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Steps to a Sustainable Future

The UN SDGs stands for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and they replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were introduced in 2000.

The year 2000 happened to be when I became a volunteer teacher trainer in Nepal, for VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas). Living and working in Nepal I saw the effects of failed crops, of the lack of access to safe drinking water and education for girls, of the reliance on kerosene lamps and open woodstoves. I then ‘resumed’ my life in the UK and wondered if the MDGs could really help.

But one of the MDGs was “Achieve universal primary education”, subsequently the agreed objectives of 189 countries helped to kick-start the global movement for free primary education, so much so that the number of children out of school has dropped by more than half since 1990. There were 8 MDGs and the idea was to achieve them by 2015. The UN kept tabs on countries achieving them and it spurred many governments into action. In 2012 the public consultation on forming the SDGs began, which resulted in 17 goals with 169 sub-targets being agreed upon in 2015. The aim is to achieve them by 2030.

What can I do?

In an ELT classroom the SDGs can be analysed while keeping language as a focus. For example:


Ask students if they know what kind of word/part of speech ‘quality’ is (Spoiler alert – it’s an adjective). Ask what the difference is between:

I have a pen (we know you have the object, but don’t know if it has ink/it functions well/you can write with it)

I have a great pen (we know the pen is good to use/hold/easy to carry, therefore you like writing with it)

Similarly, ask the difference between: ‘education’ and ‘quality education’ and elicit the ideas students have. Draw out the fact that having something that is not useful has little worth.

Then ask why this SDG includes the adjective ‘quality’ and why people need a quality education. Do the same with other words such as: space, building, park, food, job, exercise, etc. In groups, students add the adjectives. Then share adjectives and analyse which concepts are good for the planet and which aren’t (car park vs public park). Analyse as a whole class to discuss, persuade, and share opinions.


Elicit the meaning of the two words. In groups, students create symbols to try to represent SDG # 10.

Allow creative freedom to stimulate ideas and then later vote on which one they think is best and explain why.

Then give them the UN symbol to compare their creations with, which one is better?

Explain that the SDG is to help combat the inequality that exists in the world to try to make it a better place. With this in mind tell them that there are 17 SDGs in total and collectively they have the aim of creating a better world. Using the symbols for the other 16 SDGs, divide them between groups and ask them to guess what the corresponding SDG might be. Students have to label their symbols then move round and look at the other groups’ labels and see if they agree.

Finally, give all the symbols to the groups with the corresponding ‘correct’ SDGs and each group has to try and match the symbols to their SDG. After, check that they have the correct answers by describing what each symbol is aimed to change. (Make sure you don’t use the actual SDG, so they have to think for themselves a bit more!)

Finish by asking them what they think about making the world a better place and if these SDGs can help.


Ask students to make the SDG into a sentence, without adding any more information/changing the meaning, simply making it into a sentence. Display:

  1. We should take climate action
  2. We must take climate action

Ask various questions to illustrate the difference between a person that says sentence i. and one who says sentence ii. Analyse the different mindsets of those two different people.

This could lead to what students’ mindset is towards climate action and how the words we choose convey a lot about the kind of people we are. It helps raise awareness about using any language mindfully because their words can say more about them than simply convey a message.


Such classes teach English language, while raising awareness of SDGs. They can help students reflect on their own perceptions, biases, develop empathy, build lifelong skills with a mindfulness about the way they use any language. These help communication skills that allow us to really connect with each other while using English as a Lingua Franca (ELF).

Our students will need courage, persistence, and determination to be innovative and think creatively if they are to adapt to the needs of the 21st century. This is a key moment when humanity must question the status quo and needs to change how it thinks, behaves, and lives. Education can play a major role.

Oxford University Press (OUP), with its mission to build a more sustainable future in education and research, have signed up to the UN SDG Publishers Compact. As part of their action OUP held the recent Oxford Forum 2023 where I was a panellist. The Forum involved 3 sessions that focused on:

  • SDG #4 Quality Education
  • SDG #10 Reducing Inequalities
  • SDG #13 Climate Action

If you missed it but would like to make your own Steps to a Sustainable Future, you can watch it here. I hope you join us in making a better world.

Find more sustainability resources for the ELT classroom:




Although Zarina Subhan originally qualified as a scientist, she has been working in the field of ELT for over 30 years. She has taught at all levels, in both private and government institutions and worked worldwide as a teacher and teacher educator.

Having worked both in and with educational institutions, she also has experience working with educational policy makers, NGOs, community leaders, local and state governments, and in a variety of teaching and training contexts.

Zarina’s time is now spent as an author and teacher educator delivering courses, workshops, and conference presentations. Having worked in the science, educational and development sectors, her interests are the neurology of learning; CLIL; CPD for teachers; inclusive and sustainable education.


Why Teacher Motivation Matters: The Key Ingredient for Student Success

Learner motivation is recognized as a vital ingredient in successful education. Most teacher training programmes cover, how to boost learners’ motivation early in a course by setting enticing goals, and how to sustain it through fun activities and regular progress checks. In many school settings, these strategies are important to the teacher’s job and can enhance students’ ultimate achievement.

But what about the teachers’ own motivation?

This is rarely a topic discussed in training programmes, nor in schools where teachers’ professionalism is largely assumed until management identifies a problem.

There is reason to believe that the teacher’s motivation to teach the subject may affect the student’s motivation more than any strategies they consciously use. The well-known Hungarian psychologist Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi (1997) argues that the teachers who really inspire us, those who we remember long after we have left their classes, are not the ones with the clever methodology or flashy materials, but those who truly loved what they were doing. Conversely, if a learner senses that the teacher does not care about their subject or their course, then they may rightfully ask ‘Why should I?’


For teachers, there are two potential issues here. Firstly, do we love our jobs? And secondly, even if we do, are we conveying that to our learners? Every classroom is filled with unspoken messages and is a site for emotional contagion among the participants. That is, while the direct communication of ideas and information is the primary purpose of classroom work, there are conventional constraints on what can actually be said; learners spend much time making inferences about the teacher’s thoughts and meanings (as well as those of their peers) from unconscious signals in body language, intonation or facial expression. These cues may shape their learning motivation just as much as the overt actions and speech of the teacher.


I recently asked a friend about a Master’s programme he had just completed, and he said he had enjoyed every module except for one; when pressed on what was wrong with the module, he replied that the subject seemed interesting, and had been taught well, but “the lecturer just didn’t seem that into it… or us”. Knowing the lecturer, I believe my friend was deceived. But his anecdote reinforces my conviction that teachers need to be wary of the impressions they give, especially concerning the value of the subject, the course, and the students’ potential to benefit from it. I will pick up the last point in my next blog, but here are some suggestions on how to ensure that the teacher’s own motivation positively influences the students’.

1. Be honest about your own motivation

Some teachers are teachers through a deep sense of vocation; others (like me) fall into the job almost by accident and may or may not grow to love it. Whatever the reason, you need to project a passion for the subject, and for teaching it. It is easier if you feel that passion, as the learners will most likely pick up on it unconsciously and that will feed their own passion. But if not, pedagogic skills can make up for it.

2. Show the “Inner Nerd”

Learners need to see that learning the subject can be enjoyable, even exciting. Of course, it cannot always be fun, but your teaching method has to convey the thrill of acquiring and using new knowledge or skills. Ideally you will be continuing to learn the subject yourself and can sometimes share what you have learned with the class – even if they do not quite understand what you have learned, it’s valuable that they see your excitement.

3. Remember WIIFM

In his classic little text on motivation, Ian Gilbert (2012) says all teachers must remember that their pupils will always be asking ‘What’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM). Not all will have a personal liking for the subject, so you have to keep showing them some other reasons to be studying the subject. In this respect I think English language teachers are fortunate, because in most global contexts it is not hard to demonstrate that competence in English can be advantageous to almost all young people. Helping them imagine themselves as future users of English, in various social or professional contexts, is a powerful way of motivating them.

4. Connect with the learners

As teachers we cannot always control the messages that learners pick up, but we can go some way towards finding out how they are experiencing our lessons through eliciting regular feedback and adapting our teaching accordingly. Class surveys will only reveal general trends and are unidirectional. Conversations with learners, alone, in pairs or small groups, can achieve so much more – an opportunity to share and enhance each other’s motivation.


Martin Lamb is Senior Lecturer in TESOL and International Lead at the School of Education, University of Leeds, where he teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses in language teaching methodology, second language acquisition, and assessment. He has worked as an ELT teacher and trainer in Indonesia, Bulgaria, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. His main research interest is in learner and teacher motivation and its interaction with aspects of social context, including technology. He has published in multiple academic journals and was recently chief editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Motivation for Language Learning (2019).


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Intrinsic motivation and effective teaching: a flow analysis. In J. L. Bess (Ed.), Teaching Well and Liking It: Motivating faculty to teach effectively (pp. 72-89). John Hopkins University Press.

Gilbert, I. (2012). Essential Motivation in the Classroom (2nd ed.). Routledge.




Creative Writing Activity Ideas For The Teen & Adult Classroom

A pencil with a lightbulb on the end writing the words Creative Writing Activity IdeasIt’s World Creative Writing month, so why not try some creative writing activities with your students? Creative writing allows students to use their imaginations and creativity, and practise essential writing skills. It’s a way to keep students engaged, encourage collaborative learning and allow test-taking students to use their written English skills in a different way from a typical test task type.

Here are four creative writing exercises to use in class with your teen and adult students. Continue reading

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Enhancing learner self-confidence 

Learner confidence can be slow to change and is deeply rooted. It is based on experiences in all areas of learners’ lives – some beyond our reach. However, it is easier to change if we focus on language learning and strengthen their confidence specifically in that domain, rather than aiming for their overall sense of self. When learners feel confident, they are more willing to try out new aspects of language and are less afraid of getting things wrong. If we want learners to actively use the language, helping them to feel confident is one key way to facilitate this. Continue reading


ELT podcasts you should be listening to

Flashback: Late 2014, a couple of colleagues and I are on Skype (yes Skype!) talking about our love of podcasts, and what we’re currently listening to. At that time, the podcast du jour was Serial, an investigative journalism podcast that addressed a possible miscarriage of justice in the US, which started in October of that year and has now been downloaded over 68 million times! A podcast which according to Sherrill, (2020) (1) helped move podcasting from a niche activity to a mainstream media platform. During our conversation, we discuss the lack of ELT podcasts, and one thing led to another and in March 2015 the first episode of TEFL commute dropped.

Flashforward: January 2023, it’s estimated that there are over 5 million podcasts with over 70 million episodes between them (2). Of that, 105 of those episodes are TEFL commute, and in the seven years since we started there is now a burgeoning ELT podcast range for teachers to get stuck into covering many angles.

Aside from their enjoyment value, podcasts are an excellent way of squeezing a little bit of continuing professional development into our busy lives. Something we can listen to, while doing something else. Listening on demand, unlike video on demand does not tie us to a screen.

ELT podcasts contain interviews which allows us to hear from renowned ELT professionals. They also give us new and differing perspectives on educational topics and provide us with things we can try out in the classroom. Space limits me from mentioning all the ELT podcasts out there, but if you’re looking for some to get started then hopefully these five will help you on your way. Continue reading