ESL etc.

Global Issues and Activism in English Language Teaching

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Secondhand Gift Exchange

Kira Davis, an English instructor and an environmental education teacher, created this Earth Day activity to raise environmental awareness with her students at Jishou University.

The main activity of this event was a secondhand gift exchange. It ran like a Secret Santa activity, with participants bringing a secondhand gift (or two). Two student volunteers collected the gifts and took down names. In order to be fair, two lists of names (one of better quality gifts) were kept. When all the gifts were collected, names were pulled out lottery-style, starting with the better gift list. When their name was called, the participant then selected a gift from the pile of secondhand goods.

During the first 45 minutes of the event, students perused several information stations that raised awareness about different issues. Each information booth was manned by a student who had been trained in the relevant subject matter.

The first station featured a list of 17 environmentally responsibile behaviors that students could bring into their own lives. Alongside this was a table asking students to indicate which of the behaviors they already did, which they planned to begin, and which they were not going to do. At this station we also had a sign-up sheet for students to provide their email address so that they could be notified of future events and receive additional information about environmental issues. There was a scrap paper notebook in which students could comment on the event, and extra scrap paper available for students to use for their own notes.

The second station‘s focus was consumer choice and corporate social responsibility. These concepts were introduced in a bilingual handout explaining how consumers can influence environmental issues by making careful choices about what they buy. Three products were displayed as examples of companies that either give part of their profits to charity or make an effort to produce products in more environmentally sustainable ways. The Endangered Species Chocolate bar and a calendar that Kira made and sold in high school were examples of businesses that choose to donate their profits to a cause. A 365 Organic chocolate bar was displayed as an example of a company that chooses to purchase materials only from eco-friendly producers. Please visit each company’s website to learn more about their particular causes.

The third station featured a large map (1m X 1m) that illustrates the massive scale of exportation of resources from poorer countries to wealthier ones. It demonstrates how far today’s nations are from being self-sufficient. For example, resources from China are displayed as red circles on the map, and these red circles cover much of the world, especially the US, Europe, and Japan. This shows how resources that were originally found in China have been extracted and spread all over the world in the form of exported goods. Poor countries that export much of their goods are literally ‘selling themselves out.’ A volunteer helped explain the concepts and answer questions during the event.

The fourth station highlighted 17 locally relevant health risks that are related to pollution or environmental degradation. The handout includes information about cancer, air pollution and lung diseases, solid waste pollution, water pollution, and impacts of environmental degradation. Three news articles about “cancer villages” in China were displayed at this station. Kira recorded MP3s of each article (article 1, article 2, and article 3) for students who wanted to listen at home.

A fifth station displayed 8 pieces of artwork. There were four paintings and four photograph displays. As in other stations, students were trained to help people to understand the artwork in a way that raised awareness about environmental issues.

At the event, Kira also introduced the two elective classes that she will teach next semester. One will be a social science research course in which students develop a research question and investigate a local environmental issue. The second will be an eco-theater course in which students raise environmental awareness through performance.

A bilingual speech highlighted certain words and concepts, with a strong focus on overconsumption, consumer choice, the long and destructive process of making a phone from nature, and convenient eco-friendly lifestyle habits. The results from the data sheet were given at the end of the speech.

After the speech, the secondhand gifts were exchanged. For the last activity, Kira began to teach a song that she wrote about overconsumption. Follow these links to see the lyrics, or hear the song or hear a detailed explanation of the meaning of the song. This song is a little bit difficult, so Dave wrote The 12 Days of Earth Day. Included with those lyrics are the chords for the melody of The 12 Days of Christmas.

So what does this have to do with English? All materials were available in both English and Chinese, as the event was open to non-English majors as well. For students who were already familiar this the environmental issues, this event provided an opportunity to learn related English vocabulary words. In addition, much of Kira’s speech was given in English, with audience members supplying the necessary Chinese words for difficult concepts. Furthermore, we believe that having English involved may have generated interest in the event among students who would not otherwise have come. Overall, student response to this event was very positive, and we look forward to expanding it, and bringing it to more schools in our community.

1 Comment

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Kerry // Oct 19, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    this is wonderful. thank you for your inspiration.

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