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November 2003 - Issue No. #51 (p.14-15)

Global Issues with the UN Cyber School Bus

by Greg Goodmacher

Shinshu University, Japan

The United Nations has created one of the most valuable sites on the Web for introducing students to global issues: The United Nations Cyber School Bus. This site contains interactive games, videos, charts, slide shows, lesson plans and other resources for teachers. Though not designed for EFL/ESL purposes, by giving students language learning tasks to use with the site, students will also benefit linguistically. The purpose of this article is to illustrate ways to use this website through language lessons designed to concurrently teach global issues and develop language skills. Due to the immense amount of information on the site and its potential for educational use, I won't attempt to cover the entire site here.


The "Resources" section at the top left of the website has three parts. The first, Infonation, allows students to compare statistical data for the world's nations related to health, economy, environment and technology. Students can see data for up to five countries displayed side by side on a chart, illustrating such points as literacy rate, number of TVs per household, infant mortality rate and other factors.

To help my students practice reading charts, expressing feelings and studying about global inequalities, I assigned them to select five countries they were curious about, to read the relevant charts, to choose five pieces of information that sparked their interest in some way, and to write sentences expressing their feelings. Students wrote sentences such as:

  • I was shocked to see that the infant mortality rate for Afghanistan is so high compared to that of Japan
  • I wonder why the United States and Japan have such high carbon dioxide emissions.

This section is also useful for getting students to practice the comparative and the superlative as they compare countries and statistics.

UN Intro

Another part of the Resources section is UN intro - an introduction to the history and work of the United Nations. I believe this section is especially important, because many of my students were surprisingly ignorant regarding the UN. I used this section in two different ways with two different classes. In one class, I created a cooperative scanning activity by turning this into a UN information scavenger hunt. Students in small groups scanned for specific information such as:

  • the date the UN came into existence
  • the original number of nations

The first group to find all the answers was the winner. Teachers could make this more learner-centered by having small groups of students write their own questions and exchange them with other groups who must find the answers.

The other way I used this was as a "find the difference" reading activity. I downloaded the first page of the "UN intro" and made two documents: one for Student A and one for Student B. Then, I changed some lines of each document. Students had to take turns reading each paragraph aloud while the other student silently read his or her text. When one student noticed a difference, he or she had to inform the other student. Both then wrote the differences on their separate texts. After they finished, they discussed the differences and decided which piece of information was correct. Finally, they checked their answers with the UN intro site. Here's an example:


  • Partner A
    • The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1845, when the UN Charter had been ratified by a majority of the original 251 Member States. The day is now celebrated each year around the world as United Nations Day.
    • Partner B
      • The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, when the UN Charter had been ratified by a majority of the original 51 Member States. The day is now celebrated each month around the world as United Nations Month.

Quizzes & Games: Flags, Cities, Health

The "Quizzes and Games" section is also very useful and entertaining for students. The "Flag Tag" game asks students to guess country flags, which is useful for teaching country names and identifying national flags. I found the "Urban Facts" and "Health Game" to be useful for practicing question and answer formation as well as for teaching important information. In these games, students read questions on global topics and choose from among the answers provided. Students can do these games together in pairs and can be instructed to discuss the answers. Teachers can provide models of useful language such as:

  • "Which answer do you think is correct?"
  • "Why do you think answer A is correct?"
  • "Great choice!"
  • "Better luck next time!"
  • "That was a lucky guess!"
Videos and Slide Shows: HIV/AIDS

The site also provides listening and reading practice through short videos and slide shows with powerfully affective content. World Health Day, International Women's Day and Literacy are some of the topics available. I was impressed with the video clip on HIV/AIDS, so I created a series of questions for students to answer while listening:

  • How many people have HIV/AIDS?
  • How many will die this year from the virus?
  • The number of people dying is the same as the population of a major world city. What city?
  • Which continent will be the hardest hit?
  • How many have HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean?
  • How many Caribbean kids have been orphaned?

The site provides many useful exercises and texts connected to the slide shows and videos. To supplement the AIDS video, students can take a quiz on AIDS or read st ories of children growing up HIV positive. There's also infor-mation on preventing AIDS and valuable links.


At the top right of the site is the "Curriculum" section. This provides teachers with teaching plans and materials for a variety of global issues. Poverty, landmines, peace education, and human rights are a small sample of the topics covered. Many topics include interactive exercises for students.


Another valuable area is the "Gallery" section. Here, students can learn about the lives and dreams of other students and about people who work for the UN. This includes:

On Being Myself

The section On Being Myself can be used as a source for reading and discussion texts.

Pictures of Peace

The section Pictures of Peace can be used to have students practice their descriptive abilities. Two students could look at pictures on the site with the task of telling their partner which picture to click on. Then they could discuss their impressions of each picture.

UN Staff Photos / Cities of the World

The same could be done with the sections UN Staff Photography and Cities of the World. In addition, students could create stories to go with the photos that interest them. This could be done in either writing or discussion class.

Peace Flag Project

The "Peace Flag Project" section could serve as a model for similar project work in class. Students could explain the symbolism they used in designing their peace flags.

The UN Cyber School Bus offers so much information it could be the basis for an entire course. For most of us, we can pick and choose the best sections from this valuable resource. If you have any ideas of your own on how to use this website for teaching global issues and language skills, please share them!

Since this article was printed, some of the weblinks listed may have changed, affecting the activities. In this case, readers should make efforts to adapt the ideas given.

Greg Goodmacher is author of the EFL text "Nature and the Environment" and an active member of the GILE SIG.

Greg Goodmacher, Oita Prefectural College of Arts and Culture, Department of International Culture, Oita, Japan


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