Eco English: 5 Earth Day Activities for Your ESL Classroom
Ever feel like there’s more you could be doing for the environment?
Every few weeks, I like to wake up early on a Saturday morning and pick up trash along the beach. But no matter how often I do it, there’s always going to be more the next day.
Protecting the environment takes more than just picking up trash every now and then. While every bit helps, the best way to make an impact is with education.
By teaching the dangers of littering and pollution, you can encourage others to reduce waste and live a greener lifestyle.
And then you can spend your mornings strolling along the beach instead of picking up trash.
Let’s look at some ESL activities you can use to get your students speaking English while learning about environmental responsibility this Earth Day.
Eco English: 5 Earth Day Activities for Your ESL Classroom
1. Watch and Discuss Three Rs Videos
The whole basis of Earth Day is to teach about the importance of conserving resources and cutting back on waste. Teaching the three Rs—reduce, reuse and recycle—drives this point home in a way that’s especially beneficial for English students:
- It provides essential vocabulary that’s catchy and easy to remember.
- The three Rs have a mini pronunciation lesson built right in, thanks to the alliteration and variety of vowel sounds.
- The three Rs give students a glimpse into native English culture and education, as this concept is well known in the English-speaking world.
Fortunately for English educators, the popularity of the three Rs also means there are many relevant resources you can bring into an Earth Day ESL lesson. Below are a couple of our favorites, for both younger and older students.
“Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, to Enjoy a Better Life”
If you’re teaching elementary students about the three Rs, the Happy Learning English YouTube channel has a great video teaching children the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling.
Since the video was created specifically for ESL students, the language is simple and easy to understand. The narrator speaks slowly and clearly, and there are plenty of visual aids to help students better understand the context of the video.
The video also gives a number of great examples on how you can apply the three Rs in everyday life, like:
- Reducing waste by bringing bags to the grocery store.
- Recycling things you no longer use, like old electronics, glass bottles and sheets of paper.
- Reusing old items, like turning cardboard boxes into storage containers or repurposing one-sided sheets of paper.
After playing this video in class and talking briefly about the principles it covers, have your students talk about ways they can reduce, recycle and reuse.
If you want to practice writing, have the students write three paragraphs, one for each R, on how they plan to reduce waste, recycle more and reuse items lying around the house.
“PSA Recycling Ad”
This video, which tells the story of a plastic bottle that goes from the trash to the recycling center, is great for teens and adults. It’s helpful for showing students just how important it is to reduce unnecessary waste, recycle and reuse items instead of throwing them away.
The video clip also does a great job stressing the importance of recycling and how easy it is to protect the environment if everyone would take the time to recycle more.
After watching the video with your students, have them practice their speaking by talking about the clip and its relation to the three Rs. You can get them talking by asking questions like:
- How can you reduce trash so there aren’t as many plastic bottles?
(Drink more from cups and glass bottles…)
- Why is it important to recycle plastic bottles?
(They take a long time to break down, plastic can be dangerous to the environment…)
- What are some ways to reuse plastic bottles?
(Storage containers, flower pots…)
And once you’ve finished your speaking exercise, let your students get some writing practice using the video and the concept of the three Rs as inspiration. This way, they’ll be able to think more critically about ways they can help protect the planet. Some examples of good writing topics include:
- Why is it important to recycle?
- What happens if we don’t recycle?
- What are some ways you can reuse and recycle more?
Interactive Environmental Videos on FluentU
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
You can keep reusing FluentU long after Earth Day has passed—there are tons of real-world videos, organized by genre and learning level, that you can use to teach new vocabulary sets or help students apply skills you’ve already introduced.
2. Read Earth-focused Books and Articles
Adding some reading activities to your ESL Earth Day lesson is perfect for helping students build their vocabulary and reading comprehension skills, while giving them the invaluable opportunity to learn more about how they can care for the environment.
Here are three resources that can help your students improve their reading, speaking and writing.
“The EARTH Book”
Perfect for elementary students, “The EARTH Book” teaches how to take care of the environment with simple present-tense sentences in a repetitive format. You’ll read sentences such as:
- “I take the schoolbus and ride my bike because I love the stars and I want the air to be clear so I can see them sparkle.”
- “I try to eat every bite on my plate and save my leftovers because I love watching things grow and I want there to be enough food for everyone.”
After your students read over the book in class, have them practice their writing by making a list of ways they can reduce waste using the same format from the book. You can provide a fill-in-the-blank worksheet that sets up the sentences and provides key vocabulary for them to incorporate.
“The Giving Tree”
“The Giving Tree” is a classic English-language children’s story that shows the relationship between a boy and a tree. In the story, the tree gives fruit and wood to the boy for years. By the time the child grows into an adult, the tree has given all that it has to give and the boy is left with nothing more than a stump.
“The Giving Tree” is an excellent book to add to any ESL Earth Day lesson. It’s written in a way that’s easy enough for beginners to understand, but the book’s overall message about the importance of conservation makes it suitable for students of all ages and skill levels.
After finishing the book, have your students discuss ways that the character could’ve been more environmentally conscious. Because of the boy’s actions, the tree could no longer bear fruit and provide shade. Have your students discuss or write ways that the boy could’ve prevented this from happening.
This is also a great opportunity to practice modals:
- He should have planted new trees.
- He should have built his house with bricks instead.
- He should have recycled old materials to make a boat.
The Paris Climate Accord
If you’re teaching teenage and adult students, covering the Paris Climate Accord is a great way to talk about Earth Day while teaching important current events.
This article from News in Easy English is perfect for beginners and pre-intermediate ESL students to read about the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. And if your class is geared towards intermediate and advanced learners, have them read this Time Magazine article that goes in-depth into climate change and the potential consequences following the U.S.’s departure from the Paris agreement.
After your students finish the reading assignment, have them practice their speaking and critical thinking skills by dividing the class into groups of three or four and having a classroom debate. Half of the groups should argue in favor of the U.S.’s decision to withdraw from the Accord and the other half will be the opposition.
3. Create ESL Earth Day Posters
Creating Earth Day posters is a fun way to let students be creative while practicing their English writing skills. With basic arts and craft supplies like poster board, crayons and markers, you and your students can make posters talking about the importance of conservation and recycling.
One effective way to make sure your students practice their English while making posters is to break them into small groups of three or four and then give each group a specific topic.
For example, one group might need to make a poster on how to reduce waste, while another group would cover recycling or how to reuse old items. Depending on their proficiency level, you may want to provide a list of key vocabulary to include as well. After each group has finished their poster, have them give a short presentation to the class to provide speaking practice as well.
Advanced and adult students can even practice their persuasive English writing by creating PSA-style posters. Here are some examples of authentic English Earth Day ads to use as inspiration.
4. Research Pollution Problems
Research assignments are a great way for intermediate and advanced students to practice their English and learn more about the environment outside of the classroom. For this activity, have the students spend a few days to a week researching pollution problems around the world. This can be something like:
- The BP oil spill in 2010
- Air pollution in parts of China
- Plastic floating in the ocean
The idea is to have your students spend some time learning about one instance of pollution and how it impacts a local community or the world as a whole, and then have them think about ideas on how to prevent it or reverse the damage.
You can then set aside a day in class where students take turns presenting their information and asking one another questions. That way, the research assignment allows students to practice their reading and their speaking skills.
5. Send an Email as a Concerned Citizen
A great way to have your students play an active role in protecting the environment while practicing their writing skills is to have them write an email to various environmental agencies, like:
Have your students address some environmental concerns in their email, and also ask how they can help to protect the environment in their own lives.
If you’re teaching beginners who don’t quite have the writing skills to craft an email individually, have each student in the class say or write one thing they want to be included in the email, like a question about how to cut back on waste or a concern about pollution. Then work as a class or put them in small groups to write an email incorporating those ideas and questions.
The great thing about ESL Earth Day activities is that they give you a chance to really make a difference outside of the classroom.
Along with helping your students learn how to improve their English skills, you’re also teaching them how to be responsible citizens who’re committed to creating a brighter future for everyone.