Green English language teaching

Language classrooms provide an unmissable opportunity to raise awareness of the environmental crisis and help students connect with nature. You don’t need to be a climate expert to inspire curiosity and encourage critical thinking.

Education is a powerful tool. We can use our classrooms as safe spaces to explore issues about the world. Teachers can engage their students with local issues that effect their lives and help equip students with the language and skills they need to face the climate and ecological crises.

UK ELT can raise environmental awareness and positively influence behaviour among students, who will likely go on to influence their family and friends. And you don’t need weeks to review all your lesson plans and materials, or climate science expertise to start greening your classroom and language lessons.

Read on for teaching ideas, examples and resources…

Introduce green routines (quick and easy!)

One of the biggest barriers to bringing environmental topics into the classroom is a lack of time. There is already so much to cover, how can we bring yet another topic into the lesson? Harry Waters of Renewable English has had great success starting with 5 minute mini tasks or ‘green routines’.

These are easy additions you can drop in to each class, no matter the topic. They will help you and your students develop a greener mindset and keep these issues on the radar when there’s no time for bigger projects.

It is important that educators empower students to express themselves on important topics.

  • Practise large numbers every class using Worldometers, Ecosia trees planted or daily CO2
  • Warm up with a chat about environmental news or projects
  • Include green reflection as part of every class
  • Bring in plants and involve students in care
Number practice

Don’t just reach one hundred and stop, test your students on difficult large numbers every class using environmental statistics like trees felled and planted, land lost to soil erosion or CO2 emissions. Checking numbers at the beginning and end of your lesson might surprise you!

Environmental news

Introduce a green warm up by discussing climate news, wonders of natures, new discoveries, and positive milestones at your school. Your students will start thinking greener, looking for their own articles and becoming more informed.

Green reflection

No matter the topic, there is always an environmental angle to consider. After reviewing new sport vocabulary, for example, encourage critical thinking about how sport effects the planet. At first it might seem unrelated, but think food, waste, travel, clothing, investments…

Watch again: Green activities to introduce environmental topics into your language classroom

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Teaching in and with nature

Heading outside to local streets, parks, gardens or countryside gives your language teaching variety, offers multi-sensory learning, is memorable and great for different learning styles. It also helps deepen our connection with nature.

And you do not need access to grand parks or wilderness – there is something to discover in every neighbourhood, listening for birds or seeing small plants growing by the pavement. And if you can’t get outdoors very easily, you can bring the wild indoors using videos, listening to nature meditation or bringing plants into the classroom.

What are the natural resources are there in your neighbourhood and how can you use them to enrich your lessons?

If your lesson can be done as easily outside, get outdoors! Otherwise there are lots of activities you can plan that include an outdoor element alongside preparation and follow up work in the classroom.

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Wild neighbourhood photo hunt

Play colour or alphabet bingo by asking students to find something of each colour or beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Head out on a leaf hunt, or create worksheets of local trees, flowers, birds and insects they might see in your area. Ask them to fill in details, draw pictures or take photos.

Student led walks

Starting in the classroom, make a plan of an area or to plan a route for a walk, then go out and really do it. It’s a great way to learn about locations and directions and younger students especially gain a lot from leading the walk. Back in the classroom students can write about the walk in the past tense.

What makes a green town?

Let your imagination run free with a creative way to practice future tense. What might this town, school or street look like in the best possible future? Great for comparative language – more trees, fewer cars, more cyclists, less pollution. And conditionals – if there are fewer cars there will be less pollution.

Watch again: taking language learning outdoors

Outdoor learning resources

Council for Learning Outside the Classroom
Outdoor Learning Made Easy – a commercial organisation with lots of good general information on why outdoor learning matters.
A poem about learning outside

Set green projects for more engaging homework

Projects take more time but they are a great way to make homework more interesting and creative for students.

Longer green projects bring an even greater focus on the environment, helping raise awareness and encouraging students to think about solutions and actions. These projects are great for online classes, hybrid classes and face to face classes.

  • Mark Earth Day, World Bee Day, International Rainforest Day…
  • Host a dragon’s den for sustainable business or environmental project ideas
  • Most colourful meal competition
  • Environmental issue poster or video essay
  • Upcycled art gallery, toy shop or fashion show
  • Present on your favourite activist
  • Head outside on bin collection day for a better understanding of school waste
  • Create bin monsters
The most colourful meal

Changing your diet to avoid meat and dairy is one of the most impactful changes an individual can make for but it can be hard to break the habit. And veggies aren’t always the first choice for younger learners!

Making a colourful salad with lots of different fresh food, sharing a photo on Instagram, can help young students connect with leafier dishes.

Environmental video essay

Find an issue you are interested in, create a poster or a video. Young students especially love creating video. Encourage them to speak naturally, unscripted

My favourite activist

Empower your students by asking them to present on a favourite activist. It is inspiring seeing people just like us taking action – a great, positive activity.

Kenyan youth climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti addresses #COP26.

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Focus more lessons on environmental topics

There are more and more resources available to help you run English language lessons with an environmental focus.

Explore the tools and resources below…

Lesson materials, plan and ideas by topic – from animals to culture to shopping and social life – by ELT Sustainable
Teaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in English language classrooms and more from Renewable English
Teaching materials on deforestation, water waste, carbon footprint – and how to use them in class.
Climate Action in Language Education lesson plans by ELT Footprint founders for the British Council.
An extensive list of lesson plans and classroom materials compiled by ELT Footprint.
Join as a free member to download ThoughtBox’s acclaimed Changing Climates curriculum for age 5 and up.
Climate learning resources and ideas from Climate Learning Events.
“Your one-stop-shop for celebrating our planet, and understanding what we need to do to save it.” By TedEd
The Eco Schools Programme aims to build awareness and good practice in schools, with resources and ideas.
Integrating Global Issues in the creative English Language classroom​: ELT publication based on UN Sustainable Development Goals
STEM Ginger Education specialises in sciences and English with plenty of activities, resources and support.
Resources to help scaffold school initiatives and get young people involved in environmental campaigns.
Use Positive News’ environmental section for inspiration and materials for lessons that focus on solutions and agency.
Climate Visuals offers royalty free, evidence-based and impact focused climate photography to use in your classroom.
Instituto Terra: ​A good news story. Over 20 years, a Brazilian couple have transformed a barren plot of land into a thriving forest.
Fridays for future is a youth-led and -organised global climate strike movement.
Into Film suggestions for environment-themed films and documentaries that can be ordered, watched and discussed in your school.
Veganuary inspired and supported more than half a million people across 200 countries to try vegan in January 2021.
Michael Moore presents Planet of the Humans, a documentary about climate politics and corporate interests in the USA.

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Turn your existing materials green

You do not need to buy new, specialist materials to bring environmental topics into your classroom – you can just adapt your existing teaching materials to raise important environmental questions.

Kath Bilsborough has been writing teaching materials for years and has been a key player in ELT Footprint, where you will find lots of materials for promoting sustainability in ELT.

Here she shares her top tips for greening your ELT materials:

Watch our webinar on greening your ELT materials

Green story time: using the power of picturebooks

“Picturebooks are an extraordinary art form. I love the way that they can talk across different age groups. I love the way that they can embody a big message and big emotion in very, very few words” – Nicola Davies

Many thanks to Gail Ellis and Sandie Mourão for a beautiful presentation sharing their favourite picturebooks with an environmental theme in December 2022. Sadly we cannot share the recording due to copyright issues, but here are their recommended books

Many of these picturebooks allow for cross-curricular links and some address other themes such as hardship, refugees, colonisation, war, in addition to an environmental theme.

Environmental picturebooks for pre-primary / lower primary

Environmental picturebooks for upper primary

  • A child’s garden a story of hope, Michael Foreman, Walker Books
  • Desert girl. Monsoon boy. by Tara Dairman and llustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
  • Dinosaurs and all that rubbish by Michael Foreman
  • Last. The story of a white rhino by Nicola Davies
  • Luna & me. The true story of a girl who lived in a tree to save a forest, Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, Christy Ottaviano Books
  • Mars! Moon! Sun! Earth! Ocean! Our Planet! Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by David Litchfield, Henry Holt and Co
  • Marvin wanted more! Joseph Theobald, Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
  • Migration: Incredible animal journeys, Mike Unwin, Illustrated by Jenni Desmond, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
  • Planet awesome! by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by David Lichfield
  • The tin forest by Helen Ward and illustrated by Wayne Anderson (watch an animated version of The Tin Forest)
  • There’s a Rang-Tan in my bedroom by James Sellick and illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon
  • The curious garden by Peter Brown
  • The journey home by Frann Preston-Gannon
  • The last wolf. Red Riding Hood goes green by Mini Grey
  • Tidy by Emily Gravett
  • We planted a tree by Diane Muldrow and illustrated by Bob Staake

Environmental picturebooks for econdary and beyond

Additional resources

Green ELT for lower language levels

Understanding green issues is a must for everyone, but including lower language levels can be quite challenging – from a lack of vocabulary to a lack of suitable resources.

Carol Samlal – ESOL tutor, branch chair for Natecla East of England, inclusivity and sustainability specialist, and outdoor enthusiast – has lots of ideas on how you can discuss environmental topics with beginner and elementary learners.

  • Extend weather words to climate vocabulary to language about climate change and global warming.
  • Use drawings and images to support learning
  • Learn about modes of transport and emissions
  • Discuss personal habits, easier and harder changes that have more or most impact
  • Connect mealtime vocabulary with information about the impact of our food choices

A lot of learners will have some knowledge and understanding of these topics in their own language, it’s just about giving them the vocabulary to discuss it in English.

Watch our webinar on green ELT for lower levels

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Take action across the school

Teachers’ impact on awareness, understanding and agency is all the greater and easier if green issues are embedded and prioritised across the whole organisation.

Support and motivate your teachers, and avoid contradiction between what is said in the classroom and the organisation, by bringing sustainability into school mission and taking action to reduce emissions, waste and other negative environmental impacts.

  • Bring environment into your school mission
  • Embed environmental topics across the syllabus
  • Create an environmental action group
  • Start a kids against plastic group in your school
  • Run a sustainability week with activities, trips and competitions
  • Invite local green groups and activists to speak at your school
  • Do an ‘eco tour’ of the school’s environmental projects and efforts
Green action groups for staff and students

The more people involved in environmental action the better. Creating an action group – or groups, focussed on transport, ‘waste not’, nature, energy etc. – is a great way to find the best solutions with your students and team.

Encouraging agency through taking action is empowering and can help counteract eco-anxiety.

Build sustainability into the curriculum

There is currently a mismatch between student experience and most course materials. Young people are engaged with climate activism through social media and understand the interconnection of climate with other issues, such as social and racial justice. Whereas textbooks generally isolate the environment to one brief chapter.

Teacher development and support

Language Teaching for the Planet free mini-course from ELT Sustainable
Language Teaching for the Planet course from ELT Sustainable
Practical Ways of Including Sustainability in your Language Classroom (English UK ELT Conference 2021)

Learn how to talk about the climate crisis with young people – and why it matters that we do – with ThoughtBox’s climate CPD.
Ask questions, share ideas and find information on the ELT Footprint Facebook group.
Discuss environment and other global issues on the IATEFL Global Issues SIG​ and F​acebook page.