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Reading for the environment: POLLUTION

May 07, 2021 by Maria Cleary

Welcome to the fifth post in our ‘Reading for the environment’ series. Throughout the year we will post monthly articles 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. Our Readers Blog primarily promotes the importance of reading in language education, but we also embrace the idea of caring for our environment. We also think that literacy and language development and environmental studies mutually support each other. To put it simply: the better your students’ literacy and language skills become, the more they will be able to learn about the environment and understand the urgent need to live in a sustainable fashion. 

This month we focus on POLLUTION, following the topics of WINTER, SEEDS, RAIN and RIVERS. Pollution has become one of the greatest threats to the environment. Let’s see what is within our reach to fight against it. 

Level: B2 - B1+

The many faces of pollution

Start the lesson - either with younger or older learners - with a word association game. What do you think of when you hear the word pollution? Here are some words that might come to your students’ minds:

  • dirt / dirty
  • harmful/toxic substances
  • poison
  • contamination
  • ugly
  • danger / dangerous

When you have talked about what pollution is like, ask your students about the different types of pollution they know about and have experienced. Talk about the most typical ones, and ask students for an example from their own lives.

  • land / soil pollution
  • water pollution
  • air pollution
  • noise pollution
  • light pollution
  • radioactive pollution
  • thermal pollution

Read more about the different types of pollution here:

What causes pollution?

Levels: A2-B1+

Pollution, whatever the type, is caused by a number of factors, from large industries to the accumulation of personal choices. Ask your students to think about what small (or even bigger) actions they could take in their lives to reduce pollution. If everyone did a little bit, we could all reduce pollution in our own environments.

Talk about the different causes of pollution:

  • ocean litter: plastics, microplastics and other waste from landfills and ships
  • pesticides and fertilizers: these dangerous chemicals get into the water systems as well as our food
  • air pollution: burning fossil fuels, transportation, large factories, burning household waste and wood
  • artificial light has a bad impact on our natural world and our own health
  • traffic and industries can cause a lot of noise pollution

Read more about the causes of pollution:

Projects to learn about pollution

1 How far does your plastic bottle travel?

Pristine beaches covered in plastic bottles on faraway islands, microplastics found in hidden corners of the Earth. We read about these stories almost every week. 

Ask your students to think about where plastic bottles go. Do they know what happens to a bottle after they’ve thrown it in the bin? Ask your students to check out some websites which talk about the impact of our plastic consumption, for example:

2 The Earth from space

The problem of light pollution is evident when Earth is viewed from space. Ask students to check out some images and try to find their own country in them.

Visit a light pollution map:

Check out this video on the NASA website:

And check out the Google Earth at Night map:

How do you think light pollution affects the natural world?

3 The most and least polluted places on Earth

Ask your students to do some research about the most and least polluted cities and countries on Earth. While they are collecting data, ask them to write the type of pollution that can be observed in various places. Another good idea is to look into the causes of pollution.

Here are some websites to start searching:

4 What causes pollution?

Finding the causes of pollution is the best way to start tackling the problem itself. Ask students to create a list of causes that make their environment (the streets, the waterways, the air, and the soil) dirty. This approach works on several levels: personal, community and industrial / governmental. 

What can they change in their daily routine to prevent this pollution? 

5 How polluted is your area?

Apart from a global perspective on pollution, it’s important to zoom in on our own area, which can be our school, home, neighbourhood, town/city or country. Ask students to collect some information about pollution using the following tips.

  1. In your neighbourhood, pay attention to rubbish in the streets. You can take photos, too.
  2. How empty or full are the bins in the streets?
  3. Do you have a general feeling of cleanliness?
  4. Is it possible to recycle waste in your hometown?
  5. Is it easy to find information about air pollution in your area?
  6. Is it noisy? Can you hear birdsong in your room?
  7. Is there a lot of dust in the air? How clean is the air in your city?

Positive approaches to fight pollution

1 Sustainability

After observation, data collection and discussions, it’s important to talk about positive action to bring about change. Learning about the problems is only the first step. The main objective should be sustainability. Talk about the meaning of the word:

to sustain - sustainable - sustainability

Make collocations with the word ‘sustainable’:

agriculture, community, development, energy, farming, fishery, forestry, lifestyle, living, production, source, tourism, transport, use

2 Success stories

Ask your students to look for successful approaches towards fighting pollution. Even a small story can illustrate how important personal and community efforts can be. It is important that students understand that their own efforts are just as significant as industrial and governmental decisions about fighting pollution. Here are some questions to get them thinking and doing some research:

  • Have you heard about a successful clean-up in your own area?
  • Have you read about a success story about cleaning the air, waterways or streets in a particular city or country?
  • What are the most important worldwide efforts in the fight against pollution?

Read up on pollution

In the Helbling Readers Catalogue, you will find stories which address the question of pollution on various levels. 

Young Readers and The Thinking Train series

Moony Goes on Holiday by Dilys Ross, illustrated by Mario Onnis

Level: Cambridge A1 Movers

Moony Goes on Holiday









Moony lives on the moon. Every day is the same: he cleans his home, he waters his garden, then he goes for a walk. Moony is bored. He wants to hear noise and see people. He wants to go to Earth. One day, Alex the astronaut arrives and agrees to take Moony home with him. What happens when Moony arrives on Earth? What surprises does he find? And what does Moony decide to do: stay on Earth or go back to the moon?

Pollution in the story: Moony finds Earth very noisy. What does he hear? What causes the noise? How does Moony feel? Where does he want to go?

The Sick Dragon by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs, illustrated by Andrea Alemanno

Level: Cambridge A1 Movers

The Sick Dragon The Sick Dragon








Little Red is a dragon. She lives with her family, deep inside the forest. Then people arrive and start cutting down trees and the forest gets smaller and smaller. Soon the sky is full of smoke and the rivers are full of rubbish. One day Little Red’s sister goes missing. Can Little Red find her and how can she save the rivers and forest?

Pollution in the story: With the arrival of people near the dragons’ forest, pollution also arrives on many levels. The dragons need to find a way to fight pollution.

Readers for Teen and Adult Learners

Red Water by Antoinette Moses, illustrated by Cinzia Battistel

Level: CEFR B1

Red Water










When teen hackers Tricia and Daniel discover that a local company could be involved in a sinister plot to trade carbon, they suddenly find that their lives are in danger. How is Tricia's father involved? Can Tricia protect her family and Daniel?

Pollution in the story: This thriller talks about a number of big environmental issues including the carbon trade and cobalt mining. It’s a great way to get teen readers into important issues.

The Right Thing and A Single Shot by Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor, illustrated by Arianna Vairo

Level: CEFR B1

The Right Thing

When Josh meets Trish and Suzi at their first day of college in London, little do they know that they will soon be swept up into a mystery involving the British and Yolandan governments. Luckily for them, Morrow, a British Security Service agent, takes them under his wing. But by doing so he has to decide what is the right thing to do. What will Morrow's decision mean for him? Only Control can decide.

A Single Shot

When Lewis Morrow escapes from his captors and a sure death he makes a new life for himself as a taxi driver in Paris. He thinks he has left everything behind until one day he sees three young people he once helped in London. When Josh, Trish and Suzi get into trouble, Morrow needs to decide if he will help them or let the past stay in the past. Find out what he decides in this exciting sequel to The Right Thing.

Pollution in the stories: These two exciting thrillers bring us from London to Paris to Africa, to uncover illegal copper trading. They highlight how rich industrialised countries contribute to exploitation and pollution in poorer areas of the world.

Some films to watch

Ask your students to think of books or films with an environmental/pollution theme. 

Here are five of our favourite films to start you off:

  • Bambi (1942)
  • Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
  • Erin Brockovich (2000)
  • Avatar (2005)
  • The Road (2009)