This month our panel talks to the founder of Renewable English, Harry Waters, about sustainability and why we should teach it in the English language classroom.
Let’s explore his views on sustainability and its relevance to English language teaching.
What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
In 2015, the UN member states adopted a set of 17 SDGs to act as a blueprint for us to work towards to achieve a more sustainable future. The goals are:
- No Poverty
- Zero Hunger
- Good Health and Well-being
- Quality Education
- Gender Equality
- Clean Water and Sanitation
- Affordable and Clean Energy
- Decent Work and Economic Growth
- Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
- Reduced Inequality
- Sustainable Cities and Communities
- Responsible Consumption and Production
- Climate Action
- Life Below Water
- Life on Land
- Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
- Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Although the UN set these goals in 2015, they have only come into the spotlight in the last two years. Now, in many countries, coverage of these goals is a mandatory part of the school curriculum.
Harry explains that slowly but surely, the SDGs are also reaching many language course syllabuses around the world. He is working to encourage more language schools, teachers, publishers and others involved with ELT to bring these goals into their teaching frameworks.
The relevance of SDGs for English language teaching
For Harry, the SDGs concern the future of our planet. They are likely to have an impact on everyone in developed and developing countries. Therefore, it’s important we try to make as many people as possible aware of these issues.
Harry argues that one of the best platforms for spreading awareness of these goals is the ELT world. While subjects like history or religious studies may vary from country to country, ELT is roughly the same everywhere. And with billions of people learning English, there are ELT classrooms in every corner of the globe.
As a result, including the SDGs in language course syllabuses will inevitably help to spread the word and encourage more people to take action.
Five ways to teach sustainability in the classroom
If you’re interested in teaching sustainability within your classroom, Harry offers a number of activities and tasks that you can do. His aim is to keep them as simple as possible, making it easier for you to integrate them into your class.
Here are some tasks that you can try:
1. Try a plastic reduction challenge
A simple and easy way to raise awareness of plastic use and encourage students to use less, is through a plastic reduction challenge.
Bring some recycling boxes into the classroom and tell students that each week you’ll all recycle the plastic that you use in class. At the end of the week, count how many items there are in the boxes. Make a note of the number, and set an aim to try and use less plastic each week.
2. Get students to love nature
We care about what we love. Therefore, one way to inspire students to take interest in their natural surroundings is by getting them to fall in love with nature.
You could show documentaries about wildlife and the planet, do tasks on the seven wonders of the world or teach them about marine life, for example. This will motivate learners to be passionate about our planet – and protecting it!
3. Create a swap shop
A swap shop is a place where people are asked to bring clothing or items to exchange or trade with others. You may want to consider holding one of these in class.
Ask students to bring in old books, toys, electronics, clothes or other items they don’t use anymore. Then have them trade with each other. This is a really effective way of encouraging students to reuse old items, rather than throwing them away and buying new ones.
4. Hold a food drive
A food drive is a form of charity that involves people collecting food to give to those who cannot afford it. You can ask your learners to bring in some food every month to offer to a local charity or homeless shelter which distributes it to people in need.
This will encourage your students to give something back to the local community. It will also highlight how poverty isn’t necessarily happening in countries far away – it’s also on our own doorsteps.!
5. Show celebrities taking action
Another great way to raise awareness of the SDGs is by showing them what others are doing to reach them. For example, you could show them Marcus Rashford and his effort to offer free school meals in the UK, or Greta Thunberg who has travelled around the world in a zero-carbon yacht to help fight climate change.
The idea is to get students excited about reaching the SDGs and helping them realize that they too can help.
Linking sustainability to language learning
While these are all great activities to help raise awareness of the SDGs, you might be wondering how we can relate them to language teaching.
In fact, it’s quite simple. One approach you could take, is to pick up any student textbook and look through its units. A traditional textbook has around 10–14 units and will focus on a new topic in each one, such as fashion, food, travel or the home. Harry suggests that aside from teaching the unit to the class, you can also focus on how these topics affect the planet.
For instance, when looking at fashion, you can talk with students about how the fashion industry is affecting the environment, as well as working conditions of the people who make the clothes. Similarly, you might also want to talk about food waste, the impacts of the fast-food industry on the environment, and the effects of meat consumption worldwide when looking at textbook units on food.
Not only will you be teaching learners English, you’ll also be helping to spread the word about the SDGs and how we can all do a bit to help.
Harry is currently working with Pearson on our Speak Out For Sustainability project. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook to find materials to use in your classes to help your students speak out for a brighter future.