ESL etc.

Global Issues and Activism in English Language Teaching

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Beyond Doom and Gloom: Including Solutions to Climate Change

March 23rd, 2017 by Dave · No Comments

I recently attended a webinar by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The webinar introduced some new teaching materials aimed at helping students understand how they could take productive actions related to climate change. I like this approach, as I’ve found in my own teaching that simply teaching about problems can be disheartening — it’s important to offer solutions as well.

The unit includes a short video, a powerpoint, and some assignment ideas.

→ No CommentsTags: climate change · global issues activities · lesson plans · listening · reading · slideshow · video

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Reacting to the Past

April 3rd, 2015 by Dave · 1 Comment

The Trial of GalileoI just read this account of an English teachers experience participating in a conference session using Reacting to the Past. Reacting to the Past is an approach to teaching history and critical thinking skills using historical roleplays.

From their pedagogical introduction:

Reacting games last from four to fourteen class sessions, although most games are in the eight-to twelve-class range.

A Reacting game consists of four components:
a) a student game book (published by Longman/Pearson);
b) one or more central philosophical or historical texts (available at the bookstore or library);
c) a role description, which will be provided to the student by the instructor;
d) an instructor’s manual, which supplies the Gamemaster with guidance in setting up and running the game.

The first two components (a and b) are available to everyone. The role description is secret: students should not show it to anyone. The instructor’s manual, which is not available to students, provides a menu of elements that instructors select in setting up a game.

There aren’t a ton of published games, but there are more on the way (some of which are available for download). While the focus on the games is historical, it seems like they would be a great way to engage students with a variety of global issues. Among the published games, there are topics like colonialism, poverty and wealth, and the freedom of ideas. In the developing games, there are even more issues, such as civil rights, slavery, workers’ rights and even environmental issues (like acid rain).

I’ve had an opportunity to look at the game book for both the Charles Darwin and Galileo games. Both are quite advanced, but I think they would work well as the basis for a high-level elective course in an academic setting. Both of these games include significant rhetoric / argument analysis, which can be useful in teaching academic writing. They also include numerous excerpts from important primary historical texts. In addition, the nature of the games require a debate, giving students opportunities to practice structuring an argument and expressing their opinion.

One thing that is done well in both of these games is the nuance of different positions. The authors do a good job of staying away from a simplistic “good vs. evil” model (for example, with Galileo vs. the Church) and instead make everyone’s position defensible and understandable.

Since these games are so substantial, I feel like they’d work best as the core of an entire course. If anyone has any experience using them, please post in the comments!

→ 1 CommentTags: blog · books · cultural issues · ESL activity · history · human rights · lesson plans · poverty & wealth

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Quick Activity About Privilege

November 24th, 2014 by Dave · No Comments

This is a great (and quick) activity to highlight how privilege works, and how it can be largely invisible to those who enjoy it.

The short version: Students are instructed to ball up a sheet of paper. Next, the teacher puts the recycling bin in the front of the classroom, and tells them that, in order to move to the upper class, students need to throw their paper into the recycling bin from their seats. Typically, students in the back complain that this isn’t fair, while students in the front focus solely on achieving their goal. One thing I really like about this is it shows how simply giving everyone “an equal chance” isn’t necessarily fair. Technically, all of these students are given the same opportunity — a chance to score the paper ball from their seat — but not all of these chances are the equal.

You could follow up this activity with discussion questions or a writing assignment. It might also work well with an activity looking at global wealth inequality, like this activity from Rethinking Globalization. You could also use one of these activities about poverty and wealth.

Thanks Rob

→ No CommentsTags: blog · global issues activities · human rights · lesson plans · poverty & wealth

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Black Friday, Consumption, and Buy Nothing Day 2014

November 14th, 2014 by Dave · 1 Comment

As Black Friday approaches, I thought I’d share this collection of activities that Krista presented last year at a BART event. For those looking for still more ideas, here is a post from 2012 on teaching about Black Friday / Buy Nothing Day, and here is one from 2007.

Target audience: EAP students, high intermediate to advanced. Can be done in one long class, or in several parts over different classes.

Warm Up: What is Black Friday?
Talk with a partner. If neither of you knows, guess what it might mean.

Reading 1:

Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States. As the first day after the last major holiday before Christmas, it marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season. Additionally, many employers give their employees the day off as part of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Black Friday is not a federal holiday, but some states observe “The Day After Thanksgiving” as a holiday for state government employees. Most schools have both Thanksgiving and the day after off, followed by a weekend. In order to take advantage of this increase in the number of potential shoppers, virtually all retailers in the country, big and small, offer various sales. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year.

In recent years, most major retailers have opened extremely early and offered promotional sales to kick off the holiday shopping season. For many years, it was common for retailers to open at 6:00 a.m., but in the late 2000’s many had crept to 5:00 or even 4:00. This was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several retailers opened at midnight for the first time. In 2012, Walmart and several other retailers announced that they would open most of their stores at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, prompting calls for a walkout protest among some workers.

Black Friday shopping is known for attracting aggressive crowds, with annual reports of assaults, shootings, and huge crowds of people trampling on other shoppers in an attempt to get the best deal on a product before supplies run out.

The day’s name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Later an alternative explanation was made: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss from January through November, and “Black Friday” indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or are “in the black.” For large retail chains like Walmart, Black Friday can boost their year to date net profit from $14 billion to $19 billion.

(Adapted from Wikipedia)


  1. Define Black Friday in your own words.
  2. Why is it the biggest shopping day of the year?
  3. Why is it called Black Friday?
  4. The article mentions that some workers wanted to protest stores being open on Thanksgiving. Why do you think they were upset? What do you think about the store hours?
  5. The article discusses some problems with Black Friday. What are they? Why do you think these happen?
  6. Watch this short news clip “Storming the Malls” (Published on Nov 23, 2012) and take notes on main points and interesting facts. After watching, explain what happened in this video by writing a short summary.
  7. Google “Black Friday.” What kind of information do you find?
  8. What do you think about this American tradition?
  9. Now consider this:


  10. How does Black Friday contribute to this phenomenon?

Reading 2 – “Websites: Buy nothing for holidays” By Katherine Dorsett, CNN, December 15, 2010

(CNN) — While millions may be running to the malls this holiday season, there are some people running away from the buying frenzy.
Several online movements have inspired thousands of people to attempt to spend little or no cash on holiday presents. Followers are avoiding shopping malls and opting to save their money, make their own presents or provide free services like baby-sitting or massages as gifts. “The holiday season is about sharing time with loved ones, not going into debt,” said Cat Ellis, a Facebook “Buy Nothing Christmas” follower. “It is entirely unnecessary to spend money in order to show others that you care.”

In addition to the Facebook page that Ellis and some 1,700 people follow, websites called buynothingchristmas, buynothingday and revbilly are encouraging people to stop spending a lot of cash on gifts and reduce holiday consumerism. Aiden Enns co-founded and said during the holidays, his site attracts up to 7,000 hits a day from people wanting to learn more about the movement. “Our website challenges people to de-commercialize Christmas and connect in simpler ways, such as spending time with friends and loved ones and giving to less-privileged people,” said Enns.

Kyle Denholm of Petoskey, Michigan, is among those who asked his family to attend a holiday event together instead of exchanging gifts last year. “It felt wonderful to create some special memories with people we love and we plan to do it again this year,” said Denholm.

It’s not just anti-consumerism fueling the cause. “Christmas is an environmentalist’s worst nightmare — tons of extra landfill, megawatts of flashing lights and congested shopping mall parking lots,” said Liz Wylie, an anti-consumer subscriber. While followers of the movement find various ways to support the cause, Scott Krugman, a spokesperson with the National Retail Federation, has a different take. Krugman said he respects a person’s right to celebrate the holidays as he or she chooses and does not want to make it a “we” versus “them” issue. “However, the retail sector helps generate one in five U.S. jobs and it is important to remember how critical this industry is to our weakened economy and to help support it,” Krugman said. “Some 95% of retailers are small, independent businesses.”

“Some 500,000 retail positions will be created this holiday season in the U.S. and these jobs play a huge role in fueling our economy.” But for some people, like Ellis, supporting the U.S. retail sector is not an easy option. Her family was forced to change spending habits a couple of years ago. “After my husband lost his job in January of 2008 he was unemployed for almost two years before he found part-time work,” said Ellis. “I had my own business, which became our primary income. Unemployment benefits didn’t cover much — we didn’t have a choice but to be hyper-responsible with money.” The anti-consumerism philosophy has kept the Ellises afloat financially. Ellis said they don’t have to worry about credit card bills and she does not argue with her husband about money. “I know some people are willing to run up the charge cards and spend tons of cash on the latest toys and games for children,” Ellis said. “I can get ‘new-to-my-kids’ toys and give an even more important gift — a family that is financially stable even in a failing economy.”

Ellis said making gifts for the holidays and finding free or used items is easier than many might imagine. “Look at your talents and ask yourself — can you cook or sew or do you have a special hobby to share? Is there something you can teach or could you clean someone’s house?” As a former massage therapist, she has used her skills to give free gift certificates. She also knits and gives away food she has grown, canned and baked.

Ellis’ husband, Eddie, is a beekeeper and gives away honey, beeswax candles or honey wine (also known as mead). “I’ve found people are far more impressed with the time and effort that went into a handmade gift than the perceived dollar amount spent on a retail gift.”

Reading 2 Questions

  1. What is “Buy Nothing Day” or “Buy nothing Christmas”?
  2. Why did people start this idea? What kinds of people like it?
  3. Who and/or what does this idea help?
  4. What are some of the suggestions the article makes for alternatives to shopping?

Video 2
Watch this video:

Video 2 Questions

  1. How do you think the news reporter feels about this idea?
  2. What was Kelle Lasn’s counterargument to each of her questions or concerns?
  3. Which person had a stronger argument? Why?

What is your opinion on Buy Nothing Day and Black Friday?
[Students can discuss or free write on this question and can expand on this prompt in a position paper or another writing assignment.]

Students can do “on the street” style interview on campus, asking people if they plan to shop on Black Friday and whether or not they have heard of Black Friday.
Another option would be to plan a buy nothing exchange or abundance swap on Black Friday at the school or in a nearby area. See these links for more information on the idea.

Additional Resources
Shopping Checklist

  • Do I need it?
  • How much will I use it?
  • Do I I already have one (or more), or something similar?
  • How long will it last?
  • Does it require service/maintenance?
  • Are the resources that went into it renewable/recycled?
  • Is it recyclable?
  • How easily can it be moved?

(From an unknown original source, but here is a similar list)

Today, humanity faces a stark choice: save the planet and ditch capitalism, or save capitalism and ditch the planet.” –Fawzi Ibrahim

Until we challenge the entrenched values of capitalism – that the economy must always keep growing, that consumer wants must always be satisfied, that immediate gratification is imperative – we’re not going able to fix the gigantic psycho-financial-eco crisis of our times. The journey towards a sane sustainable future begins with a single step. It could all start with a personal challenge, such as this: make a vow to yourself to participate in Buy Nothing Day this year.

More information on Buy Nothing Day

Other ESL / Language Arts / Literacy Lessons on Buy Nothing Day:

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Sorry… It’s Global Justice Again

July 22nd, 2014 by Dave · 2 Comments

This is a guest post written by Linda Ruas from the New Internationalist Easier English Wiki. If you have materials or ideas you’d like to share, please email me.

I have often felt I need to apologize in some way for my wiki.

Reading about breast-ironing in Cameroon, slavery in Mauritania, the feral rich in India, dark tourism in Cambodia. I suppose I felt it might be too serious, too “political”, too taboo or heavy, too real, maybe, and not enough fun for some learners and teachers. But every time I read an article from New Internationalist, I felt really strongly that more people should be reading it. They contain complex ideas, though, often written in dense, idiomatic language, and, for my ESL learners to understand them, they needed to be simplified.

So I started simplifying the articles and making “Ready Lessons”, and collected them all together in the wiki. My learners loved them and they developed their critical thinking and debating skills. They all became more interested in global justice issues and were more able to talk and write about controversial topics in the UK and their countries. We’ve had heated discussions, which spill over into an on-line class discussion forum, and we’ve had shock, revelation and tears. Better in the supportive, trusting environment of a class than, say, in an oral exam if they first encounter similar topics there. And finally, I plucked up courage to present the wiki at a conference for teachers.

At first, some of the teachers were worried that global justice topics in class would be too negative and pessimistic. Some said that global justice was ok as long as we make it palatable by sneaking in a joke, or giving it an interesting twist. I’m not against jokes and fun, and integrate global justice topics with other lighter, often student-generated lessons, but joking about disabilities, fracking and land grabs seems inappropriate. Teachers in the private sector often worry that students’ parents might complain – which is why “PARSNIPS” (politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms or pork) are banned in published course-books. But we cannot teach language with no content at all, and many materials simply present the socially acceptable face of western materialism, enforced beauty and celebrities.

So here’s my presentation: “Around the world in 90 minutes: global justice in the ESOL class”

On a sunny Sunday morning in June, at the NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults) teachers’ conference in Sheffield, UK, we travelled around the world together, discussing various stories and activities to engage learners. The topics were, more often than not, positive, looking at successes and solutions. The tasks were engaging through role-plays, jigsaw readings, various types of dictations, contextualised grammar work and group letter-writing. And now, I don’t think I feel I need to be so apologetic.

→ 2 CommentsTags: blog · global issues resources · lesson plans · reading · reflection

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New Internationalist Easier English Wiki – Update

July 7th, 2014 by Dave · 1 Comment

I first posted about the New Internationalist Easier English Wiki about a year and a half ago. Since then, they’ve added a lot of great materials to their site. The New Internationalist is a magazine focused on promoting global justice and, through their easier English wiki, they make articles more accessible to English language learners and provide supplementary lessons, in both powerpoint and PDF form. These lessons include vocabulary activities, discussion questions, visual aids and writing prompts.

A good place to start is the ready lesson collection, featuring a list of all of the supplementary lessons that they offer. You can also browse through past issues of the magazine that have been re-written in simplified English. They’ve currently got the last twenty issues available, many of which include infographics in addition to articles. On each issue’s page, the wiki also features simplified versions of some of that month’s most relevant blog posts.

The New Internationalist Easier English Wiki is a great source of comprehensible reading materials on a wide range of topics. Past recent issues deal with the politics of language loss, organ traficking and the pitfalls of resource wealth. The international angle of these topics make them particularly relevant and engaging for our students.

→ 1 CommentTags: blog · climate change · consumerism · cultural issues · environmental justice · fair trade · finance · food and hunger · global issues activities · global issues resources · human rights · infographics · lesson plans · peace and war · politics · poverty & wealth · protests · the environment

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The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies

May 1st, 2014 by Dave · 1 Comment

This transcript of a speech given by journalist Chris Hedges offers a very powerful look at our current state of affairs. The introduction of the article draws parallels between our self-destructive path and the novel Moby Dick, which opens the door to using this article as part of a unit on literature, as well as one on current events, global issues, business, etc.

And, since this is a video transcript, this could also be done as a listening activity. Much of the information may already be known to students, but it pulls together the big picture in a powerful and concise way. It also makes the point that, when we face difficult situations, those in power tend to marginalize voices that speak the truth. An exploration of this idea would be a great addition to a unit on critical media literacy.

Thanks, Krista

→ 1 CommentTags: art as activism · climate change · consumerism · finance · financial crisis (2008) · global issues activities · history · listening · natural disasters · poverty & wealth · reading · the environment · video

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The #GlobalPOV Project

April 18th, 2014 by Dave · No Comments

The #GlobalPOV Project is an initiative by the Blum Center at the University of California, Berkeley that addresses poverty and inequality through innovative digital media. Their videos are extremely visual, and are thus a good way to communicate complex ideas to English language learners.

As an example, “Can Experts Solve Poverty?” would be a great video for students bound for college or graduate school. Among other things, this video challenges the assumption that all of our problems can be solved by technical expertise. A critical approach like this would be particularly relevant to students pursuing degrees in fields like business, science or engineering.

If you have ideas for using one of these videos in your class, please share them in the comments.

Thanks Khalid!

→ No CommentsTags: blog · fair trade · global issues activities · poverty & wealth · video · visual aids

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TESOL 2014 – Resources from the LGBTF Forum Roundtable

March 31st, 2014 by Dave · No Comments

Here is a list of resources discussed at the LGBTF Forum roundtable at TESOL 2014.

And if you’re a TESOL member, I encourage you to join the LGBTF Forum (through The e-list (where these resources were shared) is an active one.

Thanks Carter!

→ No CommentsTags: blog · global issues resources · LGBT Issues · listservs · professional organizations · TESOL 2014

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TESOL 2014 – Part of the Solution: Making Language Programs More Environmentally Sustainable

March 27th, 2014 by Dave · No Comments

This roundtable discussion was the second of two sessions presented this year by the TESOL Environmental Responsibility Forum. In this discussion, participants looked at ways an English language program could improve their overall environmental responsibility.

I started the session by briefly describing my experience in attempting to green two different English language programs. The project was undertaken while I was a graduate student. I’ve written (and spoken) about it at some length here. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

I also talked about the Green Team that I put together at my current job. I outlined the three prong approach that evolved, which I think is a good general approach to bringing environmental practices into an organization:

  1. start where you are – Start by gathering people from different areas together and sharing best practices.
  2. do the next right thing – Look for changes that have low cost, high reward. Take advantage of resources at your school / in your community.
  3. dream big – Have a few long term, large scale dreams. Find peer institutions who have done them and make contacts. You never know what might happen.
    1. I’ll update this post with links / materials that emerged from our discussion as appropriate. Please check back after the convention. Also, if you’re a TESOL member and you would like to join the Environmental Responsibility Forum, please email me your name and member ID and I’ll add you to our list.

→ No CommentsTags: administration · blog · consumerism · food and hunger · greening an IEP · TESOL 2014 · TESOL Environmental Responsibility Forum · the environment · vegetarian / vegan · vocabulary

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