By Malu Sciamarelli

04 October 2017 - 18:18

'Teachers have the responsibility to encourage creativity, engagement, and critical thinking.' Image (c) Jerry Kiesewetter, used under licence and adapted from the original.
'Teachers have the responsibility to encourage creativity, engagement, and critical thinking.' Image ©

Jerry Kiesewetter, used under licence and adapted from the original (link no longer available).

Is it a teacher's responsibility to bring up difficult global issues such as poverty and women's rights in the classroom? We asked English language teacher Malu Sciamarelli.

What is the role of a teacher?

On a basic level, a teacher should plan, prepare and teach lessons that give students the information and skills they need to succeed. However, teachers also have the responsibility to encourage creativity, engagement, and critical thinking. These skills will help students adapt to their changing world.

Shouldn't teachers just stick to teaching English?

The decision is about choosing what is best for each group of students. When deciding whether to just teach a language or instead teach a language in a global context, teachers must place the needs of their students first.

I try to take a ‘global education’ approach to teaching English. Students don't just need to master a foreign language; they also need the knowledge, skills, and commitment to try to solve some of the world's problems.

Why teach global issues?

As teachers, we might ask: ‘What do these problems have to do with teaching English? Isn’t it our job just to teach grammar, vocabulary, and communication skills?’

Again, I would say teachers should choose what is best for their students. However, there are three big reasons why teachers may want to consider bringing these issues into the classroom.

  • When you bring social issues into language teaching, you give students an opportunity to communicate and express their views, and find out whether or how the students relate to the course content.
  • Discussing social issues transforms the classroom into a real-life environment. You take students out of their textbooks and into conversations and scenarios that they are likely to encounter on a daily basis.
  • As a profession, language teaching should take into account the social responsibility of creating internationally aware students.

Choosing teaching materials

It is important to pick the right materials. I try to choose activities and teaching materials based on the needs of each group of students. The materials must be clearly connected to the learning outcomes of each lesson. I include materials that encourage critical thinking about controversial situations, or represent people with diverse religions, ages, races, ethnicity, abilities, and cultures.

For example, I always try to include what is on the local and international news during the day or week of the lesson. I select news articles from the internet, and perhaps a video if there's one that comes with it, depending on the group.

Students may get better test results

About two years ago, I started teaching some teenagers who were preparing for an international English language test. I felt that they needed much more than just curricular activities, so I risked bringing global issues into their lessons, as well as teaching their more restricted syllabus.

With this specific group, I raised the topic of how poverty affects migration choice. At first, the students were not interested, but when I asked them to do a project about our own country and ancestors who migrated years ago, they became engaged and committed.

The results overcame my expectations. Both their language skills and their cultural awareness increased considerably. By luck, they ended up with a very similar topic for the essay in their language test, and were also able to write about it for their pre-university tests. Ultimately, their results were far better than those of other groups in previous years, who had not been taught about global issues.

Whichever approach you choose, what really matters is the quality of teaching and learning. When students care about an issue, that often leads to better achievement.

Join Malu and other teachers on World Teachers' Day, 5 October 2017, for two free webinars: World Teachers' Day debate: Integrating global issues in the creative English language classroom, from 13.00 to 14.00 UK time; and Creativity and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, from 15.00 to 16.00 UK time. 

You can also download the related book, Integrating global issues in the creative English language classroom.

Access our free resources for English language teachers, including professional development opportunities and sample lesson plans, such as this World Food Day lesson plan.

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