Exploring the SDGs Through Project Work

In the first post in this series, we looked at why we should promote the United Nation’s SDGS – Sustainable Development Goals – with our English learners. This post turns to the how, specifically, in the shape of projects.

If your teaching normally consists of individual lessons from a course, you could be forgiven for having little experience with projects in the context of English learning. But project-based learning can add real value to the English-language learning lives of your students. It bridges the gap between using English in class and using English in real-life situations outside of class. It does this by placing learners in situations that require authentic use of language in order to communicate, such as being part of a team or interviewing others. Projects tend to involve a number of stages and require learners to work independently of the teacher to some extent, usually in groups. Project-based learning builds on previous language work, integrating speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. It incorporates collaboration, problem-solving, negotiating, and other interpersonal skills.

The spark for a project is a line of inquiry, initiated by a question, such as How can we make our local area cleaner? or How can we make low-cost, healthy, local food for everyone? Then, through a series of authentic tasks, like researching, designing, and presenting, the learners create an end product, with potentially real-world applications. This could be as simple as a classroom poster, something technology-based like a recorded interview or video, or an event like a craft fair, presentation, or show. The final product can be used to evaluate each learner’s performance, or for them to self-evaluate.

Perhaps the best way to learn about projects is to look at one. Together with fellow writer for the Voices series, Emily Bryson, we wrote a series of projects to accompany the course, each one tackling one or more SDGs with a positive, goal-centered approach with outcomes that are at once personalized, achievable, and constructive. Let’s take a look at “Making old clothes new ”, which asks the question: How can we discourage people from buying fast fashion? Learners actually put on an event, such as a school thrift market, to encourage people to reduce, reuse and repair clothes instead of buying new ones. At the end of this post, you’ll be able to download the project and try it for yourself.

An infographic from Voices Intermediate level

How can we discourage people from buying fast fashion?

To answer this question, the learners will need:

  • to understand the context of the project, the SDGs that it tackles, and its importance. In this case, students research the causes of fast fashion and its costs to the environment and people and link it to SDGs 6 (Clean water and sanitation), 12 (Consumption and production), and 14 (Life below water).
  • a goal or goals to aim for. Goals must be defined at the start of the project. They constitute the criteria for successful project work and can be evaluated at the end. Goals for this project include communicating the effects of fast fashion on freshwater systems and organizing an effective campaign.
  • the language to talk about the problems and solutions, such as Microplastics are released when we wash clothes made with artificial fibers and don’t throw away clothes that have only been used once or twice. Notice the use of passive structures in these sentences, which learners may have studied recently.
  • a set of instructions to understand what they need to do each step of the way. In our projects, learners receive a student sheet with these clearly laid out.
  • some materials and resources. Depending on the project and age of the learners, these may be as straightforward as large pieces of paper and pens with which to create posters. For “Making old clothes new”, the learners need internet access to research fast fashion, plus they’ll need to raid their wardrobes for some clothes they no longer wear!

To get you started, we’ve turned the “Making old clothes new” project into a free downloadable resource, along with the lesson from Voices Intermediate that inspired the project.

If you’ve never run a project with your learners, it can be a rewarding experience. Learners can surprise you with their English abilities, independence, and teamwork when given a real-world task and the responsibility to lead. What’s stopping you from giving it a go?

Featured Image: Locatelli, Luca. Italy, 2019. National Geographic Image Collection, https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/photography/2021/10/26-images-of-devastation-and-hope-part-ii?image=NationalGeographic_2747883.

Author: Daniel Barber

Daniel Barber is a teacher, trainer and writer based in Cádiz, Spain. He’s taught classes of all types and ages over more than twenty years as well as tutoring and directing Trinity TESOL courses and managing his own school. He is an author for National Geographic Learning’s secondary series Perspectives , Look, a series for young learners of English and, most recently, Voices. His interests include motivation in learning, coaching approaches to teaching English and the science of learning and the brain.

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