ESL etc.

Global Issues and Activism in English Language Teaching

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Got Coal? • Teaching About the Most Dangerous Rock in America

March 24th, 2011 by Dave · No Comments

The latest issue of Rethinking Schools features a description of a great activity by Bill Bigelow (of Rethinking Globalization) teaching students about coal mining.

Bigelow’s activity starts with a game created by the coal industry, asking students to mine cookies for chocolate chips. Students buy a cookie and a mining implement (paperclip, toothpick, etc.), then trace their cookie on a piece of paper. They have five minutes to mine it, the goal being to make as much profit (in terms of chips) as possible. They are fined for any bits of cookie that end up outside of the traced border, but as long as they fit their destroyed cookie inside the line, there are no penalties.

After completing the activity, Bigelow had his students look critically at the game, asking them what it was trying to teach, and what it was ignoring. Among other things, this is a wonderfully clear way to demonstrate the problems of a purely profit driven system, and the risks of externalizing environmental consequences.

I bet this activity would work well with a wide range of students. I love the idea of looking critically at an educational activity and considering the motivations behind it. This would fit well into a unit on the environment or energy consumption, but it would also fit into one on environmental justice. For example, it could be linked with an activity looking at who gets the largest benefits from coal mines, and who bears the brunt of the costs.

Tags: blog · climate change · global issues activities · lesson plans · listening · speaking · the environment

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