6 tips for environment-themed language lessons

  1. Take a fresh perspective

      We all know the unit on the environment in the coursebook. Usually there’s a picture of a polar bear, a drought or a powerstation belching out smoke. Hardly a fresh and inspiring approach to the topic. You sense the writer of the book is dreads the environment unit almost as much as the students! In the lesson Eco-tourism: Travel by Train, we focus on the environment from a fresh perspective: students learn about wonderful journeys you can do by train, and that leads into the focus on the environmental benefits (and the enjoyment) of travel by train rather than plane.
  2. Localise and Personalise Let us return to the image of the polar bear in the coursebook. Is it the best way to promote environmental concern in your teaching context? Find a topic that is important locally. From my own experience, students in Bulgaria were concerned about the destruction of the Black Sea coast by hotel developments, in Morocco they were concerned about desertification and in Hong Kong it was the Pacific vortex, the great floating mass of rubbish in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Bring the local environment issue into your class, and your students will respond much more than a lesson about an environmental problem far away. Think global, but act local!
  3. Focus on people An environment lesson needs a human face. In my lesson Eco-Achievers we focus on people doing great things for our natural heritage. I trust they are more relevant than some of the people featured in coursebooks (anyone remember the man who holds the world record for bouncing a ball on their head in Intermediate Cutting Edge coursebook?) Show the people involved in environmental issues, whether they are those affected by the issue, or those working on a solution to the problem.
  4. Positive and Empowering Focus on the great things people can do in the fight against environmental degradation and climate change. In my lesson Creating Energy Sustainably we focus on solutions. As one of the solutions is a disco powered by the jumping up and down of the dancers, it definitely puts the fun into eco-friendly living! In School Environment Audit young learners are empowered to audit their school and make recommendations on how it can be more environmentally friendly.
  5. What’s the language point? It’s easy to get carried off on a fascinating journey of discovery. The students may love it as much as you, and it’s all in English. Just imagine that it’s an observed lesson, and the observer will ask you at the end  ‘So what was the language aim?’ Make sure you can answer that question. It is an English language lesson in which the environment is the topic, after all!
  6. It’s still TEFL! An environment lesson shouldn’t be just a lengthy reading on ecological destruction followed by comprehension questions, or listening to an expert talking about climate change. It should be active and communicative. use the old tefl favourites like find someone who…(rides a bike to work) or dictogloss or jigsaw readings. Note the cut-up bits of paper in the lesson plan Climate Change Overview!

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