Exploring the other 3Rs with YLs

By Xana de Nagy

My session at the recent IHWO Young Learners Conference at IH Reggio Calabria was on this and in this article, I’m going to focus on some practical ideas for exploring the idea of ‘reuse, reduce and recycle’ in the YL classroom. At the conference, I attended many inspirational sessions run by great speakers from all across the IH network, and some of the ideas that follow were inspired by what I saw and heard in Reggio.

There is a lot of talk about sustainability in life and there are many new courses on sustainability in education right now. All of us at some point do or have done many projects on this subject with our younger learners. This made me think about how we could expand the idea to increase opportunities in ELT in terms of teaching, training and running schools. Are we making good use of the 3Rs? What are we already doing, what more can we do and what can we do better to make the most of our learners, resources, teachers, classrooms and schools?

Recycling, Reusing

One of things I talked about in my session was that as teachers we are constantly reusing and recycling ‘old’ tried and tested materials and activities in our lessons. This means that with any luck you will recognise some of the following ideas as activities that you already do. Hopefully some of them will jog your memory and some of them may be a ‘new look’ at an ‘old favourite’.

Like most people, I have recently become more aware of the impact we are having on the world. My own children, some ex-trainees and a teacher currently working with me, are all very passionate about reducing the amount of plastic we use, our consumption of food and the impact that we are having on the oceans. This has made me rethink what I do. I shop at the market every week and used to take home on average 20+ plastic bags, I started to try to reduce this and discovered that some stalls had paper bags. That helped a little, but then I was given some cloth bags as a gift and have started to use these instead. It has taken a few weeks and I still have to refuse the plastic bags, but I can proudly say that I now come home with NO plastics bags at all and even refuse plastic
bottles in restaurants, etc.

What about you and your young learners? What do you do? Here are some sustainable ideas.

1. Questionnaires

Start with the classic questionnaire/survey – find out about your learners’ habits. How much plastic do they use? Do they recycle at home? Do they care? Do you recycle at your school?

Suggested Procedure:

  • Have the learners brainstorm the questions and make their own survey;
  • Use the results to bring in an element of cross-curricular teaching and have them produce a pie chart or graph;
  • Get them to interview their families (making homework fun), another class, the teachers in school;
  • Have a ‘who can collect the most plastic’ competition in class.

2. Using stories to inspire a look at the 3 Rs

One of the sessions I went to, given by IH Reggio teachers – Francesca Berlen and Aika Fortunato – was on YLs and the Magic of stories. The session included many excellent ideas on using stories with VYLs and also how to help prepare our young learners for Movers and Flyers. This reminded me of some old favourites of mine…

a. An ‘old’ reader How to Save the World in a Week by Julie Ashworth and John Clark-Nelson (1994) and part of the Footsteps series – this is a great story and it is still incredibly relevant. All the same issues that were important back then are important now. The images are great and there is very little text. The message is conveyed by the amazing illustrations by Mérel and the story follows a little girl through her week of trying to implement some of the 3Rs and not getting it quite right.
b. Charlie and Lola – Look after your planet by Lauren Child – Puffin 2008. This is another great story where Lola is trying to get all her friends at school to help her recycle and save the planet.

These or any of the many books out there on this topic would be a great source of material for a lesson and/or project:

Suggested Procedure:

  • Read the story as a class or, if available, watch the video;
  • Exploit the story to focus on language – adjectives (happy, worried, angry, sad, excited); verbs (recycle, reuse, reduce, pick up, throw away; nouns (rubbish, plastic, paper, bottle bank, trees); prepositions (in, on, into, out of), etc;
  • Both stories involve some sort of project – recreate these in the class with your learners;
  • Get them to make their own mini books reporting on the results of their project.

3. Poetry

Another session at the conference was The Sound Collector by Roderick Fraser from IH Ancona & Jesi. In this session, Roderick gave us many ideas for exploiting poetry with young learners.

One of my favourite poets is Michael Rosen and I never tire of using his poems with my learners both young and ‘old’. In his book Centrally Heated Knickers (Penguin, 2000), he has a whole section on the environment with 25 poems. Any of these could be exploited in the classroom by reusing or recycling the many ideas we have all come across over the years. Some of the poems are very short and simple and could be used with YLs. You can also find some that are a little more complex and would be great to use with groups of teens.

Suggested Procedure:

  • Lots of interesting use of language to exploit – rhyming words, word families, invented words, etc;
  • Use the poem as a model and inspiration to write your own;
  • Do some research around the theme of the poem;
  • Act it out.

4. Songs

Jack Johnson’s ‘The 3Rs’ can be used with YLs and teens to focus on the topic and I’m sure there must be many songs that do the same.

Suggested Procedure:

  • Play bingo – brainstorm ‘R’ words around the subject of sustainability, choose 6, fill in a grid and have the learners listen to the song to play bingo;
  • Brainstorm ideas to reuse, reduce and recycle and then listen to tick of the suggestions in the song;
  • Learners write their own verse with their ideas;
  • There is a little bit of maths in the song – exploit this and do some more, write coded messages;
  • With VYLs, watch the video and sing along, etc.

To Finish

Can you reuse, recycle some of these ideas with your learners? Have you got other ideas that you can share with teachers in your school or across the network? If so, hopefully this will contribute to reducing some of our preparation time. And it can’t hurt that using this topic in class with our learners will help a little to raise awareness and, as Lola says, ‘save the planet’. Have fun!

Author's Bio:  Lara works as Director of Modern Languages at IH London. She has taught and trained teachers in the UK and Italy since 1992. She has extensive experience in the private sector and holds the RSA DTEFLA. Lara works on course design, materials provision, and teaching methodology. She mentors IH London trainers to make sure that they are fully supported and able to both meet and exceed client needs and expectations.


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