Simple steps to making your EFL classrooms more environmentally friendly
There’s no denying it, The Climate Crisis is the biggest issue the world has to face. As EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers we can often feel at a loss as to what we can do to make a significant and positive impact on the planet for future generations.
The fact is, we can make one of the biggest impacts of all. Our unique position of amplifiers of knowledge gives us the perfect opportunity to help shape the mindset of present and future generations to take positive steps towards drastic change.
In this post we’re going to look at 10 ways in which we can make our EFL classrooms more environmentally friendly without a complete curriculum overhaul. Changes that will impact the planet immediately and for years to come.
Table of content
1. A Plant-Based Classroom
According to studies1,2, indoor plants organically filter the air and offer health advantages like reducing colds. Start with simple-to-grow plants like golden pothos, jade and English ivy.
Han, K. T., (2009) also points to the clear emotional and behavioural improvements in classes with more greenery.
Allowing young people to experience the awe and wonder of nurturing and watching a plant grow not only enriches their own environment to make their learning space more exciting to work in, but can also build confidence and teamwork as they work together to keep their plants alive.
Plants can obviously play a passive role in your classroom. They can sit in the background cleaning the air, making students happier. They can come to the forefront and play a much more active role in students’ learning. Simple growth measuring projects can capture your learners’ imaginations.
Taking it one step further and creating a class pet style persona can really engage your classes. Things get can really exciting when you add a bit of propagation into the mix (see the video below).
So, step 1. Get a plant……. or ten.
2. Be Plastic Clever
One of the easiest campaigns to get students involved in is one where they and the school/institution make a pledge to seriously reduce single-use-plastics (SUP). There are plenty of materials available to make a start with this campaign Kids Against Plastic have a fantastic workbook which has its own ELT component.
Reducing the use of SUPs is the perfect way to start changing our students’ high waste, high consumption mindset. It is clearly visible and very easy to track the changes we are making on a day-to-day basis. It’s also something everyone can get involved in without taking up too much precious class time. Plastic audits are a great place to start by seeing the simple SUPs that can be removed from our institution and then from our students’ bags and pencil cases. The desire to change is incredibly infectious and often spreads out a long way beyond the EFL classroom and into the local community, changing our students from regular people into super change-makers.
3. Start a letter-writing campaign
Can you think of an international exam board that doesn’t ask for a letter/email to be written in order to tick their B1/B2 box? There aren’t many. A brilliant way to get your students working on their persuasive writing skills is to start a letter writing campaign or two. Your English classes will engage a great deal more if they care about an issue and see it has the genuine potential to make a difference.
This real-life practice will transfer itself into good writing practice and their exam writing will improve immensely.
Finding that first issue shouldn’t be too hard, especially if you’ve decided to reduce single-use-plastics at your school or language academy. Once they’ve seen the difference one campaign can make, why not get them started on the next one?
4. Social Media Sharing
Here is a little algorithm-based trick we can play on our students (cue sinister laugh). Set your students homework to find 3-5 videos (reels or tik tok) related to the subject you’re studying. Be it deforestation, fast-fashion or food waste. Tell them they have to share their favourite video with at least 2 classmates and the best ones will be shown in the following class.
This works equally well when looking for eco-influencers or popular change-makers online. Students tend to be pretty happy when their English homework is based on endless tik tok scrolling so they’ll more than likely be happy to do it.
After you’ve set this style of homework a few times, their algorithm will realise just how much they love watching English videos based around combating The Climate Crisis and they will be sent these videos automatically rather than people dancing and cute dog videos. Although, let’s be honest who doesn’t love a cute dog video?
5. Green Routines
We all know that we don’t have time. We never have time…for anything. There is no truer place than in our EFL classes. “How can we focus on the planet if my students have their exams in 3 months’ time and we’re not even a third of the way through the course book?” Is a pretty common complaint from TEFL teachers.
The trick is little and often. We don’t need to completely rewrite our syllabus. We don’t need to reinvent the course book (although maybe we actually do but that’s beside the point). What we can all do is convert our dead class time into eco class time! A very simple green routine to add to the end of your lesson is to ask students to write a tweet about how subject matter has an effect on the climate.
For more routine ideas check out this video about green routines:
6. Form alliances with local environmental groups
It’s unreasonable to expect our students to do ALL the work. There are a vast number of environmental groups and organisations across the globe making positive steps to improve the world we live in. Finding local partners can reduce the workload on us and our students but also provide some remarkable opportunities.
Huge clean ups, protest marches and campaigns to save local flora and fauna are just a few of the areas in which local groups specialise. Get your institution connected to these groups and let your environmentalism spread beyond the classroom.
7. Simple Green Projects
There are so many simple planet-based ideas we can take into and outside of the EFL classroom. Project work is a wonderful tool as once it’s set up properly it doesn’t take time away from day-to-day teaching. It can become student led and something that can be developed while our students are at home. They encourage collaboration and critical thinking.
Some projects can be as simple as an upcycled art show, where students present what they’ve created and where it came from. A more complex project could be the creation of a podcast on a climate issue.
The beauty of podcasts is they can greatly help our less confident students get their point across without the relentless pressure of having to present in front of an audience in a second, or often third language. It also allows more technologically gifted students to take a more active role in the editing and social media marketing of the podcast. If it’s not a podcast….why not make it a video?
8. Green letter days
It seems like every other day on social media someone is talking about the international day of the badger or the Croatian day of the pancake or something similar.
Simply acknowledging and spending 2 minutes at the start of the green letter days about the issue at hand can help raise awareness about a variety of issues. So, add the dates to your calendar.
Another fun trick is to ask about your English students’ birthdays and ask what they’re passionate about. Turn their birthday into the International Day of Pablo’s love of The Black Footed Ferret.
There’s a fairly comprehensive list of some of the environmental days.
9. A Cleaner Commute
How do your students get to class? Do they drive? Would it be possible for them to come in together in a carpool, could they catch the bus together or maybe ride their bikes? If there is nowhere to park bikes near your institution why not start a letter writing campaign to the local government to get a bike station installed nearby?
Provide the parents and students with a platform to share their journeys and encourage them to reduce their commuting footprint.
This will not only save the planet, but it’ll also save time for each individual parent making the commute and tell me who doesn’t like to have a little extra free time in the afternoon?
10. Be the example
The most important thing we can do, not only as EFL teachers but as institutions at large, is to set a good example. Walk the talk, as it were. Take simple sustainable steps. Encourage the teachers to walk to work or help them with public transport costs. Are you bringing a plastic water bottle into the classroom every day? Ask your student where they got their bottle from and get one yourself. Are you using refillable whiteboard markers? If not, now is a great time to start.
It’s no use telling our students some great ways to take care of the planet if we’re handing out plastic cups and endless photocopies to everyone who walks through the door.
As educators our aim should always be to help our learners become better, more rounded citizens of the world. They should learn something about themselves and the world around them in every single English lesson.
With small and frequent steps, we can all but guarantee those who enter our classroom will leave it with a greener mindset and a genuine desire to make the world a better, fairer, more habitable place to live.
- Danielski, I.; Svensson, Å.; Weimer, K.; Lorentzen, L.; Warne, M. Effects of Green Plants on the Indoor Environment and Wellbeing in Classrooms—A Case Study in a Swedish School. Sustainability 2022, 14, 3777. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14073777
- Han, K.-T. (2009). Influence of Limitedly Visible Leafy Indoor Plants on the Psychology, Behavior, and Health of Students at a Junior High School in Taiwan. Environment and Behavior, 41(5), 658–692. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916508314476
We were pleased to welcome author Harry Waters to our annual InnovateELT 2022 as a speaker. Early Bird tickest are now on sale for InnovateELT 2023 – get your ticket here.