Taking action to protect our environment has become an essential part of most teachers’ and students’ agenda. Two special days, World Environment Day on June 5th and World Oceans Day on June 8th have inspired us to share some ideas and resources to help you with lessons and projects with an environmental focus.
We firmly believe that positive discourse can help make an impact and is a first and fundamental step towards taking action. This approach means that first we investigate problems, then we find their causes, and finally we take steps to change them. Environmental issues are part of our daily realities and we believe that all of us can act now to change things for the better. This process is both empowering and enjoyable. To quote Greta Thunberg: "No one is too small to make a difference".
4 tips for teachers
1 Zoom in
Talking about ‘the’ environment is an abstract concept, making the point of interest ‘our’ environment means the discussion is both more personal and more practical. We should all ask ourselves what we can do for places we love, starting with our home, neighbourhood, town, etc. Then, gradually, we can zoom out and think about the impact our actions have on other places.
2 Make connections visible
Children are sensitive to issues concerning the environment, but they often need to see explicit links between actions and impact. How far does a plastic bottle travel? Who makes our clothes? How much energy does it take to produce a burger? Not only are these, and similar, questions good research projects, they also help students realize how our daily habits and decisions have a global resonance.
3 Give tasks that matter
When assigning projects (for a longer period or for the holidays) to complete, think in terms of projects that need time to grow. A poster for World Environment Day is a fun arty project for students, but it can become so much more if you give students focus points that make them act and think. We have some project ideas to engage your students in the second part of this post.
4 Make time to share their ideas
Instead of asking students to send the projects to you, encourage them to share their work with their peers. Their projects can be as creative or scientific as you like, for example poems, essays, illustrations, presentations, posters, videos or scientific action plans. Dedicate at least one lesson to these projects, create a class project wall and give feedback on their work. Sharing ideas helps foster a sense of community as well broadening knowledge and inspiring thought and action.
4 projects for your students
1 Read to raise awareness
It won’t come as a surprise that we believe in reading. Not only do stories entertain us, they also help us experience different aspects of an environmental issue from different perspectives and in different contexts.
It might be as simple as the joy of planting a flower as in Sam and the Sunflower Seeds written by Maria Cleary and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. - Beginner level young reader
Lost on the Coast written by Rick and Steve Sampedro, illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni, shows how environmental disasters impact the lives of everyone and what we can do to help. - Elementary level young reader
Students can be inspired by characters like Holly the Eco Warrior written by Martyn Hobbs, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. - Elementary/pre-intermediate level reader
A crime story can make us realize how much we can do by protecting a single bird, like in Operation Osprey written by David A. Hill and illustrated by Giovanni Da Re. Pre-intermediate/intermediate level reader.
Here are some blog posts that talk about the environment:
- Spend time in nature on World Environment Day
- Themes in young readers: The natural world and the environment
In World Around, our culture course by Maria Cleary you read about historical aspects of nature protection:
- Read an extract from a letter written by Chief Seattle of the Dwamish tribe to the US President, in reply to his offer to buy the tribe’s land and move it into a reservation in Unit 6.
- Then, you can read about drilling for oil in North America in the same unit.
Visit the World Around webpage for the links to resources, for example the letter by Chief Seattle of the Dwamish tribe and a Carbon Footprint Calculator.
2 Live in the past
Of course, we are not advocating that your students give up the luxuries of modern life, but this interesting experiment is very meaningful and helps them both to connect to the story they are reading and learn important lessons from it. Choose a story that is set in the past. Then, ask your students to think carefully about the impact their favourite character’s lifestyle had on the environment. How did they live? How did they heat their house? How did they light their house? What did they eat? How much plastic did they use? How many clothes did they have? How and how much did they travel?
Although projects like this take time and research, they can be carried out as the students read the book and they really help students realize how quickly the world has changed. They should also ask themselves: what can I learn from my favourite characters to make things greener and healthier around me?
3 CLIL projects that matter
Language development and communicative tasks are as important as reading. For Real Plus Intermediate offers a complete unit dedicated to Global Issues. Students build vocabulary, practise grammar and work on all their language skills through texts that put the environment in the spotlight. Here are some topics with project tips for intermediate-level students (choose between presentations, posters or videos).
Be the change you want to see
What would you change in your environment? What can you change in your own life to make it happen?
Water for life, water and the future
How would your life change without water? This might sound like a dystopic task, but asking students to provide a detailed description of life without water can be an engaging and eye-opening task. Get your students to pay attention to every little detail.
Talk about waste management.
Ask your students to keep a waste management diary. How much rubbish does one household create in a week? This sort of empirical task takes about two weeks to prepare, carry out, then describe, but it will certainly motivate students to pay attention to their habits. Ask them to keep a diary and note down how many plastic bottles, how many bags of organic and general rubbish leave their homes in a week.
Why does Buy Nothing Day matter?
What is this special day? Is it possible to live your life without buying anything?
What is a capsule wardrobe?
Ask your students to find out about this concept and explain how it can help reduce waste.
Check out the For Real Plus series for lots more ideas. You will find exercises about the environment in every level of the series.
4 Scientific projects
If you are comfortable with scientific subject matter, or are lucky enough to co-teach CLIL classes with a science teacher then use science to engage with the topic. Students who are really into geography, chemistry, biology and environmental studies can explore the following topics.
What can we do to protect them?
How did it happen so fast? How can entropy and the second law of thermodynamics explain it? What can we do to slow it down?
Why should we find alternative means of transport?
How can local food production impact the environment in a positive way?
The Earth became ‘greener’ again during the Covid-19 pandemic. What can we learn from this and how can we help maintain this positive change
Remind students that when they look for information online, they should always check, then credit the sources of their information. They can check the quality of their sources with you if they are not sure if it comes from a reliable website or book. By building awareness of plagiarism and evidence-based research at an early age, you can help students with building strong information literacy skills.
+1: ELT Footprint website
If you are intersested in learning more about how to talk about the environmental issues in class or, if you wish to connect with other ELT professionals (teachers, trainers, writers, etc.) check out the ELT Footprint website. The website features a blog, and a growing collection of materials and media to support teachers who are interested in global issues. They also launched the ELT Footprint Facebook group in May 2019 to coincide with a Global Climate Emergency Strike called by Fridays for Future. Visit their website and join their Facebook group!
Have you done any interesting environment projects in your language classes? Share them with us!