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Reading for the environment: CONNECTEDNESS

December 14, 2021 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

Welcome to the last post in our ‘Reading for the environment’ series. Throughout the year we have posted an article each month, complete with lesson plans and reading tips, to help you focus on different aspects of the environment and raise environmental awareness in your English classes. We also had a special interview with environmental educator Rosa Tiziana Bruno

Our Readers Blog primarily promotes the importance of reading in language education, but we also embrace the idea of caring for our environment. In this series, we hope to bring literacy and language development and environmental studies closer through activities and projects for your language classes. We believe that through language and literacy development we can help students to truly grasp the need to care for the environment and explore the different topics linked to it with more knowledge and confidence.

In this post, we focus on the idea of CONNECTEDNESS from three different perspectives. First, we look at connectedness within this blog series. Then, we give you some activity ideas to work with connectedness and environmental education in class. Finally, we consider the concept of connectedness on a wider scale, providing reading tips to bring this idea closer to your students.

Reading for the environment: Twelve themes

In this blog series, every topic focused on the environment. Here are some pointers to get you thinking of connectedness within the theme of environmental issues. 

  • We started the series with WINTER and the changing of the seasons. The rhythm of the seasons gives structure to our year: from school to business, to tourism and agriculture, seasons have a great impact on our lives. How might life on earth change if our climate and eventually the seasons change? 
  • After winter, spring brings new life, and each new life starts with a seed. Our second topic was SEEDS, giving us plenty of great ideas to explore. From life cycles to seeds in space, many scientific projects can grow out of this topic. There is also a lot to explore in terms of cultural and literary topics.
  • Springtime also brings RAIN, and we explored the rain through our senses, science, and stories.
  • Rain and water fill up our RIVERS, which also connect different cultures and lands. Our next topic focused on the language and importance of rivers both throughout history and in literature and music.
  • POLLUTION is an issue that worries children as much as adults when it is discussed. In our post, we looked at the reasons for various types of pollution. We also collected scientific projects and stories to learn more deeply about it and take a positive stance to fight pollution.
  • Food production, loss and waste are alarming topics in environmental studies. FOOD is also an area where individuals have a lot of power to make changes. In our post, we brought you activities to learn about the language of food and projects to engage with food from an environmentalist point of view.
  • ETHICAL TOURISM is an important topic when it comes to the environment. To really grasp the weight of this issue, we collected real-life situations to talk and think about travel concerns and how we can travel in a more sustainable way.
  • ANIMAL RIGHTS is an area of environmental education close to most students’ hearts as they either have pets of their own or simply love animals. We collected real-life situations and some stories to discuss various aspects of animal rights.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION can be approached in many different ways, and we collected some of them for language classes. We also have a selection of activities and projects to help you integrate environmental education into your language programme.
  • TREES are the pillars of our environment. We selected tree-related topics for language lessons: the world and language of trees, and scientific and cultural projects.
  • Our penultimate post is on FASHION and it is another area where we have the power to exact change. We focused on green and sustainable fashion and collected several different activities to approach fashion in an environmentally responsible way.

Finding connections in environmental issues

Activity 1: Choices 

Our decisions and actions have a significant impact on the environment both in smaller and larger contexts. Here are two important questions to ask your students:

  • How does a small choice I make impact the environment? 
  • How do global human actions impact the environment? 

Do this activity with teens and adults. Ask your students to think about their daily actions and find small things that might impact the environment. For example, what packaging do you choose for your snacks and lunches? Do you pay attention to where your food, clothes and gadgets come from? Do you care about how much water and energy you consume each day? 

Finding links between our consumer habits and global issues is also an interesting topic for research projects. Do you know where and how they grow your favourite fruits and vegetables? Where does the food you eat come from? The idea of deforestation and large plantations are connected. Ask students to do some investigation. 

Another topic you can introduce is responsible travel and ethical tourism. How does my choice about a holiday impact businesses and people?

What about large plantations, factories, mines and global transportation? How do they impact the environment?

Activity 2: Vocabulary building

To help your students express their observations, introduce the following topics and vocabulary units.

Air pollution: emit/emission, dangerous, chemicals, substances, smoke, chimney, steam, indoor fireplace, stove, burner, flammable, wildfire hazard, lungs, biofuels, heating

Oceans: ecosystem, water quality, ocean acidification, destroy, habitat, coral reef, ocean resources, sustainable, marine protected areas, microplastics, ocean policy, oil spills, overfishing, fracking, drilling, commercial fishing, marine biodiversity

For more ideas, check out our blog on POLLUTION.

Activity 3: Language focus on conditionals

Use the ideas collected by your students to practise conditional sentences. For example, 

  • If I drink tap water, I use fewer plastic bottles.
  • If we all used public transportation more, the air would be cleaner.

Activity 4: Linking words

It’s always important to practise linking words, and students need help when learning to express cause and effect. When we teach reasoning, we need to focus on connections. Use the ideas collected by your students and give them some linking words to practise.

Activity 5: Young learners

With young learners, it is important to highlight how things are linked. You can use simple words and images to make positive connections between environmental ideas. For example, give them the phrases below on separate cards and help them to link them

  • clean water - happy fish
  • fresh air - healthy people
  • fresh water - lots of vegetables

Then, come up with similar phrases to find more links.

Connectedness: Our relationship with nature

To what degree do we feel part of nature? Nature connectedness tells us about our relationship with the natural world. It also explores how much we feel nature is part of our identity. Several research projects have been written and research groups formed to study the benefits of nature on our well-being and health. Check out the website of the University of Derby Nature Connectedness Research Group for current topics in research.

Research has found that being in nature, which can mean simply planting some trees, has a positive impact on our wellbeing. Although life in the city is also surrounded by nature, city dwellers often feel disconnected from the natural world. The root of this is often said to be found in industrialization, however, today, digitalization is more likely to be the real reason for this increasing sense of separation. But humans feel, think and function much better if they have some kind of relationship with the natural world. Read more about the benefits of nature on our well-being here:

Activity tip 1

Here is an activity tip to help students engage more with the natural world. Whether you live in the countryside or in a large city, ask students to choose a natural element and observe it on a daily basis. For example, a tree hides many secrets: it has returning visitors (birds, squirrels, bugs), and its annual cycle is also fascinating to observe. Students can keep a digital, a written or a photo journal of the tree and share interesting news with others.

Activity tip 2

Another engaging activity is asking students to look for symmetry and various patterns in nature. What shapes, forms and rhythms can they find?

Our relationship with nature is largely expressed by the language we use to describe it. The more words we have for the natural world, the better equipped we are to observe and experience it. This idea permeates the writings of Robert Macfarlane, whose book, The Lost Words became a huge success in environmental education in England. Check out the book and its resources here: LINK We also recommend other books by Macfarlane.

Stories of nature

When the real thing is not available or we want to experience a wider range of natural worlds, stories have the power to take us to different places. We have collected some stories from our Young Readers, The Thinking Train, Red Readers and Blue Readers series to help you engage with the natural world through them.

Songs about nature

As a musical activity, ask your students to create a playlist on their favourite music platform about nature.

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