2. Discussing environmental issues in groups

There is strong evidence that all modern humans descended from a single population living in Africa about 150,000 years ago. Until only recently, humans lived in close harmony with nature, advancing the technologies that made their lives easier or better. Today, more modern technologies give us the power to harm or damage our world – and even its climate – in very dramatic ways.

This section looks at how you can explore with your pupils the impact we make on the world. What harms it, and what heals it? There are many plants and animals that have become extinct over time as part of natural processes, but human activity can also result in a species becoming extinct. Therefore, it is important to help pupils understand that their behaviour can have long-term effects on the Earth and our environment.

Case Study 2 tells how one teacher worked with his class to raise awareness of the effect of people on one species. In this type of activity, it is important to choose topics that are relevant to your pupils; Activity 2 helps you build up a list of these topics. This can act as a starting point for further discussion, research and action. Older pupils might extend this work to look at how the issues are reported in the media.

Try to do some background research yourself before starting this work with your pupils. What are the endangered species in your country or local area? If you have access to the Internet, it can be a great resource (see Key Resource: Using new technologies [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ), but you can also ask local experts, teachers in the local high school and other community members for help or to come in and talk to pupils.

Case Study 2: Raising awareness of endangered animals

Solomon Etuhu talks to his class about the flightless dodo of Madagascar. This was a large bird (about the size of a turkey) that ate ripe fruit that had fallen to the ground. It built its nests on the ground because there were no natural predators on the island of Madagascar. Then, more sailors started visiting the island, bringing mammals including pigs, monkeys and rats. Over the years, the number of dodos decreased and by around 1680 the last dodo died.

Mr Etuhu then organised his class into groups of four and gave each group six small cards, each with one of these phases on them:

  • Fruit trees cut down to grow other crops
  • Climate changed and became too cold for the dodo
  • More people hunting the dodo for food
  • More people picking the fruit from the trees before it ripens and falls
  • More people hunting the dodo for their feathers
  • Small mammals ate the dodos’ eggs

Mr Etuhu asked each group to read out the cards to each other and then to put them in order to explain why the dodo became extinct. He gave them 20 minutes for this task and during this time he went round each group asking them questions about their reasoning. At the end, each group shared their ideas on a class table. The most popular idea was eating the eggs and Mr Etuhu confirmed that this was indeed the most important reason for the dodo becoming extinct.

He then asked his class if they have heard of any other endangered animals. The pupils mentioned elephants, tigers, dinosaurs and local endangered animals including the wild dog, the white-throated guenon and certain plants. They decided to research several of these animals to find out the reason why their numbers are going down. They wrote letters to conservation organisations to find out more information about the local animals and make posters of their findings for the classroom walls (see Resource 4: White-throated guenon).

Activity 2: Keeping a score sheet – ‘Harm’ versus ‘Help’

‘What are we doing to the world?’ In this activity, you use this question to increase awareness of both global and local issues regarding the environment.

Use the wall at the back of the classroom to make a large score sheet – draw a table with two columns. Head one column ‘Harm’ and the other column ‘Help’ or ‘Heal’.

Every week, a different group of pupils collects last week’s old newspapers, listens to the radio news or television and finds one story or picture which shows how people are affecting the environment. You might have stories about leaking oil pipelines, burning of forests, dumping rubbish, planting young trees, opening a new road or recycling aluminum cans.

Pupils should summarise their story using these headings:

  • What is the title of the story?
  • Which part of the environment is affected? (Air, soil, water)
  • How is it affected? Is this a long-term or short-term effect? Who is responsible?

The group presents its story to the class and then adds to the score sheet in the appropriate column.

When the sections are full, the class votes for the most significant choice in each column and these get pasted into a ‘What worries us – What we like to see’ book for future reference. Think about how the group oral presentations could contribute to language assessment (see Key Resource: Assessing learning).

Section 5: Developing attitudes about our environmental impact

3. Raising environmental awareness