Language Teaching for the Planet

Catherine is a school teacher in Mboni Secondary School in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Each month, many of the girls in her classes missed school because they were on their period and could not afford sanitary pads. In 2011 she founded a local charity and started making reusable pads for the girls in her school. Flash-forward nine years and they now have six industrial-scale sewing machines, and regularly travel around different schools in the region to distribute the pads and educate girls about their menstrual health. Catherine feels very proud of her Tanzanian heritage and culture and is passionate about protecting the environment. Once a month she takes classes to the base of Kilimanjaro to plant trees there.

Hameda is an assistant professor at Sabratha University in Libya. He has done extensive work in place-based learning and service-learning and its use in ELT. For those not in the know, service-learning is a model where learners move into the wider community and continue learning while participating in community service projects. 

Ezeliya is a headteacher of a secondary school in Zambia. She works actively in her community, educating the public on important issues including child protection, and is keen to get her students invested in environmental conversation work. Like Catherine, her students are regularly outside the classroom, planting trees and trying to make a change.

Meeting Catherine, Hameda, and Ezeliya were one of many surprising delights of taking the online course Language Teaching for the Planet, led by Owain Llewellyn over al ELTSustainable. Dan Barber recommended it during an ELT Footprint round table at the Innovate ELT conference in September, and I hastily signed up. There’s a nominal $12 course fee, and once you sign up you’re given access to the Thinkify platform where the online course is based. But the magic happens on Slack, a Facebook Messenger-style app that allows you to interact and collaborate online.

The main focus of the course is on bringing sustainability issues into your teaching There is no hiding from this anymore; we are living in a time of environmental crisis (and no, Mother Nature didn’t get stronger when we were all in lockdown) and we need to be talking about it. For as long as I’ve been a teacher, sustainability issues have been considered just a topic. This module is the environment, next sports, later hobbies, and so on. That model simply doesn’t cut it. We need to bring these issues into our classrooms, and we need to talk about them with our students regularly. 

We also need to continue to teach our existing materials, train our students for those pesky exams, and do all of this with minimal extra strain and effort on our part, all the while introducing the debate in a way that doesn’t make our teens roll their eyes and sigh like we’ve asked them to run a marathon. 

I know that all sounds tricky, but it isn’t. The key is short and engaging activities which can supplement our existing topics and classes, like this one about food. At Innovate ELT, Dan Barber suggested a handy set of critical thinking questions which you can use with any text in the classroom. This is another effective way of adding a sustainability twist to an existing class, with no effort on your part. 

Owain and Dan have a wealth of knowledge to share as tutors (and Dan has this uncanny ability to have a link for anything you’re talking about!), although the real joy is the eclectic mix of professionals you’ll collaborate with along the way. It’s easy to fit in if you’re working full time: even dedicating just 30 minutes a day will be enough to take advantage of what’s on offer. After two weeks, you’ll feel empowered about bringing sustainability into the classroom, know how to do it, and be part of a network of teachers and professionals trying to make a change. There’s also a pretty certificate to put on your wall!

Find out more information about the Language Teaching for the Planet course over at ELTSustainable.

To engage more with the the sustainability debate in ELT, check out ELT Footprint’s website and Facebook page.


  1. Ben, I’m so glad you enjoyed the course and thank you for your kind words in this review. It was really great having you on it, the other participants really seemed to benefit from your knowledge, the ideas you shared and also enjoyed your company on the course! What an amazing group of participants you all were!


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