Climate change may seem like a topic too complex for language learners, but I’ve found it’s the perfect catalyst for diving deep into the Communication goal area recommended by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Here are ways I’ve met my objectives for interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication when teaching about climate change.
I stay in the target language. By using comprehensible input techniques such as pictures, images, graphs, symbols, and pantomime, students can understand almost any climate change topic. I also find out what students are learning in science so I can incorporate terminology and concepts they’ll readily recognize.
I scaffold materials to the level of the class by identifying cognates and using familiar vocabulary. My novice students describe colors and numbers in pie charts and read labels. My intermediate students rank ideas and match causes and effects. My advanced students analyze articles, graphs, and audio to draw conclusions.
I keep it communicative, incorporate student choice, and make it fun. My students survey the class, participate in design challenges, explore target language websites, or choose activities from a choice board. When I don’t have time to create a game, I assign my students to make one for the class!
I give students the language they need to express themselves. I provide students with sentence stems and phrases. I apply leveled grammatical strategies in the context of actual climate challenges. For example, novice students use expressions of obligation to talk about what should happen, intermediate students use commands, and advanced students use the subjunctive.
I keep it real. I present students with simple, up-to-date, thought-provoking resources or use current events about climate change as a bell ringer. I avoid outdated or superficial materials. I challenge students to defend their ideas and insist they demonstrate mastery of the facts.
I teach students how to think, not what to think. I allow debate to flourish and help students listen and make evidence-based assertions. I avoid sharing my opinion and prefer that students come to their own conclusions.
I lean into difficult topics. My students perk up when given the chance to explore real-world issues. Students are eager to talk about themselves and curious about how climate change infiltrates their daily lives and impacts others.
In my experience, climate change themes never fail to engage students while providing them with meaningful contexts for developing their language skills.
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.