Teaching global issues to teens in an engaging way

by Anastasia Khodakova

Global Issues SIG Newsletter, issue 37: Dec 2017

It is not a secret that teenagers do not like being told what’s good and what’s bad. They like to decide for themselves and challenge grown-ups’ views. Then, how can we teach them sustainable development, social responsibility, equality and other important global issues? How can we ensure that our words are heard and lessons are taken seriously? In this article, I would like to share some tips from my personal experience of teaching teens global issues.

Tip #1. Look through the calendar to surprise them. International Day for Tolerance (November 16), International Men’s Day or World Migratory Bird Day, International Thank You Day (January 11) are popular among teenagers, so such celebrations in your class can become remarkable traditions.

Tip #2. Use visuals and media. This generation is growing, while posting pictures in Instagram and enjoying live broadcasts; so video, images, catchy advertising send the message right into their young minds. Videos or images can be used for warm-up or initiating a heated discussion. A few of my favourites are: 1) Ads by Pantene (Labels against women – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc3-QYduUTg) 2) Film English lessons (e.g. My shoes – http://film-english.com/2013/09/04/my-shoes/, The Other pair – http://film- english.com/2016/03/30/the-other-pair/).

Tip #3. Practical experience is the key. Students learn when they do real things. Project work is the most common way to make lessons real. For example, when reading the text about trash sculptures and discussing 3R (reduce, reuse, recycle) principles, we made butterflies from old magazines for decorating the classroom. When raising the issues of poverty in the developing countries (Molly’s World lesson – https://www.wfpusa.org/wp- content/uploads/2016/08/Mollys-World-Lesson-Plan-on-International-Womens-Day.pdf), our students recorded video introductions of girls in the group for Molly. When discussing endangered species and plants on Earth day, we planted seeds and watched how they grew afterwards. When speaking about waste reduction, the students collected used paper and bottle tops, and volunteered to restore the forest in Tolstoy’s estate. After talking about Random Acts of Kindness day, our students drew posters with community project ideas and defended them. On National Bird day, the students made bird feeders and hung them in the park. These are just a few examples of projects which help teens become more aware of global issues.

Tip #4. Involve them in a game. During our intensive summer school, we developed several quests and games with tasks on sustainable development; we then divided our
students into teams and organized lessons in the form of a competition. The topic of our summer school was “Mission possible: interstellar ride to save planet Earth”. We invented a legend and every day the students uncovered the plot little by little. They designed their colony on Mars, they had a fight with aliens and flew to Earth to warn its inhabitants of ecological dangers. For the warnings, they created comic strips in an online application, devoted to different environmental problems.

To conclude, I believe it is not only enough to bring up global issues in the classroom, but it is also the teacher’s task to engage students and reach their hearts and souls with such lessons to help them develop as global citizens.

About the author

Anastasia Khodakova, PhD, is an associate professor in Tula State Lev Tolstoy Pedagogical University (Russia). She initiated and co-ordinated local and national EFL projects on creating tolerance-related materials in 2011-2015.

Anastasia won the GISIG Esther Lucas scholarship to attend the IATEFL Conference at Brighton, 2018.

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