Green teaching practice
Formulate fabulous environment language lessons for elementary they’ll love

Formulate fabulous environment language lessons for elementary they’ll love

Environment Language Lessons: Elementary, my Dear Watson!

Have you ever thought that you can’t plan environment language lessons for elementary? If so then you are not alone, but here are three ideas that hopefully will make you change your mind. Furthermore, they are all tested because recently I was commissioned to write two elementary lessons for the British Council’s prestigious myClass adult product, and I now have the pleasure of watching British Council teachers delivering environment lessons with elementary classes very successfully.

I now have the pleasure of watching British Council teachers delivering environment lessons with elementary classes very successfully.

I can’t share the lessons themselves as they are now the property of the British Council but I can share three things I learned from making these lessons which I believe are even more useful for you.

Tip 1: Choosing the right vocabulary in environment language lessons for elementary

You might be just about to include the word ‘environment’ in your lead-in for a question like ‘What do you do to protect the environment? Stop! Go to this website https://englishprofile.org/wordlists/evp and put the word environment into the box and hit enter. It will tell you the level of this word is B2, or upper intermediate. Ok, let’s try world.  It comes out at A1 (when used as a synonym for Earth)! Great, but what about protect?  Enter it into the site and it tells you that it’s B1. Ok, how about help? Enter it in and bingo! It’s A2. Ok let’s use this word for now, or do you have a suggestion for another? We have our elementary-level question. How do you help the world? This is more manageable!

Tip 2: Measure the readability of the text

Let’s now imagine you want a simple text for your lesson. Sorry, but you’ll have to write any texts you plan to use! Forget grading authentic texts at elementary level. But don’t worry, your text can be very short. My last lesson had ‘A Day in the life of a nature guide’. Just keep checking the vocabulary level you use with technique 1 and then put your completed text into the box on this website https://readable.com/ . It will give you a result on the Flesch-Kincaid scale which measures readability. You then go to this website https://linguapress.com/teachers/flesch-kincaid.htm which helpfully interprets the scores for language teaching and cross-references the score to the CEFR scale. What’s more, it tells you everything you need to know about readability as a language teacher. Once you have it at the score required you are ready with your text!

Tip 3: Get an editor

Your friend or colleague will give a valuable second opinion because they don’t have a vested interest in saying ‘this’ll be fine’ even when it needs further editing!

Don’t skip proofreading by a second set of eyes. I was lucky enough to have an excellent editor for the lessons I wrote for the British Council. Frequently the feedback was to make it more suitable for elementary level. Although you probably won’t be able to call a professional editor, a language teaching pro is equally good. Your friend or colleague will give a valuable second opinion because they don’t have a vested interest in saying ‘this’ll be fine’ even when it needs further editing!

Have you managed to teach elementary lessons that have an environmental topic? What would be your tip number 4?  If you have any ideas, share them in the comments or via the contact page!

5 thoughts on “Formulate fabulous environment language lessons for elementary they’ll love

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Owain – thanks so much for sharing these tools! Do you think there are some aspects of sustainability/ talking about climate change that are more accessible to low level learners? If so could you share them? I assume that topics that may have been in the news in the students home context will be more familiar and therefore accessible – do you agree?

      • Author gravatar

        Hi Ginny,
        Thanks for commenting, it always means a lot. I do think some topics lend themselves better to lessons with lower-level learners. The lesson I mentioned in the article simply looked at a day in the life of 4 people. Once, as mentioned, was a nature tourguide. The other was a windfarm engineer, the other a journalist, and the last one a climate scientist. The lesson simply looked at their daily routines without going into details about the climate emergency. The learners did have the chance to say what they liked about their own jobs and whether they would like these jobs and why they might be important. I think this lesson repurposed a fairly standard approach to a lesson for low levels, but used different role models. So I would say very personalised, localised topics learners can relate to are the most suitable. Anything around food, jobs, where I live would work as they often feature in elementary lessons and can easily be given a green focus. What topics do you think work well?

    • Author gravatar

      Love your three tips, Owain!
      I think my Tip 4 is that mantra about teaching sustainability, which is to integrate it into existing topics rather than dealing with ‘The Environment’ separately. You illustrate this very well in the lesson you describe above: the topic of daily routines is very normal and expected in an Elementary course, but you’ve found a way to address environmental concerns as part of that lesson.
      Another example might be transport:
      How do you go to school / work?
      How often do you drive to the shops?
      Again, perfectly standard stuff for A1/2 level, and easy language: present simple, ‘go by car / on foot’. But evaluating one’s green habits this way brings the issues of carbon and consumerism into focus.
      Thanks for a great post 🙂

    • Author gravatar

      Been thinking about your tips, especially Tip 1, Owain. I understand it’s generally important to stick to the level of the class when thinking about what vocab to teach then, and we have various ways of finding out the level of a word, like the English Vocab Profile and the Oxford 3000; but sometimes there’s a good reason to teach higher graded vocab. If your elementary students work in a hotel you’d be wrong not to teach them ‘reservation’ even though it’s B1, for example.
      Now we’re all facing an emergency, from A0 to C2 we’re all on this planet and this is big news. Shouldn’t we consider promoting words like ‘climate’ (B1) and ‘the climate crisis’ (uncategorised), ‘carbon’ (B2) and ‘carbon footprint’; and yes, ‘protect the environment’?
      I guess I’m asking whether these words and expressions should get special status in our classes.

      • Author gravatar

        Hi Dan,
        I’m glad you like the post and it’s always refreshing to get your take on things. I think that what you’ve said really resonates and yes, I think certain words should get special status and potentially be taught at a lower level.
        I actually found it a really good exercise though to be forced to really think how to address the topic with elementary level learners, having written many lessons for higher levels, and I know it’s an issue many of us struggle with. I would recommend trying to write a green-themed lesson for this level to any ecologically conscious language teacher.
        Now that I’ve found my feet doing it, yes, I will join you and break some of the rules I imposed on myself. The words I potentially would include, in addition to the ones you mentioned, are:
        1. Nature (A2)
        2. humanity (C1)
        3. justice (B2)
        I think we are now getting to a form of ESP, aren’t we? But again I would be wary. I teach learners who already speak a Latin language and so I could get away with it as they will recognize the root. I might be more circumspect in another context. Also, I would need to be sure that there was an easy way to demonstrate the meaning. How would you teach the meaning of ‘climate crisis’ to elementary learners?

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