Many teachers already know about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). But what about our learners? How can we tell them about this important set of world objectives … but also make it relevant and even ‘fun’ for a new generation?
First of all, it’s about breaking down the long words and big ideas behind the goals themselves. Secondly, it’s about not making too many assumptions on the part of our students. Thirdly, it’s about personalizing actions which relate to the goals themselves. At the end of the day, the UN SDGs aren’t a theoretical framework – they’re a real plan of action to improve the quality of life worldwide … and to save our planet!
Here are 5 practical steps for integrating the UN SDGs into your ELT lessons or syllabus. In terms of language level, these suggestions are targeted at learners of CEFR level A2/B1, but you could adapt them for higher-level learners.
1 What is the UN?
Start with the basics. Ask learners if they know what the two letters UN stand for. Some learners might know united from the United States of America or even football clubs like Manchester United. A good synonym is together. The word nations (as in nationalities) means countries. Give an idea of the size of the organization by asking students to guess how many countries are in the UN. Answer = lots (193)!
2 What are the SDGs?
Take a similar approach with SDGs, but start with the final letter. Ask why it’s a small letter (it’s plural). For goal, it’s another football word! It means something you try to do or get. The word development is about growing or changing. Then there’s the tricky one: sustainable! The best low-level definition I’ve seen is: safe for the future of the world. If you have learners who like grammar, you could break it down even further into the verb sustain (to do something for a long time) + the suffix –able.
3 What are the UN SDGs?
Work with learners as a class or in groups to come up with description of the UN SDGs based on what they now know about the constituent meanings. You should end up with something like: goals for changing things to make a safe future for world, decided by lots of countries together.
4 Story time
Ask learners to close their eyes and listen to this ‘story’:
The world is bright, and people are laughing and smiling. Life is good and everyone has money, good food to eat and clean water to drink. All children go to school, and everyone is healthy and has a good job. Cities and towns are wonderful places. The land and oceans are clean and beautiful. And trees and animals are safe. There are no wars in the world, and we have stopped climate change. We have everything!
Do learners think the story is real or a dream? Why?
5 What’s the connection?
Ask learners how the ‘story’ from step 4 and the SDGs are connected. This is where they might surprise you. Hopefully, they’ll suggest that some of the things in the story are actually possible and the UN SDGs are a plan for how to make them happen.
If you enjoyed teaching steps 1-5, we’ve got an extra 15 steps for you to integrate the SDGs into your ELT lessons or syllabus:
Log in to the Oxford Teachers’ Club to download the PDF. Not an OTC member? Join now.
If you’ve only got time for ‘token’ integration, try steps 1–5. If your syllabus allows you to go into more detail, do steps 1–10. If you’re really looking to build a better world through English-language learning, go for the full integration of steps 1–20!
Find more sustainability resources for the ELT classroom:
- Steps to a Sustainable Future | Blog
- The UN Sustainable Development Goals paired with Oxford Graded Readers | Poster
- Eco in the ELT classroom | Resources to teach eco-related topics
Andrew Dilger is an editor at Oxford University Press. He currently commissions and develops Graded Readers. Before working in publishing, Andrew was an EFL teacher and trainer and worked in more than 10 different countries.