Global Issues in Language Education: Issue 26. Mar. 1997. (p. 9)
Teaching Conversation with Environmental Content
by Greg Goodmacher(Kwassui College, Nagasaki, Japan)
With a little imagination, teachers can create fun lessons that
integrate conversation skills with global issues content, no matter what
level the class is. Through trial, error, and determination, I have found
that many basic conversation games and activities used by EFL teachers can
be adapted to fit global issue content courses. Basically, it is a matter
of slipping global content into activities commonly used in conversation
I teach an environmental studies class which concentrates on using
environmental content and issues as a springboard for improving
communication skills. I recently wanted my students to understand and
communicate about endangered species and found the "Find Someone Who..."
activity very useful. After pre-teaching necessary vocabulary, I gave each
student a card like the following with a picture of the endangered animal
You are an African elephant.
You are endangered because of habitat destruction and poaching for your ivory.
You are an Atlantic bluefin tuna.
You are endangered because of overfishing.
Students received the following handout and then had to walk round
the class talking to classmates and writing down the name of each
endangered species they found.
Find Someone Who is...
- endangered because of poaching for fur
- endangered because of poaching for ivory
- endangered because of overfishing
- endangered because of habitat destruction
Another good speaking activity is the guessing game "20 Questions".
My environmental studies students play this to practice vocabulary related
to animal classification. One student assumes the role of an animal while
the other students ask Yes-No questions to guess what animal it is:
- Are you a mammal?
- Do you have sharp teeth?
- Are you a carnivore?
- Are you a tiger?
Jig saw activities offer another opportunity for mixing content
with conversation skills. For my environmental studies class, I cut two
sets of pictures out of a nature magazine. One set was about scientists
trying to restore bald eagles to US states where they no longer live. The
other was about marine biologists trying to preserve habitat for sea
horses. Using these pictures, I made a poster for each story and placed
these at opposite ends of the class. Alongside each poster, I placed a
cassette player and a tape recording, explaining the pictures, which I had
prepared earlier using vocabulary I felt most students would know.
After preteaching new vocabulary, I divided the class into two
groups, the eagle and sea horse groups, but assigned each student a partner
from the other group. Then, I explained that half the class would listen to
one tape while taking notes so that they could explain their pictures and
stories in pairs to the other half. Each group was allowed to play the tape
as often as they wished. Once they were ready, I paired up each eagle
student with a sea horse student and had them explain their posters and
stories to each other.
Once this was done, I asked the pairs to sit down together for a
quiz on what they'd studied. For this, I read questions about the two
stories, and gave one point for the first pair to answer each correctly.
However, within each pair, sea horse group students could only answer
questions about the eagle picture and eagle group students could only
answer questions on the sea horse story. In each pair, students could give
the answer to their partners, but the partner had to announce the correct
answer to me.
These are three examples of mixing environmental content with
conversation activities. If you're interested in these ideas, I suggest you
try them out and try integrating global issues into other activities.
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