This is the second of two posts about sustainability. In the first post which you can read here, we have a focus on general ELT materials for adults. This post has a focus on Young Learners.

What about the language?

One of the main criticisms against including a focus on sustainability in ELT materials is that it detracts from the focus on language. But if we are helping children develop the language skills they need to take part actively in discussions beyond the classroom, to share opinions and ideas, then clearly we need to include a focus on the issues which they are likely to be engaged with. We can look at the materials we are already writing and think about how we can add in a focus on sustainability and what support might be welcomed by the end-users, the students and the teachers.

In part 1 of S is for Sustainability, we suggested combining sustainability with another topic rather than treating it in isolation, so as to normalise sustainability and see how it impacts everyday aspects of our lives. This is also a sensible approach for YL materials. Here are a few examples of how this might work based on the kind of broad themes which are always present.

  • In a unit on clothes, have a discussion question about how many clothes we need, and what we do with our clothes when they become too small for us or we no longer wear them.
  • In a unit on transport, we can ask students to order kinds of transport from the least green to the greenest.
  • In a unit on food, we can ask children to do some research to find out which food items are produced locally, and which fruit and vegetables are in season at different times of the year, getting them to think about why these things matter.

Each of these ideas can be added as instructions on the materials themselves or they can simply be included in the Teacher Notes. This will depend on the context and as always,  there is no single preferable way of doing things.

Bringing it home

Children, especially young children, have a better grasp of a topic when they can relate it to something they are familiar with. It therefore makes sense to combine localisation with sustainability themes. Again, we can do this through Teacher Notes in a number of ways.

1. By adding suggestions for simple ‘Find out’ research tasks such as this one which can be linked to a unit on ‘Places in a town’.

Find out where you can recycle these things in your town: paper, old clothes, batteries, unused medicine, old computer parts, glass, plastic.

This also offers an opportunity to develop research skills – which increasingly appear on national curriculums across disciplines.

2. By adding a simple Did you know? fact with some interesting data, and an instruction for the teacher to write it on the board with a few missing words or numbers for children to guess.

For example, after a unit on animals, some key figures about endangered species.

It’s already happening

These days there is increasing presence of sustainability in children’s materials across all disciples, ages and contexts. Publishers are getting on board and businesses are working with education authorities to identify the key sustainability skills which they will need from the workforce of tomorrow.

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom

There are a lot of reports about an increase in eco-anxiety amongst children and teenagers and many educators propose a pedagogy of hope when addressing potentially depressing themes in the classroom. One simple way of doing this is to help develop children’s awareness of the beauty and awesomeness of the world we live in. One idea for materials which tap into this is to include a regular section called something like Let’s celebrate …. and include items that are directly link to the United Nations’ 17 SDGs. A couple of ideas are:

  • Let’s celebrate water
  • Let’s celebrate life on land
  • Let’s celebrate food

These can take many forms, and be as simple as creating classroom posters or organising photography exhibitions to more structured materials where children carry out surveys, write blog posts or do creative writing tasks.

Level of the language

In S is for Sustainability part 1, we mention the level of language and saw how the majority of vocabulary used to talk about sustainability tends to be at B2 and above. For children’s materials this is something that we need to keep in mind. We could see this as an opportunity for stretching the usual boundaries. Many of the key vocabulary items are increasing in frequency. This in itself is a good argument for exposing learners to them.

A final word

When designing any materials, you should always keep in mind the aims and objectives. This is no different for exercises or activities with a focus on sustainability. Here’s a very simple framework you could follow:

Write a plan for some material which focus on sustainability, thinking about a language and/or skills focus.

As you write the materials, keep an eye out for any other learning opportunities which might emerge. For example some examples of word-building, a pronunciation feature, a chance to add in a speaking task. Decide which, if any, to draw attention to, and how you might do this (another exercise? An optional activity in the Teacher Notes?

Finish the materials, try them out if possible and make any necessary changes.


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