In 2019, we are aware more than ever of how fundamental it is to reduce our environmental impact. To not actively try is simply irresponsible, especially in the ELT industry where we are particularly guilty of using vast quantities of paper. Each and every one of us can do our bit, so here are 10 ways to encourage an environmentally friendly classroom.
1. Attempt a paperless classroom – ELT’s paper footprint is enormous, constant photocopying of handouts which just get shoved in bags and forgotten, classroom activities, registers and exams, the list goes on. Can we instead rethink our lessons and see where we can avoid using paper? Technology in the classroom has massively helped reduce the amount of paper we use and other classroom activities such as dictations, running dictations, ‘work station’ activities and online quizzes can help reduce the paper we use in the classroom and keep our lessons varied and fun. If you do need to print handouts can you reduce the size from A4 to A5 so that on one piece of paper you can have two copies? What about printing double-sided? Before pressing that button can you ask yourself whether there is another way of presenting the information? Dictadraws and dictations provide valuable listening practice while saving the rainforest too. If we can take a moment to stop and think we can dramatically reduce our impact.
2. Implement paperless homework – It’s not just inside the classroom where you can cut down on paper. Consider ditching workbooks and worksheets and be creative with your homework tasks. Here are 8 easy paperless homework ideas that you can use with your students.
3. Set up regular exchange events -Sharing is caring so why not reinforce this idea amongst your own students by setting up exchange events. Besides the obvious practical language exchanges, why not try introducing a book, DVD or any other study material (or otherwise) exchange event. Great for community spirit and the environment.
4. Ban bins from the classroom – Sometimes we need a visual reminder to really make a point hit home. By banning bins in the classroom you can put an end to the idea of ‘out of sight out of mind’, if students have to take their rubbish with them they may find they produce less. Alternatively, put a big transparent container somewhere visible in the classroom and make everyone painfully aware of exactly how much waste they are producing. ‘Charge’ students financially or with more homework if they fill the container too quickly.
5. Encourage interclass waste competitions – A competitive element is always a great motivator so where you can encourage competitions between classes or classrooms to see who can produce the least waste. Why not set up ‘Environmental October’ or another month near the beginning of your academic school year to encourage a school spirit of recycling and reusing from the teachers to the students? Classes could run competitions to see who could produce the least waste/ use the least paper/ upcycle the most etc It would then, hopefully, set the theme for the entire school year.
6. Ditch the vending machine – Not just bad for your waist but the rows of plastic bottles and plastic-wrapped confectionery are terrible for the environment. Install a water fountain and fruit basket instead, or home-baked cookies or cakes as an alternative for those with a sweet tooth.
7. Use refillable board markers – While there are endless programmes and applications which can eliminate the need of writing on a board, certain teaching contexts may not lend themselves to these, and there may be times when you want to write on a board. Consider using a chalkboard like or invest in refillable board markers. If you think how many board markers the average teacher gets through in a standard school year, it’s shocking. There are lots of environmentally aware companies springing up which offer many ecological substitutions of everyday teaching equipment.
8. Encourage book sharing – Do all students really need their own book? Can they get by with a digital copy or share textbooks instead? Can students avoid writing in their books, or write in pencil and rub it out instead so the books can be passed on at the end of the academic year/ course, etc? As educators, it’s our responsibility to nurture this environment of sharing, in every aspect, and while publishers probably won’t be happy, it seems that books are an obvious place to start!
9. Use flexible seating plans in the classroom– Flexible seating is an interesting idea where, instead of rows of plastic seats, classrooms are made up of a variety of seating, whether it be up-cycled armchairs, bean bags, floor cushions, upturned buckets, benches, sofas or simply rugs on the floor. Students can change where they are sitting after every activity so not only are we implementing a system which can reduce the amount of plastic in our classrooms but we can also solve potential classroom management issues, encourage our teachers to vary activities as much as possible, step away from traditional paper or book-based activities towards a paperless environment and focus on a more communication-based approach.
10. Vary your teaching technique – can we abandon the traditional classroom set-up and instead adopt more environmentally-friendly practices? Whether it be the flipped classroom model, using tablets instead of notebooks, implementing more projects or dogme style teaching to cut down on resources or using more audio-linguistic methodologies, can we re-think how we approach our lessons to make sure we are producing great, environmentally friendly language learners?
What are you doing to help the environment?