Earth day was this Wednesday and it made me reflect on the green status of my classrooms. I try to use recycled paper when possible and, whenever possible, make any worksheets or handouts that I use double-sided. Still, I felt like there was more that I could be doing. My search led me to Green Shoots International school in Hoi An, Vietnam where I had the opportunity to interview two teachers who are working in an environmentally friendly school. Here’s what I learned.
For those of you who are just looking for a good Earth Day project lesson, I’ve got you covered as well. Click on the button below to download a free ready made project lesson that will work for young learners or adults that are pre-intermediate or above.
Making Your Classroom More Environmentally Friendly
We just try to make them conscious of every thing they do, every activity we do we brings that awareness of conservation to the kids. – Sumeika Turpie
I met teacher Ally and teacher Sumeika at their school and was generously offered a delicious bowl of cold noodles with pork, fresh herbs, and spring rolls all topped with a peanut sauce (a vegetarian option was also available). When I arrived in line, Ally was making sure that all of her students were putting vegetables in their bowl and Sumeika was having a heart to heart with one of the children. “Lots of noodles! I want lots of noodles!” the young boy was telling her.
After adding the second bit of noodles into the boy’s bowl, he was still asking Sumeika for more. “Remember what we learned about waste. Are you sure you are going to eat all of those noodles?” she asked him.
The boy promptly said that he had enough, smiled and moved along to receive his vegetables from teacher Ally. Most TEFL teachers don’t necessarily get the chance to spend time with their students in this context, but the general philosophy about waste seemed an important one and one that could be carried into other areas where the TEFL teacher does have control. “We just try to make them conscious of every thing they do, every activity we do we brings that awareness of conservation to the kids. Do we really need that paper? Do we really need all of the lights on?” Sumeika told me later on as we enjoyed our noodles.
Ally furthered this notion when talking about energy conservation. After a series of lessons exploring global energy issues, she decided to let her students choose whether or not they need all of the lights on, or whether to turn on the air conditioning. She said that most of the time, after being made aware that energy is not an infinite resource, they made mature and environmentally friendly decisions.
The basic take-home lesson for me was that I should try and use natural light as much as possible, save the air conditioning for when it is absolutely necessary and not automatically turn all the lights on when I enter the classroom. Also, simple things like making sure that the computer is properly shut down at the end of class makes a big difference. It’s important not just for the energy that you are saving in the classroom, but also for the message you are sending the students.
Another area that I found I could improve upon was with my paper conservation. Sumeika and Ally both told me about their “Ecowarriors Craft Club” and I immediately saw ways I could improve. Basically, they never throw paper, or other materials, away after a project. “A lot of the students’ projects are made completely from recycled materials,” Sumeika told me.
We were in her classroom, so she showed me the large basket of scraps of colored paper, card stock, string, wrapping paper and more. She also showed me some of the cool projects and posters that the students had made using “just scraps”. She also advised to use posters more than once, “Most of these posters have other projects on the back. They’ll only stay up for a few weeks, so why waste the paper?”
*Pro tip: Use mini-whiteboards when possible. It’s more fun and you won’t waste paper.
Many TEFL teachers end up with a situation where students are using a washroom located in the classroom. It may seem like a small thing, but reminding students not to keep the water going as they lather their hands is also an important step. Again, the message we send to them is just as crucial as the conservation that goes on in the classroom.
An important step is trying to get the whole team on board. -Ally Linney
If you want to try and improve your schools ecofriendliness, it is necessary to make sure that everyone in the school, especially the leadership, shares your vision. If you’re not directly in charge of the non-renewable resources in your classroom, send an email with a plan. Offer your services as someone who would like to lead in these initiatives. More than likely, your employer will be happy to comply.
Ecofriendliness in the Lesson
TEFL teaching often lends itself to projects where the students can use the language you teach. Why not make some of the topics about helping the planet? Both Ally and Sumeika shared a few of the projects that they’d been doing recently with their students.
In Ally’s class they’d had an ongoing project tracking the amount of waste that the school produced during a week. Afterwards, the students put together the data and made a bar graph to present their findings. These students are nine years old.
She also had a project where students would individually research an area of food production: rice, pork, different vegetables, etc. Students gave reports about how these foodstuffs were produced, and the amount of energy and non-renewable resources like water that went into them. They also hypothesized ways of conserving during their production.
Sumeika, who has some slightly older students, researched things like the “hidden evironmental costs” of different items (e.g. water, transport and energy used in mass production). She said that secondary students especially enjoy turning their findings into “shock facts”. For example, one of her students researched pollution in the ocean and found that over 10,000 sea birds die each year due to pollution of a certain type. This student then compared these birdsâ€™ body masses to that of infants and shocked the class by saying it was like murdering fifteen small children (note: these numbers may be off, but I hope you get the idea and how this could be used as a way to motivate teens).
I was energized by their projects and decided to do something similar with one of my classes. I used authentic texts from the IUCN Red List website and had students present their findings. I was thrilled by how well it worked. You can download the complete lesson resource pack by clicking on the button below.
On the Right Track
Green Shoots has a large number of projects going on to help make its student body more conscious of environmental issues and how the students can make an impact. There are too many for me to go into detail, but some of them include creating a chicken coup, painting a mural on the side of one of the buildings with different things the students love about the planet, taking them on field trips to organic farms and much more. “We’ve still got a long way to go before becoming a completely green school, but there is satisfaction in knowing that we’re on the right track,” Sumeika said.
Some of these ideas may be beyond the scope of what you are able to do in your classroom. Still, I would encourage you to think about your class and what you can do. How can you encourage your students to be global citizens who are more environmentally conscious? Please share your ideas in the comment thread below. I’m eager to see what ideas we can all come up with.