To design lessons that address climate change, I always begin with the 5 C’s from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Communication: I base interpretive activities on original target language materials or multilingual websites. I avoid materials translated from English into the target language. Many countries have environmental ministries that produce relatively simple audiovisual materials on climate change that are perfect for language learners. Some multilingual sites I’ve used include the United Nations, which publishes materials in five languages, and the Goldman Prize, which recognizes climate activists from across the globe.
Cultures: I create essential questions that connect climate and cultures. A good essential question can inspire student-driven inquiry and provide practice for intercultural competency skills. For example, are there cultural products, practices, or perspectives that mitigate or exacerbate climate change? How has climate change transformed cultural products, practices, or perspectives?
Connections: I think beyond the typical units on the environment. Disparate topics such as food, clothing, holidays, shopping, daily routines, immigration, and architecture can all be enriched by introducing questions about climate change. My students learn about low-impact ingredients in traditional foods, discover the global journey of clothing, and rate modes of transportation based on greenhouse gas emissions.
Comparisons: I root lessons locally and draw on students’ experiences. Often I’ve found students have limited knowledge of local flora and fauna or are unaware of climate challenges in their own communities. Understanding one’s home forms the basis for cultural comparison.
Communities: I look for ways students can use their language skills in real-world contexts. Local environmental organizations often welcome collaboration on projects that target multilingual communities. My students gain cross-border perspectives when we explore migratory birds, participate in international ocean clean-up days, or role-play COP negotiations.
I teach languages because I believe understanding languages and cultures can be a conduit for creating a more just, equitable, and joyful world. Teaching about climate change moves my classes towards a deeper understanding of our shared planet and the steps we can take together to confront this crisis.
About the Author: Liz Ransom
As a high school Spanish teacher and student newspaper advisor, Liz has taught over 20 years and has served as World Languages Department Chair and K-6 summer camp activities leader. She has worked in Ohio, Maine, New Jersey, Maryland, and Chile.