ELT in A Globalized World

by Ricardo SampedroGISIG Newsletter No. 192006

The author demonstrates how to localise global themes in the English coursebook with two detailed examples, so that teachers can engage students more in the learning process, to generate more live language for their immediate use, and to raise their awareness and responsibility as global citizens in the future.

Xiaobing Wang

ELT in A Globalized World

Ricardo Sampedro

When I was invited to write this piece for the Global Issues SIG Newsletter the first thing that came to my mind was ‘pitch’. Who is going to read this and what are the assumptions on which this article will be judged? Acknowledging that most GI newsletter readers are familiar with global issues, their scope and meaning brought about instant relief.

The second point to tackle was the absence of visual support, on which I rely extensively in my sessions. So I thought I should write with the target readership in mind but trying to reduce examples and explanations to the barest essentials. I hope the reader will not find this patronising.

The stark and undisputable starting point is the ever widening gap in between the highly advanced technological society part of us live in and the unacceptable destitution common to the majority world, a world literally fenced out from a decent living.

Nearly 40 years after ‘humankind’ first landed on the moon, one child dies every three seconds from poverty-related causes for which cures exist. So, are we serious when we so very often mention a number of global issues in national curricula? Should the teaching of global issues be limited to providing students with technical data and anonymous statistics or should we use these, which affect everyone on the planet, as content for the development of key life skills, such as social awareness and critical thinking?

‘But, hold on. Aren’t we talking about ELT? Wasn’t the aim of our profession to provide students with the necessary language skills so that they can use English to communicate with others? The assumptions above are in no way related to my job, I am just a teacher of English.’

‘Not just so’, your conscience might whisper.

My point of view is that if we are serious about education, then teaching language skills is but part of our responsibilities as professionals involved in a process which goes far beyond the teaching of specific language items and structures. If we feel that the world we share could be one inch better, then there is a lot to be done. And this, rather than an obstacle or interference, represents a fantastic opportunity to boost students’ interest, to raise awareness of and work with issues that are part of their daily lives, and to convey a new dimension to our profession. Hence the title of this article. I think it is high time we discussed in a dramatically new light the role ELT is called to play in the present world.

In the last 20 years or so, ELT has spanned bridges to other curriculum areas such as environmental matters, consumer issues and cross-cultural awareness but very often failed to address those issues in earnest. And that problem is not exclusive to ELT. Over the years we have been taught that famine is something very bad that affects people in some very poor countries and over which we have no responsibility whatsoever, and that the best we can do to alleviate this is to donate some of our pocket money to aid organisations. The feel good element then becomes the driving force behind our actions. No hints as to the causes of hunger or drought, the effects of global warming throughout the world, or the political implications both of conflicts and of aid, debts or the control of global food and resources. No recourse to critical thinking or social awareness. This is a clear case of ‘ignorance is bliss’ through formal education.

But assuming that you agree with me that we need to expand the scope of our profession, what do we need then in order to work with Global Issues in the ELT classroom?

First and foremost, awareness. Then we need to have information on the global issue in question but with the advent of the information superhighway sources must be checked for reliability. Our critical thinking skills must then be brought into the picture. If they have been dormant for much too long, it will be high time we slapped them awake. They will come handy in your daily life too. Once you have a clear idea as to who you trust or whose standpoint you feel most comfortable with, it is time to take action and to start working with Global Issues in your classroom.

Now the good thing about working with Global Issues is the incredible wealth of teaching resources we can make good use of – coursebook units, graded readers, realia, Internet downloads, music, literature from reliable NGOs, etc. All you need to do is go one step forward and explore the issues in question with greater depth establishing links to other issues and resources.

I will focus on just a couple of examples based on different teaching materials:


The ELT coursebook you use this year, for example, features in chapter 9, ‘Clothes and Shopping’, a reading passage on on-line shopping. The first three paragraphs address some consumer-related aspects such as how many people buy on-line, what they buy and how this activity ranks in the leisure activity ranking. The fourth and final paragraph goes like this:

Don’t forget, we are talking about the rich part of the world. The majority of people in the world don’t have on-line shopping, credit cards or extra money. So, next time you are buying another thing on-line that you don’t really need, click on the Hunger Site and give a donation to someone who doesn’t have enough to eat!

This I see as a fantastic opportunity to turn a reading passage into a springboard to Global Issues. The passage lends itself very well to a debate or discussion about our consumer society, about the things we are made to believe we need in order to be happier, more successful, more attractive, etc, etc. Or you could talk with your students about the meaning of donations, and then talk about the difference between ‘aid’ and ‘social justice’. Between ‘handouts’ and ‘creating the necessary conditions so that all people can have a life of their own regardless of colour, creed, passport, geography and gender’.

Going one step further

Or you could take the issue one step forward and invite students to access the Hunger Site, asking your class to click on the ‘Donate Food’ button and opening up a new window on the world: Students will be engaged in a task with a real purpose:

  • They will get a ‘thank you’ message from the Hunger Site, conveying a feeling of purposefulness and personal satisfaction
  • They will access a website whose primary concern is solidarity
  • They will learn new and specific vocabulary
  • They will be doing this task using IT
  • Your coursebook will take a new dimension as it will have now become the starting point for working with Global Issues

The more seasoned teacher could perhaps explore the issue of hunger in greater depth, what and who generates it, the available means to put an end to it, where it is more severe, what organisations or groups of people are working to stop it, etc.

Making the Match

The other key aspect of working with Global Issues is making the match between the issue we want to explore and the myriad of teaching resources available, many of which you can obtain for free or you have already got somewhere at school or at home.

In the example above, asking students to do some Internet research on hunger is a good starting point. You could also work with media literacy by asking the class to bring many magazine adverts and then analysing their meaning, their true messages. Remember that advertising is one of the key players in our consumer society. Since we know that in general terms motivation among teenagers can be in short supply, we can use music and songs to boost their interest. You could, for example, work with the following ideas:

  • What musical event took place recently in different parts of the world to fight poverty and hunger? (the G8 Live concerts)
  • Where and when did they take place? (London, Rome, Paris, Moscow, Philadelphia, Johannesburg, Barrie, Tokyo and Berlin)
  • Why was this event called G8? (the G8 nations plus Russia were then holding a series of meetings on which poverty would be discussed as a world problem)
  • Who organised the event? Had they organised anything similar before? (the event organisation had a clear front man – Bob Geldof, who in 1985 had organised the famous Live Aid concert which raised over $ 100 million to fight famine in Ethiopia)
  • Who took part in the different concerts? (Bono, Bob Geldof, Madonna, Paul Mc Cartney, Green Day, Coldplay, Keane, Pink Floyd, REM, Laura Pausini, U2, Velvet Revolver, Robbie Williams, Bruce Cockburn, Elton John, Pet Shop Boys and many more)
  • Do you know any of this bands and musicians? Do you listen to their songs? Is there any particular song you would like to bring to class so we can listen to?
  • Has the world situation in relation to hunger and poverty changed since 1985? Why?

More links

The obvious first one is music itself. Ask students to suggest songs they would like to work with at a later class. Write the names of the songs on the board. Ask students to vote for a song other than their own. The song with more votes is the winner, which you should check for feasibility before actually using it. This is very simple and the benefits are wide-ranging:

  • As the student who suggested the winner song will bring the lyrics and CD to class, he/she will have a share of the responsibility over the overall activity.
  • Other students can bring in information on the song, the band, band members’ standpoints in relation to given issues, etc.
  • Students will teach you something about things they are interested in, and talking about their favourite bands will give them the chance to express their own ideas about world issues.
  • You can establish a link to democratic processes, or to the concept of democracy itself. Elicit what they think this means. Then go on to explain that democracy is not just going to the polling station every four or five years – explain that this entails rights and responsibilities, accepting other people’s ideas, and that the wish of the majority is to be respected. Point to the democratic nature of this activity.

The list of possible links both to other issues and teaching resources is never ending. As a follow up, you could use a song you choose, for example No Power Without Accountability (NPWA), by Billy Bragg and in addition to exploring some of the many issues addressed in it, you can challenge students to find a song by their favourite band that deals with similar topics. The process above can be repeated. You will have used a song they perhaps did not know to prompt a search based on issues and topics, and further research into their favourite bands’ standpoints will surely ensue.

So far, we have taken a reading passage from an ELT coursebook as the starting point and by exploring some of the issues addressed in it we have been able to take a number of avenues that eventually led us to work with music and songs. However, I am not saying that we can always find the right time and resources to explore all or even several of the issues that come up along the way, and we should avoid the temptation of putting in too much, in a too limited period of time. To avoid teething problems, be realistic and go little by little until you feel confident enough to push limits a bit further.

I have deliberately excluded examples with graded readers, magazines or many other very commonly used teaching resources in the hope that this short piece will have sparked some interest. And if this is the case, we have now the perfect excuse for future articles.

So, in essence, Global Issues in the ELT classroom is about opportunities, wide avenues and personal choices – opportunities to promote awareness, interest and engagement in a number of ways; and the choice to be part of a world teaching community where money and profit do not take precedence over real education, social justice and life itself.

Allow me to conclude with a very loose translation of a marvellous piece written by Uruguayan writer, historian and thinker, Eduardo Galeano:

Though we humans are far from perfect, there is still room for improvement. And it is the adventure of changing things and ourselves that gives a new dimension to this glimpse in the history of the universe that we, humans, are.’


The reading passage on on-line shopping was taken from Unit 9, Clothes and Shopping’ in Platform 1, published by Mc Graw Hill.

To visit the Hunger Site, go to www.hungersite.com
To access the Song Index for ELT Teachers, where you can find over 300 songs arranged per Global

Issues and English language levels, go to www.educationforachange.com.

Billy Bragg’s ‘No Power Without Accountability’ is featured on ‘England, Half English’.

To obtain more information on global issues you can visit the following websites: www.globalissues.org, www.worldwatch.org, www.newint.org, www.oneworld.net and access their ‘topic guides’.

Global Issues, by Ricardo Sampedro & Susan Hillyard, published by Oxford University Press for further ideas on the exploitation of global issues.

Rick Sampedro is a teacher trainer specialising in global issues and values; co-author of Global Issues, published by Oxford University Press (2004). In 2000 he launched a teacher training project geared to the promotion of work with global issues and values in the ELT classroom. He has given training courses and talks in Argentina, Spain (where he is now based), the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Serbia and the United Kingdom. He is currently working on a second book, this one on the exploitation of songs from a social perspective.


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