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English Naturally:
Teaching English through projects in the natural environment



bullet Provide authentic English practice: students are able to see the relevance to the real world of what they are learning.
bullet Provide variety for students and teachers - they get out of the classroom and 'into' the environment.
bullet Integrate the 'four skills' of reading, writing, speaking and listening in a natural way.
bullet Promote learner autonomy and co-operation.
bullet Provide practice across the curriculum - eg. art, history, geography, biology, etc.
bullet Provide a sensory rich learning experience. Learning is enhanced when students see as well as listen (audiovisual) - they remember even more when they can also use their senses of touch, smell and taste.

In addition, projects in the natural environment:

bullet Provide practice in academic skills such as note making, labelling, classifying, referencing, etc.
bullet Take place in a natural and enjoyable setting. This helps to lower emotional barriers which sometimes get in the way of effective learning.
bullet Develop in the students an appreciation of and sensitivity towards the natural world.

Theory into practice..

The basic outline of an environmental project is as follows:

  1. Preparation. As an English teacher, think about how the students will benefit *linguistically* from the project. You will need to balance the length of the activity against these benefits. For example, drawing a tree contains little or no linguistic benefit, whereas collecting leaves and identifying them in a field guide contains considerable benefits. Make a list of vocabulary, structures and functions which the students will practise during the project.
  2. Put together a 'green box' full of equipment that might be needed: directional compasses, maps, clipboards, collecting jars, reference guides, etc, so that you don't need to hunt around for things at the time.
  3. Introduce the project. As far as possible let ideas for projects emerge from the students themselves. Just asking 'How could we learn English outside the classroom / using trees / using flowers, etc?' is often enough to get them started. Explain what you're going to do and how it will benefit the students.
  4. Language practice. For example, if the students are going to study flowers or trees you could first show them how to use a reference guide to enable them to identify the different species. If you were going to study insects you could ask them to read a description of an insect and label a diagram. If they were going on a country walk you could ask them to plan and describe the route they will take, learn the Country Code, speculate about what they might see, etc.
  5. Field work. This is the activity itself. Make sure that children are properly supervised. Set a time limit for the end of the activity. Establish boundaries and no-go areas. Make sure they retain a proper respect for living things: for example not picking wild flowers, returning specimens to where they were found.
  6. Reporting. Once back in the classroom, compare and contrast findings. Write reports. Draw and label diagrams. Produce maps and graphs, etc.
  7. Personalisation. This is to help your students see the relevance to themselves of what they have been studying. Ask them how they felt about the project. Ask them about favourite plants, animals, colours, shapes, textures, etc. Ask them about their home environment: how is it the same or different?
  8. Extension. If possible, set the project in a larger context. Eg. studying trees could lead onto a discussion about the rainforests, global warming, sustainable development, etc.

Some examples. . .

Projects in the natural environment don't have to be complicated and can be used to practise almost any item of language. Here are some examples:

  • WHAT DO YOU CALL..? / HOW DO YOU SPELL..? Plan and go on a country walk while the students ask questions.
  • SHOULD / SHOULDN'T. Learn and act out the Country Code (video'd?) eg. 'You shouldn't pick wild flowers.'
  • THERE IS / ARE.... SOME / ANY.....+ PREPOSITIONS. Draw & describe a scene. eg. 'There are some birds in the tree.'
  • DESCRIBING LOCATION. Make a plan of the school grounds and write about it. eg. 'The school is approached by a long avenue lined with trees.'
  • COMPARISON & CONTRAST. Measure trees / race sticks in a river / compare and contrast leaves, insects, flowers, etc. eg. 'Taller/shorter/shortest /faster/slower/slowest, most/least colourful, etc.',
  • DESCRIBING COLOURS & TEXTURES. Scavenger hunt (created by your students?); Kim's nature game; natural collage & sculpture. eg. 'Find something red/blue/smooth/furry, etc. Where's the large furry caterpillar?'
  • PRESENT CONTINUOUS / 'GOING TO' FUTURE. Record daily rainfall / temperature / wind speed & direction, etc. Write a daily school weather forecast. eg. 'It's raining / the wind's blowing from the West / It's going to be bright and sunny this afternoon / it'll be bright later.''
  • DIRECTIONS. Create a nature trail. Plan and go on a country walk. eg. 'Go through the woods and turn left down the grass track.'
  • DEVELOPMENT. 'USED TO'. Contrast past maps and photos with the present scene. eg. 'There used to be green fields here but now there is a road.'
  • PREDICTION. Contemplate the effects of time upon a scene. 'By 2005 the road will have disappeared. The trees will have been re-planted.'
  • PAST NARRATIVE (ie. First, next, then, etc..+ past verbs). Describe a walk. eg' First we walked across a bridge, then we saw a rabbit, etc.'
  • INSTRUCTIONS (First, next, then, etc + imperative verbs). Follow instructions to create a sun dial. eg. 'First take a piece of card and cut a hole in the centre. Then..'
  • CLASSIFICATION. Collecting, sorting and identifying leaves, flowers, insects, etc. eg. 'Evergreen trees can be divided into four basic types.'


Teachers interested in the environment, see also: IATEFL Global Issues web site