Talking about Climate Change: Three Teaching Ideas for Lower Levels

The previous blog about the climate change debate looked at teaching ideas for higher levels, focusing on a) the words we need to talk about climate change b) the way people feel about it and c) constructive ideas for dealing with it. In this post, I want to suggest activities with a similar focus for lower levels. As in the previous post, I will give some references at the end to lessons in the Life series, specifically Life Elementary and Pre-Intermediate, which feature the topic.

1) Practice the language of rise and fall

Often when we discuss climate change and its effects we look at things getting bigger and smaller: pollution, the number of forests, etc. English has a large number of verbs for describing rises and falls. It’s not an easy area even for more advanced learners, so for lower-level students, we definitely need to limit the number of verbs we teach. But the great thing is they are words that are useful in so many contexts, not just climate change.

This exercise for B1 students practices the verbs: increase, rise and get bigger AND decrease, fall and get smaller respectively.  First pre-teach the concept behind each pair of words:  increase / decrease = getting more/less; rise / fall = going up/down; (getting bigger / smaller = getting bigger/smaller!!). Then get them to work together on these exercises.   

1 Work in pairs. Tick the right box for each item, increasing or decreasing. 

increasing  / rising / getting bigger decreasing / falling / getting smaller
The Earth’s temperature
The Polar ice caps
The amount of plastic in the ocean
The number of trees / forests
The number of animals
The level of the sea
The amount of CO2 in the air

2 Now complete these sentences using words in the table. *

  1. The Earth’s temperature is __________ because the _________________ increasing.
  2. The polar ice caps are _________ because the ___________________ rising.
  3. The level of the sea is _________ because the _________________ getting smaller.

3 Can you think of another sentence like this for one of the other items?  ‘X is increasing / decreasing because Y is increasing / decreasing’ 

2) Help students understand positive feedback loops

As with rise and fall, the language of cause and effect – explaining reasons and consequences – is really useful to students in discussing lots of topics.  In this case, we can use this aspect of climate change to practice first conditional sentences at B1 level.

Positive feedback loops are things which accelerate global warming. They refer to events that at some point will take climate change out of the control of humans and avoiding them is what makes tackling climate change so urgent.  You can think of them as vicious circles. For example,  global warming causes the ice caps to melt ” less ice means less sunlight is reflected ” more sunlight absorbed by the sea means more global warming ” and so on.

1. Write these sentences in full to describe these feedback loops. Follow this structure:

If  X happens ……..,                                            then Y will  happen

A temperature / rise                                         ice cap / get smaller

B ice cap / get smaller                                       there / be / less ice

C there / be / less ice                                         it /not / be / able / reflect / sunlight

D there / be / more sunlight on the sea              temperature / rise

E temperature / rise                                          there / be / more chance of forest fires

F there / be / more forest fires                          many trees / die

G there / be/ fewer trees                                  there / be / more / CO2 / in the air

H there /be / more CO2 in the air                      temperature / rise

2.  Ask students to research other feedback loops. They could be positive (accelerating global warming) or negative (slowing down global warming)

3) Explore why it’s hard to act on climate change

As we saw in the exercises at higher levels, getting learners to identify their feelings about climate change is a great way to stimulate more meaningful debate and for you to get to know your students better.

1.  Which of these statements about climate change is closest to your way of thinking?

1 I’m worried about it. But the problem is too big for me to solve.

2 I’m not interested in it. My life is too busy and complicated anyway.

3 I am optimistic that science will find a way to solve it.

4 I do what I can to help and I try to persuade other people to do the same.

5  _________________________________ (your own idea)

2. Can you give an example to explain your answer to Exercise 1?

3. What could you do more to help fight climate change in these areas?

Transport                     Food                             Electricity                     Shopping


To discuss positive actions for fighting climate change, brainstorming ideas for ‘Earth Day’ works well with lower-level students. There’s a listening activity on Earth Day in Life Elementary Unit 12d which you could easily extend into a discussion about different ways of commemorating the day with activities that are kind to the Earth, such as collecting rubbish in a park, planting a tree or finding a waste object that you can recycle into something cool. Life Pre-Intermediate 5b contains some inspiring stories about initiatives like this that are taking place on a much larger scale, like the Great Green Wall project in Africa which aims to replant and restore 100 million hectares of degraded land in the Sahara region by 2030.


If you have any other teaching ideas around the topic of climate change that work well with lower-level learners, please share them here with other teachers.  Our students, particularly children and young adults who will be most affected by climate change, are the ones who often inspire us most.      

A unit opener from Life Level 3


Exercise 1.2

  1. The Earth’s temperature is rising because the amount of CO2 in the air increasing.
  2. The polar ice caps are getting smaller because the Earth’s temperature is rising.
  3. The level of the sea is rising because the polar ice caps are getting smaller.

Author: Paul Dummett

Paul Dummett is a teacher and writer based in Oxford, UK, where he ran his own school teaching English to professionals from 1996 to 2006. He currently teaches refugee children in Palestine and Jordan with the Handsupproject. His main interests are the use of images and narrative in language teaching and how these can aid deeper learning and memory. Seeking out writing projects that explore these interests he has found a natural home at National Geographic Learning, co-authoring titles such as Life and Keynote , and acting as a Course Consultant for Look, a seven-level primary series from National Geographic Learning.

He enjoys travel, exercise and live music/spoken word performance.

One comment

  1. Thank you for the good ready – made lesson. I like CLIL and we practise it learning English in Advanced school.

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