The Covid-19 pandemic has led to discussions in society around the right to personal freedoms and the responsibility towards others when it comes to wearing a mask in public places or confined spaces. Should we have the right to choose or do as we are told by the people who lead our countries?
Whatever your opinions on wearing masks and other measures to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases, when people are responsible in a society it functions more smoothly.
To change mindsets is a difficult thing, which is why getting our students to reflect, discuss and consider why one needs responsible behaviour in society is so valuable. It is not necessarily because we ‘should’ or ‘have to’, but rather because it makes sense to. It is also a way of promoting and educating our students about citizenship and the potential actions that they can take.
Helping and supporting one another
At the primary level, young learners (YLs) cannot engage in discussions about what they consider right or wrong, but they can be given examples of responsible behaviour. Introducing the phrase “Who can help me…?” is one easy way of encouraging responsible behaviour and getting YLs used to the idea of helping you. This can be easily extended to “Who can help Adam to…?” so that they also help each other and not only the teacher, while not feeling embarrassed to ask for help themselves.
For the language at the beginner level, it is sufficient for them to comprehend what you are asking in English, the explanation of the verb ‘can’ as an auxiliary should not be considered at this stage. However, the verb ‘help’ can be understood and explored through images of who they help and who helps them, which provides the opportunity to use vocabulary to identify family members.
Feelings can also be explored, showing YLs that helping others is not only a responsibility, but it makes you feel good when you do and makes the recipient feel happy and supported when they are helped too.
Secondary level students have more opportunities to be responsible than their YL compatriots. Although teenagers might think they are independent, they still have a strong reliance on their parents and other family members. However, they may be entrusted with more responsibilities than their younger siblings. This may weigh heavily on them and they may carry the sense of responsibility with some resentment.
In the EFL classroom we can help our teenage students to see responsibility from another perspective – one in terms of the environment. From this angle, responsibility can be considered a collective role, either at a global or a local level, which can also represent our interconnectedness. Thus, teenagers begin to see that responsibility is no longer optional because if, in a chain of responsibilities, one does not bother we are all affected.
Through the language of conditionals, we can provide a platform for students to consider differing viewpoints on given scenarios, with students giving opinions using “if you don’t, then…will…”. This can encourage teenagers to change their minds about what they think, while listening to and considering other ways of thinking. Such activities can help prevent dogmatic thinking and can teach our students the importance of listening to one another and respecting different opinions regardless of whether we agree or disagree with them.
We can therefore help teenagers to be aware of how to communicate respectfully and reflect on what makes a good citizen, whether it is on a local or global scale, as well as consider the impact on their different communities to which they may belong.
Impact of lack of responsibility
Unlike teenagers, adults generally have the skills of respectful communication in their own language so we can assist them to extend these skills into English. Thus, we can work with introducing and practising language of agreement/disagreement based around the topic of responsibility.
Adults tend to be less idealistic in nature due to having to cope with the pressures of day-to-day living, so they may have less time and energy to spend on abstract issues. We can, however, engage them with the topic of responsibility by drawing their attention to things that may be happening on the other side of the planet that they may never have considered any responsibility for. Information with evidence about how our actions affect our environment is one way in which we can get them to discuss ways to tackle issues while using language of polite discussion.
Taking positive action to help others has been shown to have positive psychological effects on the person helping and those being helped. If we learn from a young age that helping others can provide happiness, we can go some way towards developing societies of people who do not seek happiness in products. This in turn can help us to protect the environment from pollution of unwanted products or cheap objects that soon lose their attraction and end up in the sea or landfill sites. By understanding how one action is part of a chain of effects can help us recognise our role in the chain. English language is international and so is our responsibility to improve the world we live in, so why not combine the two?
If you are interested to see how we can use Responsibility as a topic in ELT, try out these lesson plans for primary, secondary, and adult students!
With extension ideas and details to help you weave the topic into your English classes, all the ideas have suggestions for remote or face-to-face classes to suit the reality of the constantly shifting world of teaching that we live in.
Zarina Subhan is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. She has taught and delivered teacher training at all levels and in both private and government institutions in over fifteen different countries as well as in the UK. Early on in her career, Zarina specialised in EAP combining her scientific and educational qualifications. From this developed an interest in providing tailor-made materials, which later led to materials writing that was used in health training and governance projects in developing countries. Since 2000 she has been involved in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), materials writing, training trainers and teachers in facilitation techniques and teaching methodology. Zarina is published and has delivered training courses, presentations, spoken at conferences worldwide, and continues to be a freelance consultant teacher educator.