Spring Watching - a perfect time for English language teaching

You can feel it in the misty air as you open your doors to the world first thing in the morning. The chirp and chatter of birdsong hangs in the drifting haze like a light and airy orchestra warming up to perform. The excitement and anticipation filters through the dawn chorus like the sunshine which pierces the mist, casting beams of starlight, illuminating the garden’s buds and blooms like multi-coloured stars. Spiderwebs glisten with dew in the branches and boarders. All around, milky grey gives way to shimmering blue sky as the golden sun rises, promising heat and rebirth.

Spring has sprung… Time to practice adjectives and descriptive writing again!

For those in the TEFL/ESOL world, and teachers of all descriptions, the season of rebirth is a huge resource and inspiration. It is impossible to mention Spring without referring to nature and wildlife. Spring is when the natural world confronts us at every level through our senses and experiences. The dawn of spring may seem to come mainly within the province of biology and the natural sciences, but without language how would we communicate or share our knowledge and experience of this season? As teachers of English, we can enable our students to speak of these things at an international level. We can empower students in Spain to compare their experience of Spring with students in Scotland. We can encourage learners in the Austrian Alps to keep track of climate change to compare notes with learners in the Australian Outback.

For those of us who originate in Britain, Spring also offers a glimpse into British Culture and the British psyche. The British are famous for their gardens and those gardens chart the progress of the seasons throughout the year. Perhaps they also offer an insight into the British mentality, albeit slightly eccentric at times? How many famous British writers from Beatrix Potter to William Wordsworth took inspiration from what they saw in their gardens or local environment? And in the sciences, the natural world is still understood largely through the insights of Charles Darwin.

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In modern times the naturalist David Attenborough has become an internationally renowned broadcaster and recognised authority on natural history. His documentaries for the BBC Natural History Unit are world-famous and when he speaks about climate change, people pay attention. TEFL and ESOL teachers will find much in David Attenborough’s life and work that could form the basis of research projects for their students.

The BBC, a globally recognised British institution in itself, has something more to offer English Teachers when it comes to Spring; “Springwatch.”

Springwatch and its sister shows, Autumn, Winter and Summer Watch (known collectively as The Watches) are live nature programmes broadcast seasonally every year. The main shows are broadcast at 8 pm, four nights per week for two weeks each season. They feature live cameras recording the trials and tribulations of birds as they protect their nests and the adventures of other British wildlife (which can be followed 24 hours per day on some platforms) together with longer recorded films on nature and wildlife from all around Britain. In addition to the main shows, Springwatch often has segments on other BBC shows during the day, particularly on the BBC’s children’s channel “CBeebies”. Springwatch has won several awards for these programmes. Extracts from these segments and short films can be very useful in the classroom both for the scientific and language content. Don’t worry if you live in parts of the world where this output from the BBC is unavailable without a VPN; the beauty of Springwatch is that it is backed up by a huge social media presence. It can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok and has its own website on the BBC which is packed with information and inspiring photographs that could be used as the basis and inspiration for many Spring and nature-based English lessons. The main site also has an informative blog that covers a wide variety of Spring and Nature-based issues suitable for older or more advanced students of English.

On its television shows and across its social media and online sites, Springwatch also cooperates with other wildlife organisations with surveys and projects to monitor aspects of wildlife such as the migration of birds or the emergence of butterflies from their cocoons, and there is no reason why students beyond the British Isles could not participate in some of these or set up similar surveys.

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Springwatch and similar programmes are particularly useful resources for students in cities and built-up areas where the more poetic beauty of spring may not be as obvious as it is in the countryside. This is not only because they bring the British countryside closer to them, but because these TV shows increasingly highlight how to see, record, and engage with spring and nature in more industrial landscapes.

It is hard not to be inspired by the show nature puts on for us every spring. So as our gardens burst with new colours, sounds, smells and life, we can employ a bit of that creativity in our English lessons. Of course, we should encourage our students to revise their adjectives and try to capture some of the wonders of the season in creative writing, but there is so much more we can use the medium of English to explore. We can record specific details of the flora and fauna where we live and around our schools and compare that with people who live elsewhere. We can create local projects to look after nature in our area. We can discuss the wider issues of climate change and perhaps instigate local campaigns. Beyond the obvious nature-based spring activities we can look at some of the English-speaking personalities who champion nature now or who contributed to our scientific understanding in the past. We can see how the natural world is featured in famous passages of English literature. We can think about the part that gardens play in British life and perhaps even design our own school gardens.

Spring is just bursting with new life and new ideas. Feel free to share some of your ideas in the comments below.

Written by Larry Walder

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