Teaching Sustainability in the English Language Classroom

published Jul 30, 2020
3 min read

Have you heard of greening the classroom? Greening the classroom refers to integrating environmental and sustainability issues into English as a Foreign Language lessons, which in essence means getting across the importance of being environmentally-aware and eco-conscious.

Because there is a general need for education when it comes to the environment and sustainability, teaching English as a Foreign Language provides the perfect opportunity to contribute to the growing consciousness of the green movement.

How can you teach sustainability in the classroom?

Sustainable development is defined, according to the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, as
“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

In other words, sustainability is using resources effectively to create and maintain the conditions of our natural environment so that humans and nature can exist in harmony for future generations.

Teaching sustainability is all about teaching students about the environment, climate change and conservation, and helping them become active players in the sustainability movement. However, when teaching English you also need to focus on teaching the language, as well as the content. This might seem tricky but this is done all the time in Content and Language Integrated Learning lessons.

CLIL lessons are basically teaching content through English. In other words, the focus of a lesson is not on a particular language structure but rather on a content point. Any language which is focused on comes directly out of the content. This is what happens in immersion classrooms around the world. CLIL simply brings immersion learning into the EFL classroom.

CLIL lessons are becoming more and more popular in both mainstream schools and language schools. Students enjoy CLIL lessons because the focus is taken off the learning of language – which can, at times, be confusing or boring – and instead the students are learning about a particular topic. If the topic is well-suited to the students, they should enjoy the content of the lesson without focusing on the language of the lesson. At the same time, they are being exposed to the language and will learn the language related to the lesson. It’s also a nice change for the TEFL teacher to be able to teach content rather than language. Basically, it’s a win-win for everyone!

Luckily, no matter who is being thought, sustainability is a relevant issue. It is topical and pertinent and applicable to all students, no matter their age or where they are from because it affects all of us. In fact, if students are from different places they will be able to compare their experiences with regards to sustainability and the environment. They will also approach the topic with different opinions and ideas, which will make for an interesting learning environment.

Lesson ideas for teaching sustainability in the classroom

Sustainability is a big topic which can be addressed from a variety of angles. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to teaching sustainability, here are a few topic ideas that can be used to introduce sustainability into the TEFL classroom:

  • Food waste
  • Fossil fuels and alternative energy sources
  • Fairtrade foods
  • Farming
  • Plastic-free July
  • Sustainable living
  • Our eco-footprint
  • Earth Hour
  • Global warming and climate change
  • Deforestation
  • Food and water security

Resources for teaching sustainability in the classroom

As with any topic, the use of videos and images are key. Sustainability is an especially good topic for videos and visuals, as it is much more powerful when seen. TedEd is a great resource of talks related to many different aspects of sustainability. It has educational videos which are perfect for the TEFL classroom, along with related discussion questions.

YouTube, of course, is another source of videos – but be sure to watch the video first to make sure it’s suitable for students! YouTube is also a good source for songs which can relate to the environmental movement, such as Reduce, Reuse, Recycle by Jack Johnson or the Recycling Song from Peppa Pig if it is a class of Young Learners.

Debates are a great way to get students talking about sustainability issues. Assign students to different points of view of an argument, give them time to do some research and let them debate the issue. A writing task could be a follow-up activity.

With Young Learners there are many different arts and crafts activities which can be utilized to teach the language related to sustainability and the environment. Arts and crafts are a great way to help Young Learners develop their fine motor skills, as well as introduce them to ideas and concepts. Stories, puppet shows and games are also good options for the Young Learner classroom.

For nice-and-easy ready-made lesson plans, there are a few websites available too. The Young People’s Trust for the Environment has a range of lesson plans available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Each topic has a set of lesson plans with Powerpoint presentations, background notes, and classroom activities. They are not aimed at TEFL classrooms so they will need to be adapted to a classroom, but they are great lesson plans, and free – all they ask is that a donation of £1 to the Trust as a thank you.

Sustainability in the Classroom

Teaching will be paramount to lip service if sustainability practices in the classroom are not being followed itself. Awareness of eco-footprint and how to make small changes in behaviours in the classroom in order to play a part and set an example. For example, make sure to use both sides of papers when doing arts and crafts or printing, and then recycle when finished. Try to print as few worksheets as possible and instead try to use the dogme, or materials-free, approach to teaching.

Teaching comes with a lot of responsibility. If there are topics which are applicable to all students which can be discussed and elaborated on in the classroom, the opportunity should be taken with both hands and do as much as possible. Sustainability is one such issue. By bringing it into the classroom a contribution to the movement can be made and make a difference to our future.