How to be a Greener EFL Teacher – The Environmentally Friendly Classroom

Written by: TEFL Toolkit



Time to read 5 min

As the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) kicked off this week we thought it would be worth revisiting some ways you can be a greener teacher.

So what does it mean to be green? Is it an attitude, an approach, or more about taking action? If any good has come of the last year and lockdown, it is that the environment has had time to heal somewhat. And hopefully, people have had time to reflect on this and realise what is really important to them.

I have always been a nature lover, but never really knew what it meant to care about the environment until I moved to New Zealand. With the ozone layer above them depleting, it’s difficult not to meet a Kiwi who is not passionate about the world we live in. So not only did I find myself in one of the most environmentally aware countries in the world for my first ever EFL teaching job, but I was also faced with the challenge of teaching the topic of the environment - for the week! 

Environmental Topics in the EFL Classroom

At Capital Language Academy (CLA), Wellington, we were lucky to only have to teach four afternoons, as we would finish early on a Friday, and usually, there would be two topics for the week, but the environment, rightly so, was allotted the whole week. 

Nervous and green as I was, in my first week teaching, aged just 22, I was fortunate to have a rather gregarious group of students and we started on the subject of water, namely what could we do to save water? I remember one of the suggestions was not to run the tap when cleaning your teeth. Something so simple, yet so effective! Could you imagine if every single person in the world did that; how much water would be saved? I was slightly shocked to hear one student, who shall remain anonymous, say that she couldn’t possibly do that, as she needed to let the water get warm! I never even knew this was a thing! Cleaning your teeth with warm water! 

Using Less Paper

Since that day, I have been an avid and passionate environmentalist and how could I not pass this on to my students? It is part of who I am, but how do we become greener EFL teachers? For a start and probably one of the most obvious things that springs to mind is to use less paper. It is easy, especially when we first start teaching to rely on the handout. I used to plan my lessons to the minute - of course, they would rarely go to schedule, but it was only one day when I left my EFL grammar lesson plan in the staffroom, which ironically happened to be the week we had received the memo not to leave the students alone for even a second, that panic struck! 

I was saved by Francisco, a young man from Bolivia, who asked me, ‘Prof, Niki, have you ever been to my country?’. It was like the voice of an angel! Saved! We were off! We spent the whole lesson speaking about experiences and honestly, it was probably one of the best lessons I had ever taught until that day, as it was real, fresh, and authentic. The lesson literally came to life and not one sheet of paper was used! 

Now as a more experienced teacher, I know that there is nothing people enjoy more than speaking about themselves and their experiences, even if it took a mistake for me to learn this. From that day on, I completely changed the way I taught, especially how I planned my EFL lessons. So, yes, use less paper, and make your students your resource! You can either draw upon your own experiences or those of your students to get the message or language point of the lesson across. 

Getting Out and About

If you are passionate about something, it’s hard for this not to be passed on to your students, so attitude and approach are paramount, but then taking action is what really makes the difference. With Earth Day just around the corner, why not make the environment your resource! Take your EFL class out and do something practical, such as collecting rubbish from the local river. Students can make a display of what they find, they could create posters to deter people from littering and raise awareness, and depending on the level, they could even create a proposal for the local council - how they could improve the environment. This can all be completed in English to ensure your students are using and applying the language.

Practical Classroom Projects and Activities

Also, get your students involved in recycling at school – make one of the class members responsible for the rubbish and recycling each day, so they become aware of the amount of waste. Maybe, they can try and create something with the recycling – a class competition or an upcycling project. One idea I have tried with a class of students was getting them to make a bag with an old t-shirt. It worked really well and the students were happy with what they had created. All you need is an old T-shirt and a pair of scissors – no sewing necessary! If you would like to try this, please click on the link below or look on YouTube. Practical activities like this one are perfect for practising instruction-giving and developing the student's listening skills less artificially and purposefully.

Another idea is to make your classroom the resource, create some experiments, grow some plants, and get them involved in something practical. Bring the environment to life for them. Make it something real that they can become a part of. Raise their awareness, change their approach, give them the right attitude, and take action as a class! Get them to keep a daily log of the experiment and have them write up a report on what they have done. Another real-world task that is a legitimate way of getting them to practise and understand the use of passive voice.

TEFL Toolkit’s Top Ten Green Teaching Ideas for the EFL Classroom

1. Hold your own COP26 conference. Have students represent different countries and debate what they think their role should be in meeting the aims of the conference.  

2. Rework a lesson so that it can be done without handouts.

3. Set up a craft-based or other practical project such as one of those described above.

4. Give students a real-life problem-solving task. For example, in groups, have them devise and present a practical plan to reduce traffic in their town.

5. Have students design and present a poster or handout to encourage environmental awareness. 

6. Ask students to work in groups to choose a product, then devise and present a creative way of upcycling it for a completely different use.

7. Get your students involved in an environmental project outside of the classroom and do some follow-up work based on this.

8. Do a school or classroom ‘green audit’ with your students – how can you all make your classroom or school more environmentally friendly? 

9. Do a survey of how students (and you!) travel to school - then set up a ‘Get to School Green’ day:

  • If students usually come by car, they could car-share with another student.
  • If they usually catch the bus, they could try cycling or walking instead.
  • If they walk or cycle anyway, they could try to encourage a friend to walk or cycle with them.

10. Have students research and find an amazing vegetarian or vegan recipe to share with the other students and give them two minutes to present it to the class in English. You could even get them to cook their dish at home and film ‘TV chef’ style videos on their phones.

Useful Links

UN Climate Change Conference 

Earth Day Website

How to make a bag from an old T-shirt