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June 1996 - Issue No. #23 (p.23)

Environmental Awareness: EFL, Portuguese, and History

The following article is based on a presentation given at the TESOL'96 conference in Chicago, USA.

by Marli Merker Moreira

Universidade do Vale dos Sinos, Brasil

From 1993-1995, my teacher trainees and I carried out a series of language learning projects aimed at raising the cultural and environmental awareness of elementary school pupils in Brazil. For this, children looked at documentary film from the 1930s, then talked to older people in the community to compare what life and the environment were like in the past as compared to the present. The project involved both the mother tongue (Portuguese) and English.

Who Active members of the project were (a) college students of Portuguese at a private Jesuit university with a minor in EFL enrolled in EFL Teacher Training Practice, (b) 118 elementary school students from local public schools

History History was chosen as a motivating element and a means of looking at the environment to raise ecological awareness and respect for the traditional values of the local culture.

Portuguese Using children's first language, Portuguese, was a way of validating students' national identity and giving them freedom to learn (feel+think+ act+interact) beyond their EFL knowledge. It served as a knowledge base to stimulate interest in performing in EFL and to bring children closer to their "here & now" (in this case, their "here & yesterday"). Mother tongue and foreign language don't have to be enemies - Portuguese can help EFL and EFL can help Portuguese.

Proficiency Aims Listening (simple statements), speaking (basic conversation), reading (simple connected material); writing (expressing basic ideas about themselves and their families); culture (awareness of the existence of cultures other than their owns, awareness of their own past as citizens, awareness of the importance of preserving the environment)

Materials Teaching materials were: 1. Old reels of silent documentary movies (1934-37) found at the local historical museum covering important local events of that time and scenes from a local school, 2. Old and new family pictures about events, the environment, celebrations, school, town life, etc. brought into class by student teachers and their pupils.

How First, student-teachers edited the 1930s film onto video for the parts considered more meaningful to the children and their school EFL program. The images selected were a 1930s trip by bus from Porto Alegre to Sao Leopoldo, scenes from the 1934 State fair and scenes of life in a 1930s girls' boarding school. Slides, pictures and transparencies were made from the film, and from old newspapers and magazines. To contrast with the past, videos were made of the local surroundings and modern pictures obtained of the local community. After watching the video, the children talked about how they had felt, what they had noticed, what they would have done if they had lived in those times, and the very different culture, fashions and life style of 1930s Brasil.

Home assignments concerned studying family history, old traditions, family recipes, spooky "true stories" of the town and interviews with the older generation for information on rivers, air and water quality, fishing and hunting, forests and animal life and the general state of the environment in the past. Children worked in groups, cooperating within and among groups.

Why As a teacher trainer I have always been concerned with the future of my student-teachers. I believe it is my duty to help them consider not only the teaching-learning process but also the implications of their teaching for global issues such as cultural preservation and the environment.

Conclusion These experiments have motivated me to try again, perhaps this time with more emphasis on the environment and the peaceful interaction of cultures and peoples. The students' community will serve once more as a microcosm from which students can draw conclusions and protocols of action for a better world.


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