken in the Top 10 cities

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Top 10 polluted cities

Jan 13th, 2009

5 Star

I tried this with a top set yr 10 and the students were really engaged in this activity. You can extend it all sorts of ways and if they by giving each group a different city, they can then feedback and try to discuss why this city was th emost polluted. It suprises them to see other types of pollution other than that caused by fossil fuels

Reviewer: suzanne thompson

10 Polluted cities

Oct 14th, 2008

4 Star

I did this activity with my Triple Science Class. The students were really engaged and very enthusiastic. In addition to what was requested I got the students to nomiante their worst polluted city and include in their presentation suggestions to help improve the air quality in that city. All the materials were copied on to bits of coloured paper with a comparison grid for them to use;these were all put into a folder and allocated to the team leader. it worked really well!!

Reviewer: syeda sardar

Top 10 polluted cities

Jun 23rd, 2008

4 Star

I used this with top set and middle set Year 10 groups. They were horrified by the pictures and it will certainly help them remeber the effects pollution can have. Several of them commented that they thought London was badly polluted but that this activity made them realise that we weren't all that bad after all.

It was tough keeping them on track in terms of finding out the causes of the pollution in each case, but very effective in highlighting the major problems that human activity can cause.


Top 10 polluted cities review

Oct 21st, 2007

4 Star

Looks like a great activity! Hope to try it out.

When doing this activity, I think it's only fair to think behind the reasons for pollution being so bad in these cities, and to make the activity more relevant to our students by looking for connections to our own lives.

So Linfen, China is very polluted from coal mining. The coal is burnt to generate electricity. Why does China have such high electricity demands? Partly because of the massive expansion of many industries there in recent years to meet the demands for cheap consumer goods from those of us in richer countries.

How many things do the students have on them that are made in China? And did they know that 80% of the world's toys are made there?

Can do similar things for the other cities, too - eg the pollution in the Indian city is from chromium extraction...googling 'chromium uses' gives loads of things we use Cr for...and so more connections.

world's it's? It is!

Reviewer: philippa Hulme

Top 10 polluted cities review

Oct 21st, 2007

5 Star

Tried this lesson with a low ability year 10 class and they really enjoyed it. Kept them engaged and on task. The class liked it as they did not have to do any writing. They enjoyed the discussion at the end. I used many of the pictures from the world's top ten in a PP this led to a great discussion about why these countries had such high pollution. Recommend to all a great resource. Only down side was the colour photocopying.

Reviewer: Maggie Goodwin

Top 10 polluted cities

Sep 25th, 2007

3 Star

Lots of ideas for both teachers and pupils to explore and opportunities for students to engage with the issues in a real context.

By following the links to resources etc, this allows students to develop thier understanding, further. But will it excite them?

Where are the worlds Top 10 cleanest cities. It is all doom and gloom? Can we help our pupils come up with solutions??

Reviewer: Julie Jordan

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