How to Engage Learners in Green Issues from the Lead-In

How to Engage Learners in Green Issues from the Lead-In

Imagine you are going to bring an environmental issue into your language class and you have already found the right text to do this. Let’s imagine it’s this video; a BBC introduction to Climate Change and its dangers, and it’s called ‘Our Planet Matters: Climate Change Explained’. This video outlines what Climate Change is, identifies the human activity that drives it and shows us the danger it poses, and is available here (new tab):

It’s a great video, so what is the best way to ‘prime’ students to engage with it?

A Well-Trodden Path:

Many teachers I have worked with might create a lead-in that involves students discussing environmental issues in pairs, ideally with a degree of personalisation. It might go like this:

We are going to watch a video about Climate Change but first I would like you to discuss the following in pairs

  • What do you know about Climate Change?
  • To what extent are you worried about Climate Change?
  • What can we do about Climate Change?

I’ll give you 5 minutes!

After the students discuss, the teachers asks them to share their ideas and the class watches the video, hopefully adding to the ideas from their discussion. It works, it fits in with what we’ve learnt on the CELTA, so why would I suggest another way?

What I Do Now:

I’m working on my Masters and one of the many things I’ve taken away is the Text-Driven Approach developed by Brian Tomlinson (2013). For a really concise overview of this approach, I’d highly recommend this blog post. It’s brilliant! Thank you Peter Clements for the help you gave me in my assignment with this post!

Right now I’m just going to focus on the idea of a readiness activity, in which, just like the lead-in above, we prepare students to watch the video. The difference is that the focus now is on learners using their imagination, an emphasis that any idea is great, and students do not feel they have to guess the content likely to be in the text on the topic of the Climate Emergency (I shall use this term as I outline how I now do it as I use this term as it is a more accurate representation of the situation we are in). So, this is what my readiness activity looks like:

Teacher: Imagine you are the head of the United Nations. It is a Monday Morning.

  • What are you having for breakfast?
  • How are you feeling?
  • What is on your list of things to deal with this week?

Students make a list on their own and then share their ideas with the class. Then we move to the next section:

Teacher: Now you have finished your breakfast and arrived at your workplace. You have this message from a president. Teacher displays the following text:


I’m sorry I said all those times that climate change wasn’t important. I’ve changed my mind since reading what was in the link you sent me. We really need to do more about it.

The first thing is I need to be able to explain what climate change is.

Can we talk soon?



The students are then given this information by the teacher: You’ve deleted the email that you sent with the link. What do you think might be in the website the link was for? Students discuss this in pairs and feedback to the class.

Now I will ask students to watch the video and add to their ideas.

I find this makes students much more engaged and there is evidence that as students are engaging with language on so many more levels, especially in an affective manner. Also, students are no longer pressured to feel they have to know a certain answer, and it makes it easier to deal with potentially sensitive issues as they are playing a role. It can be adapated to any topic or text.

My question to you is would you use this approach, and are there other approaches that you would like to share?

If you would like to look at more ideas for integrating environmental issues into the language classroom, please sign up to ELTSustainable Membership below AND receive a free downloadable guide to bringing an environmental focus to every language lesson, no matter the topic! What’s more, you can get a 30% reduction on the upcoming course ‘Language Teaching for the Planet’ starting 28th June. (Don’t tell too many people as there are only 20 places at the reduced price – or at least don’t tell them until you have signed up!)

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