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Medicine box challenge

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Teacher information

The Medicine Box Challenge and its associated tasks are designed to encourage collaborative working; offer experience of multi-tasking and working to deadlines; and to help students learn about medicines, their effects and how they are administered.

The whole activity requires a minimum of two hours, but should ideally take place over the course of 4 hour-long lessons.

Before the activity, you may wish to encourage students to use the information on pages 2 - 4 to research drug absorption in the body. This will prepare students well for the first part of the task.

In addition to the main task, we have provided one further task on excipients which can be used as a follow up exercise. We have also provided the questions and answer sheets from the main task as standalone tasks, which can be used as shorter activities where required.

The Challenge

This is the core task for the module. The ultimate aim is for students to carry out a full 'production run' for the packaging of a new medicine.


  • To produce a significant number of boxes to be used as packaging for a new medicine.
  • To carry out a production run in a fixed time period and achieve a target set by the team.
  • The team with the most points and bonus points will win the contract.


For the student:

  • To develop team working skills;
  • To experience working to deadlines;
  • To experience working on multiple tasks to achieve a common goal;
  • To develop decision making skills;
  • To develop accuracy and quality control skills;
  • To set challenging targets and achieve them.

Students will appreciate:

  • That the labelling of medicines is important;
  • That the correct dosage schedules are crucial;
  • That instructions for patients must be clear and accurate;
  • That high quality of a production run is usually more important than high quantity;
  • That there are four important factors that need to be known about a medicine:
    • does it work?
    • is it safe?
    • how much do you take?
    • how often do you take it?

In optional extra activities students can learn about all the different ways of giving medicines in a group discussion exercise with written feedback. A quiz on facts about medicines and the body is also available. These activities can be either stand-alone or used to add "stress" during the production run.

Other optional activities are for the teams to make a presentation about the design of their box label, branding and design for advertising.

Follow-up work can cover a survey of what ingredients are in medicines found at home or in shops and an investigation about what each ingredient does.

Guidance for teachers can be found in the Medicine Box Challenge Teacher Notes, which can be downloaded from the link below. The manual also includes references to all of the other downloadable resources available below, and how they can be used throughout the lesson.

Medicine Box Challenge



This can be used at any stage during the activity

Task 1: Getting the right dose

Students in teams of 4 to 6 represent companies that produce packaging for medicines. They will need to consider what medicines are and how they are used before starting the task.

Task 1

Getting the right dose

This task can be carried out at three different levels.

At 'Level 1' students can be given a table of results or bar charts of experimental results. Each group should be given the document 'Getting the right dose L1'. You may wish to exchange the data table at the end of the document called 'Research report on experiments done with human volunteers' for the alternative provided called 'Getting the right dose L1 - bar charts'.

Getting the right dose

Level 1

At 'Level 2' students can be given graphs to interpret. Each group should be given the document 'Getting the right dose L2'.

Getting the right dose

Level 2

At 'Level 3' an interactive Excel spreadsheet can be investigated to produce graphs for interpretation. Each group should be given 'Getting the right dose L3' and 'Drug doses data L3.xls'

Task 2: Designing a label and box


Task 3: Producing the boxes for the medicine

This task emphasises to students the importance of producing a quality product in a limited time.

Task 4: What's in a medicine?

Using the Electronic Medicines Compendium in the Medicine Name A-Z pages students can find the excipients for some medicines they have used, or have heard of. Click on the medicine name next to SPC to identify the active ingredients (section 2) and the other excipients (section 6). Try and work out why these components have been added.

The following are examples of excipients in medicines:

Imigran tablets contain the following excipients:
Lactose, microcrystalline cellulose, croscarmellose sodium, magnesium stearate, methylhydroxypropylcellulose and opaspray white

Tamiflu oral suspension contains:
Saccharin sodium (E954), sodium benzoate (E211), sodium dihydrogen citrate (E331(a)), sorbitol (E420), titanium dioxide (E171), tutti frutti flavour (arabic gum (E414), maltodextrins, natural flavouring substances, propylene glycol), xanthan gum (E415)

Ritalin tablets contain:
Calcium phosphate tribasic special, gelatine, lactose, magnesium stearate, methylphenidate hydrochloride, talc, wheat starch

Glivec tablets contain:
Cellulose microcrystalline, crospondone, hypromellose, iron oxide yellow (E172), macrogol, magnesium stearate, red iron oxide (E172), silica colloidal anhydrous, talc

Augmentin oral suspension contains:
Xantham gum, aspartame, colloidal silica, silicon dioxide, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, succinic acid, raspberry, orange and golden syrup flavours

Try to find out how many drugs are present in Augmentin tablets?

Zantac tablets contain:
Microcrystalline cellulose NF, magnesium stearate EP, methylhydroxypropyl cellulose (E464) EP, film coat, titanium dioxide (E171) EP, triacetin NF

However Zantac effervescent tablets contain different excipients:
Monosodium citrate anhydrous, sodium bicarbonate, aspartame, povidone, sodium benzoate, orange flavour (IFF No. 6), grapefruit flavour (IFF 18C 222)

These Zantac tablets are effervescent (fizzy) tablets - what makes them fizz when you put them into water?

Each ZANTAC 150 Tablet for oral administration contains 168 mg of ranitidine HCl (hydrochloride) equivalent to 150 mg of ranitidine.
What does this mean?
(Note - ranitidine is a base and can form a salt. The relative molecular mass (molecular weight) of ranitidine is 314.4)

Imigran, Zantac and Augmentin are all trademarks of GlaxoSmithKline plc, its subsidiaries or associated companies. Ritalin and Glivec are trade marks of Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Tamiflu is a trade mark of Roche Products Limited.

More information on what goes into a medicine can be found, for example, at the GlaxoSmithKline web site under "products" and then "prescription medicines".


What's in a medicine