Welcome to the eleventh post in our ‘Reading for the environment’ series. Throughout the year we’re posting 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 believe 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 the beautiful theme of TREES, following the themes of WINTER, SEEDS, RAIN, RIVERS, POLLUTION, FOOD, ETHICAL TOURISM, and ANIMAL RIGHTS, ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION and a special interview with Rose Tiziana Bruno. Let’s see some language development activities and thematic projects about trees you can try in yourEnglish classes. We also have some reading tips for all levels of readers from young ones to teens and adults.
Welcome to the magical world of trees
Trees inhabit our landscapes just like human beings, defining them and giving them character. They are also highly symbolic and represent ancient wisdom and natural life force at the same time. Trees come in thousands of different shapes and forms, and learning about them offers excellent project and language development activities. We have collected some of them for your classes.
Trees can be observed, studied and researched from so many perspectives, that it is a challenge to select just a few. Start with a simple mind mapping activity and draw a tree in the middle of the whiteboard, adding different ideas to think about. For example, you can add parts of a tree, tree types, symbolism, famous trees, vocabulary related to trees . Then, you can ask students to investigate a chosen topic.
Learn about trees
First, learn the parts of different trees. Then, learn about different trees and learn how you can identify them.
Here are some basic words you will need to describe and identify trees:
- leaves / needles / foliage
You will also need to know about the names of basic tree types, such as:
- conifers - they have needles or scale-like leaves
- broadleaved trees
- deciduous trees - they lose/shed their leaves at a certain time of year
- evergreen trees - they keep their leaves throughout the year
Students can learn the names of the most typical trees in your region in English. Also check out typical trees in different countries.
- Check out British tree types on the Woodland Trust website.
- Read about American trees on the American Forests website.
Activity tip 1
Play a tree guessing game. One student describes a tree and the others have to identify it.
You can also guess tree names by looking at their silhouettes.
Activity tip 2
Tree personalities: ask students to pick a tree and describe how they imagine its personality. Are weeping willows really sad? Which trees look funny? And which ones are elegant, even majestic? It’s a good way of practising descriptions and adjectives.
The benefits of trees
Activity tip 3
Introduce the environmental benefits of trees by simply asking students to finish the sentence: Trees give us …
Here are some ways of finishing the sentences.
- clean air
- strong soil
- cool air
How do trees give us all these things? Ask students to pick one topic and do some research to find out how.
What else are trees good for? Check out this website to learn more about them.
Activity tip 4
Students can prepare a poster about the benefits of trees or their favourite trees (younger students). It is always a good idea to give clear guidelines to students about posters as this genre can seem easy but at the same time it us complex.
Here are some tips:
- choose a nice and visible font
- use two or three colours in the text
- organize the text and images so that they work well together (similar meaning next to each other)
- don't put too much text on the poster
- use your own drawings or photographs, or check that the images are copyright free
And nice examples:
Activity tip 5
When we see see visions of a future without trees in films, they tend to be dystopic and frightening. Watch some scenes from Blade Runner 2049 or Avatar to introduce the idea. To make your students realize how important trees are, ask them to imagine their neighbourhood without trees. Then, they can write a short description or story explaining what happened to the trees.
Plant a tree
If there is a possibility for you to plant a tree, you can do it as part of a long project. You will need to prepare, carry it out and then take care of the tree and observe it.
Read about how you can plant a tree and also ask the biology or science teacher for some help.
What are the most worrying threats for trees? We need to be aware of all the threats affecting trees so that we can all do our bit to protect them. How do these things below affect trees? Discuss in class and students can do some research to find out about them.
This topic is more suitable for intermediate to advanced level students.
- climate change
- inappropriate development
- a growing population
- attack from deadly tree diseases and pests
- forest fires
One of the first things we notice when travelling to a new country or continent is the treescape of a region. Treescapes are like landscapes, but they are really about the trees of a landscape. What is the typical landscape of where you live? Think about famous treescapes in Africa, America or Australia. What are they like?
You can have fun or relax by watching videos of different countrysides. On any video platform you will find good quality drone videos of landscapes and treescapes. It is also a nice idea to go on a autumn foliage trip and look around in different areas of the northern hemisphere.
In the world
There are many famous trees that will take you on a historic, cultural and geographical journey. Pick a tree from this list and find out about it. Can your students add to the list?
- The Ashbrittle Yew
- General Sherman
- Tree of Ténéré
- Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
- Major Oak
- Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree
- Liberty Tree in Boston
- Newton's Apple Tree
- Emancipation Oak in Virginia
- Charter Oak in Connecticut
Activity tip 6
If trees could talk... Pick a famous old tree and tell a short story from its perspective. What major historical events did it see? How did it feel?
In your neighbourhood
Every country, city and neighbourhood has a famous tree. Is there one near you? Find information about it.
Activity tip 7
Pick a tree that is important in your life or in your country. Describe it.
Walk around your neighbourhood and observe the trees.
Activity tip 8
Which are the rarest trees? Find out about some rare and protected trees in the world.
Trees in art, film and culture
Trees are powerful symbols in the cultural world. Ask students to think about films and paintings to find symbolic or important trees in them.
- The Whomping Willow in Harry Potter
- Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings
- Apple trees in The Wizard of Oz
- The ancient fig tree in Pan's Labyrinth
- The Truffula Trees in Lorax
- The Tree of Life in Lion King
- The Haunted Forest in Snow White
Trees in literature
Visit our blog posts to read more about trees in classic and modern literature as well as our readers.