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…
What can we do?
- Introduce quick and easy green routines into your lessons
- Teach students in and with nature
- Set students fun, environmental projects
- Focus more lessons on environmental topics (with these pre-made materials)
- Turn your existing materials green
- Using picturebooks for environmental engagement
- Include green topics in lessons for lower level learners
- Embed environmentalism across the school
- Environmental teacher training and development
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
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!
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.
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
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.
- Take your usual classroom activities outside
- Go litter picking
- Practice comparisons and descriptive language with trees and plants
- Listen to a nature meditation then write your own
- Do outdoor learning activities with young children
- Organise a nature photography lesson or outdoor drawing
- Play environmental games and activities with young learners
- Make bird feeders, sundials or shadow clock
- Go on a mini beasts safari or pond dipping (be careful not to harm any beasts!)
- Visit environmental exhibitions or your local recycling facility
- Take trips into the countryside and do urban nature walks (see page 30 onwards)
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
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.
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…
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
- A different story by Adolfo Serra
- My green day – 10 green things I can do today by Melanie Walsh
- What a wonderful world by Bob Thiele and George David
- A forest by Marc Martin
- Clean up! by Nathan Bryon and illustrated by Dapo Adeola (also watch this great presentation about the book)
- Compost stew, An A to Z recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals and illustrated by Ashley Wolff (watch Annete from PEPELT discuss the book)
- Cyril the lonely cloud by Tim Hopgood (use the ICEKit classroom toolbox)
- Five little fiends, Sarah Dyer, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
- What if? by Mick Manning and illustrated by Brita Grantor (use the British Council lesson plan)
- Wild by Emily Hughes (watch the author read Wild, use the accompanying lesson plan by Gail Ellis or this lesson plan on PEPELT)
- Welcome by Barroux (use the ICEKit classroom toolbox)
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
- Leaf by Sandra Dieckmann (use the PEPELT lesson plan)
- The dog that ate the world by Sandra Dieckmann
- The promise by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin (watch the Promise full animation)
- The rabbits, John Marden, Illustrated by Shaun Tan, Simply Read Books
- We are the water protectors, Carol Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade (use the ICEKit classroom toolbox and this presentation about the book)
- Demystifying the read-aloud, Ellis, G. & Mourão, S. (2021)
- Using picturebooks to inspire children to become environmental advocates
- Intercultural Citizenship Education through Picturebooks in Early English Language Learning (ICEPELL)
- Picturebooks in European Primary English Language Teaching
- Tell it Again! The Storytelling Handbook for Primary English Language Teachers
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
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.