How to design projects with a sustainability focus In the EFL classroom

Read this article by Ozgu Ozturk on how to design projects with a sustainability focus In the EFL classroom.

children colouring different parts of a poster on sustainability seen from above
Ozgu Ozturk

How to design projects with a sustainability focus In the EFL classroom

In recent years, the concept of sustainability has gained popularity in several different  subjects. For example, what would you do if you were planning a sustainability project for your English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students?  

 In this article we will explore several ways to incorporate sustainability into  project-based educational experiences in  EFL classrooms and help students understand why it is so important to us all. 

Defining sustainability 

Sustainability refers to the ability of an ecosystem or society to maintain itself over time without decay or collapse. It is about creating a world where people, nature and all  living things can coexist. Sustainable development requires meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (SDC-UK)).  

 One way to think about sustainability is through its three pillars: economic development; social equality; and environmental protection (UN). These three pillars are interrelated and  cannot be separated  or treated separately because they work together as part of a unified whole. 

Implementing a project with a sustainability focus 

As EFL teachers, we have the opportunity to educate and inspire our students to think about sustainable development and their role in creating a more sustainable future. One effective way to do this is to design projects focused on sustainability. In this part of this article, we  explore some of the key considerations when designing projects that focus on sustainability. 

  • Involving students in the project is an important step. This can be done as group work or as individual assignments that solicit students' ideas and opinions about sustainable development. For example, if you decide to create a poster about sustainable energy sources in your classroom, ask each student to write down one thing they think is important when thinking about what makes an energy source sustainable or not (eg, "it should be renewable" or " it should not harm animals"). Then compile all these ideas into one poster that shows all the ideas in your class side by side so everyone can see how different they are.
  • Choosing a specific sustainable development problem is another important step in designing a project focused on sustainability. It can be a local or global issue such as climate change, waste reduction or sustainable agriculture. Just make sure  you choose a topic that is important to your students and that they can relate to. For example, if you teach in an urban area, air pollution or sustainable transportation might be good research topics. Alternatively, if you live in a coastal community, ocean conservation or sustainable fishing practices may be more important. When choosing a topic, it is  important to consider the age and level of the students. Simple topics such as reducing plastic waste or art made from recycled or reusable materials may be more suitable for younger students. 
  • Using authentic materials is an important part of designing a sustainability-focused project  to make your project engaging and relevant to  students. Authentic materials are materials intended for native speakers of a language and  not simplified or adapted for language learners. These can include news articles, videos and reports on your chosen sustainability topic. Using authentic material can also help students develop their language skills in context and  understand the real-world implications of sustainability issues. You can also invite guest speakers, such as local sustainability experts, to discuss the topic with your students. 
  • Collaboration is an important part of any project, and this is especially true for sustainable development. Encouraging  students to work together to explore and develop their ideas can help them  develop important teamwork and communication skills. It can also help them  develop a deeper understanding of the viability they are investigating. To facilitate collaboration, you may want to consider creating online discussion forums or group work sessions. 

What kind of projects can I design? 

Projects on Sustainable Transport: Students could research and create a strategy to promote sustainable transport in their local area. They can make persuasive letters and posters to hand out to local politicians and encourage them to invest in public transport or bike lanes.  

Projects on Plastic Pollution: Students can research the impact of plastic pollution on the environment and develop strategies to reduce plastic waste in their community. They can create a campaign to promote the use of eco-bags and containers and create posters with slogans encouraging local institutions to reduce plastic. 

Projects on Climate Change/ Global Warming: Students can research the causes and effects of climate change and develop a plan to reduce their carbon footprint. They can create a presentation or video to share their findings and recommendations with their peers and their community. 

Projects on Sustainable Food: Students can research sustainable agriculture and the impact of food production on the environment. They can create a campaign to promote sustainable food choices, such as plant-based diets and local, organic produce, and write letters to local grocery stores and restaurants, encouraging them to offer more sustainable options. 

Projects on Clean Water/ Sanitation: Students can research the importance of water conservation and develop strategies to reduce water waste in their community. They can create infographics to encourage people around them to reduce their water use and implement water-saving measures. 

How about SDG projects?  

SDG projects are projects that are designed to promote the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are 17 global goals adopted by all countries in 2015 with an aim of creating a more sustainable future for all. The goals address a range of sustainability issues, including poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, climate action, and more. 

SDG projects are an excellent way to engage EFL students in learning about sustainability and the SDGs. By focusing on a specific SDG, students can develop their language skills while also learning about a specific sustainability issue and the actions they can take to contribute to the SDGs. 

Here are some tips for designing SDG projects for your EFL students: 

Choose an SDG that is relevant to your students' lives and interests: You can introduce the 17 SDGs to your students and ask them to choose one that they are passionate about. Alternatively, you can choose an SDG that is relevant to your curriculum or to a specific sustainability issue in your community. 

Use authentic materials to help students develop their language skills in context: These might include news articles, videos, and reports about the SDG you have chosen. You may also consider inviting guest speakers, such as local experts or community leaders, to talk to your students about the SDG. You can find many different ideas on the UN SDG, Global Goals or  #TeachSDG websites. Besides, you can find lesson activity ideas from the TeachEnglish website.  

Encourage collaboration throughout the project: Students can work in groups to research and develop their ideas, and can present their findings and recommendations to the class. You can consider conducting international projects like eTwinning or Erasmus for a wider cooperation and impact. You can also apply for an international programme for schools through the Global Schools Alliance programme for international collaboration projects.  

Here you can find some inspiration for a Sustainability Project. Young Voices of Europe is an Erasmus KA220 project, with schools and NGOs involved. There are 7 countries from Turkiye, Romania, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Macedonia and Lithuania. They came together with an aim of empowering youth with the necessary skills and awareness to the real world problems and the goals aiming to solve them. They do different activities each month according to the theme of the month planned at the beginning.  

Examples of SDG projects for EFL students might include: 

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being: Students research and develop a plan to promote healthy lifestyles and mental health awareness in their community. They could create posters and organise mental health awareness campaigns like Yoga Day, or Mindful Monday  includes meditation activities. 

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation: Students research the importance of clean water and sanitation, and develop strategies to reduce water waste and improve access to clean water in their community. They could create a presentation or video to share their findings and recommendations with their peers. They can design their own water filter. 

SDG 13: Climate Action: This goal is one of the most popular SDGs as it is given importance by many initiatives. Teachers can find many resources of activities, authentic materials or project ideas from several websites or social media accounts like UN SDG. Students research the causes and effects of climate change and develop a plan to reduce their carbon footprint. They could create a campaign to promote sustainable transportation or to reduce food waste, and write letters to local politicians, encouraging them to take action on climate change. 

Designing projects that focus on sustainability  can be an effective way for students to learn about sustainable development and their role in creating a more sustainable future. These are just a few examples of sustainable projects that you can incorporate into your curriculum. There are countless opportunities to explore and you can adapt the concepts to  the age, level and sustainability challenges of your students. By choosing a specific sustainable development topic, using authentic materials and encouraging collaboration, you can design projects that are meaningful, interesting and relevant to your students. These projects can help  develop your students' language skills, as well as their knowledge and understanding of sustainability, and  inspire them to take action in their  lives to create a more sustainable future. 



Ozgu Ozturk began her career as a EFL teacher in Turkiye. Since then, she spent more than eighteen years teaching English with focus on different levels of learners such as primary, secondary and high. She has an MA degree on ELT and Dyslexia Trainer Certificate. She also writes magazine articles for the British Council’s TeachingEnglish webpage and for several international ELT magazines. She is an action researcher and has academic publications on integrating STEAM approach into EFL and Supporting Neurodivergent Students in the EFL classroom. She coordinates international school partnership projects like Erasmus, eTwinning and Scientix. She is a lover of Science and likes travelling around Europe. 

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