In the real world and the digital world, English is the lingua franca or common language for nearly a billion people (Crystal, 2006). As the most widespread language in the world, English is the medium of global communication. Therefore, learning English is critical to becoming a member of the larger global community.
As English teachers, we have unique professional opportunities to teach our students a skill and serve as a gateway to this global community of English speakers. When students study English, they become connected to millions of others around the world. This connection to the global village through English encourages us to incorporate the news and current world events into our classrooms.
Teaching English provides opportunities for us to raise our students’ awareness of global affairs. By bringing world affairs into the classroom, we can provide students a rich array of topics that increase their knowledge and engagement with countries, cultures, and issues of global importance.
In this month’s Teacher’s Corner, we will showcase four activities that can be used to incorporate world affairs into the English classroom:
Week 1 – Fantasy Politics
Week 2 – World Wide Wiki
Week 3 – Profits or Preservation
Week 4 – Calamity
The goal of these activities is to inspire students to learn more about the larger world and consider how events affect us all. Weeks one and two facilitate student understanding of news and currents events. Weeks three and four incorporate issues of global importance: deforestation and natural disasters. Each week’s materials can be used as a stand-alone activity or can be combined into a thematic unit on world affairs.
Crystal, D. (2006). Chapter 9: English worldwide. In D. Denison; R. Hogg, (Eds.). A History of the English
language (420–439). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Low-Intermediate to Advanced
Reading, writing (primary focus); speaking (secondary focus)
Students will increase their reading and writing abilities through engagement with news articles and current events. Students will also practice speaking as they report their news stories in class.
- Teacher: whiteboard/chalkboard, markers or chalk, world map, a timing device, a small box/hat/container for drawing numbers randomly.
- Students: pencils or pens, notebooks or writing paper.
One way to incorporate world affairs into classroom practice is through classroom games centered on world news and current events.
This week’s Teacher’s Corner is about fantasy politics.* In this game, students select countries to be on their team. Each week, students will need to check English language news websites or newspapers to find stories that feature their countries. Each time one of a student’s countries is featured in the news, he/she receives points. At the end of each week, students will report their scores to the class. The student with the most points wins!
1. Read through all the materials carefully.
2. Hang a map of the world in the classroom, or bring a map to class each time fantasy politics is played.
3. This activity encourages students to pay attention to and read news stories. Prior to using the activity in class, it is recommended that you compile a list of possible sources to be used in the activity. For lower level students, the activity could be focused on a specific news website such as Voice of America’s Learning English.
4. In the game, students will be creating lists of countries that they will follow on the news. Decide how many countries you would like to make available to students. Make sure the number of countries is divisible by the number of students. For example, in a class of 10 students, you can offer a list of 60 countries or 5 per student or per team and 10 countries that are kept in reserve. These reserve countries will allow students to remove countries from their list and add new countries at the end of each week. This option (to remove/add teams) adds and element of strategy to the game and can allow poorly performing teams to make changes to their list.
5. For large classes, consider having students work in pairs or small groups. To encourage speaking and communication, having students work in pairs or small groups is recommended.
6. Create small slips of papers with letters on them. There should be enough slips of paper for the total number of players or teams that will play. These slips of paper will be used for a random drawing.
7. If possible, hang a large sheet of paper on the classroom wall. This sheet should list the students (or pairs/small groups) with their countries and the number of weeks in the game. For an example score sheet, see Appendix 1.
8. To prevent teams from being imbalanced, such as one team having many nations from the same region, create different rules. For example: teams are not allowed to have more than two nations from: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and must have at least one country from: Oceania (e.g. Australia, Fiji, New Zealand) and South America.
* The name fantasy politics comes from a popular hobby of sports fans in the United States. Each year, fans of American football will play fantasy football. At the beginning of the season (seasons are 15 weeks long), each player selects real American football players to be on their “fantasy team.” Then, fantasy football players watch the week’s football games and are awarded points based on how well their team members performed in real-life games. At the end of each week, players are allowed, and even encouraged, to make changes to their teams or trade with other fantasy football players to try and improve their team.
Part 1 – Pre-Draft Day
1. Before draft day (the day the countries are selected), explain to students the idea of Fantasy Politics. This will provide them time to think about countries they may want to select.
2. Explain the point structure of the game to the students. For points, there are two options; decide which version of the game is best for your students.
a. Basic Game – In the basic game, each time a country is mentioned in the news players/teams are awarded two points.
- To get these points, students must document where and when their countries were in the news; this requires they write down the newspaper/website name, the date, and the title of the news story.
b. Advanced Game – In the advanced game, players/teams are awarded three points each time their country is mentioned in a positive news story, such as a story about a scientific achievement or economic growth. If a player’s country is mentioned in a negative news story, such as involvement in conflict, they receive only one point.
c. IMPORTANT – Inform students that news stories are only worth points if they occur during the current week of the game. Old news stories cannot be counted. For example, if the game begins January 1st only news stories from January 1st – 7th are counted in the Week 1 scores. This ensures the students are reading current events.
3. Allow students the chance to form teams or place them into teams. Give them time to work as a team and decide which countries they may want to select.
4. Provide students with three or four days advanced notice so that they have time to begin checking news stories and thinking about which countries they would like on their team.
Part 2 – Draft Day
5. Begin class looking at the world map and giving teams a few moments to consider the countries they may want to select.
6. To make the country selection process fair, assign each team a letter and add that letter on a slip of paper to a random drawing. Mix the slips of papers well and then select the slips of paper from the drawing. The team whose letter is drawn first will choose first in the round. The team whose letter is selected last will choose a team last in this round. Each team selects one country per round. To keep the selection process from taking too long, set a timer so each team has a limited time to decide which country to select.
7. Rounds will continue until a specific number of countries have been selected.
a. For example, if 5 teams are playing and each is allowed to select 5 countries, there will be five rounds of country selection for a total of 25 countries.
8. To make selection fair, the game uses a serpentine selection. In serpentine selection, the team that goes last in a round selects first the next round.
a. For example, in a random drawing, the teams are selected in the order of: B, D, A, C, E.
b. In round one, the order of selection is in that order of: B, D, A, C, E.
c. In round two, the order is reversed and teams select in the order of: E, C, A, D, B.
Part 3 – The Following Weeks
9. Over the weeks that fantasy politics is played, teams are responsible for keeping up on the news that features the countries on their team.
10. Allocate time in class to review the points the teams earn each week. This should be done at the end of the week or as early as possible the following week so teams can make changes to their teams.
11. Student teams are encouraged to make trades with one another and change their countries if they wish. This adds an element of strategy to the game. If one team has a country frequently in the news, they could accept offers from other teams to trade. Other teams may need to be willing to trade more than one of their countries to get a country they really want!
12. One suggested option for the game is to keep a reserve of countries by having more countries than teams are allowed to initially select. For example, in a game of fantasy politics with 5 student teams who are allowed to select 5 countries (for a total of 25), it would be best to have at least 35 countries available. This way, if teams have countries on their list that are not in the news, they can drop that country and pick another from the reserve list. Be sure to warn students that just because a country is not in the news this week doesn’t mean it won’t be in the news the following week, so they must choose carefully!
High-Beginner to Advanced
Reading, writing (primary focus); speaking (secondary)
Students will increase their reading and writing abilities through the building of a class wiki page on other nations and current events.
- Teacher: whiteboard/chalkboard, markers or chalk, world map, computer lab access (if possible).
- Students: pencils or pens, notebooks or writing paper.
Collaborative writing is an effective way to engage students in authentic communication tasks. In collaborative writing tasks, students work together to create written texts. This allows them opportunities to brainstorm ideas, co-author texts, and proofread their shared writing.
It can also be a fantastic way to get students interested in world affairs. Working in collaborative teams, students can create their own world fact books using the collaborative spaces of wikis.
Wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning quick, but in an Internet context a wiki is a website that can edited by many different people working together. Wikis can be an effective introduction to collaborative writing, working in online spaces, and knowing more about the world. The best aspect of wikis is how simple they are. Most are similar in appearance to word editing software such as Microsoft Word or Open Office but with a collaborative component for additional writing and speaking practice.
- Read through all the materials carefully.
- This activity works best as a follow-up to the February Teacher’s Corner Week 1 on Fantasy Politics. If your class played (or is currently playing) fantasy politics, have teams write their reports about their team’s countries.
- This activity, like fantasy politics, works if best played over at least five weeks. This length gives students the time needed to find and read information on countries around the world.
- Hang a map of the world in the classroom, or bring a map to class each time for students to access as a reference.
- This activity encourages students to pay attention to and read news stories. Prior to using the activity in class it is recommended that you compile a list of possible sources to be used in the activity. For lower level students, the activity could be focused on a specific news website such as Voice of America’s Learning English.
- Collaborative writing works best in pairs or small groups of no more than four students. If your class played (or is currently playing) fantasy politics, have the students keep the same teams.
- If your class did not play fantasy politics, this activity can be done as a stand-alone class project. Just begin the activity with students selecting countries from a list. They can then spend a week gathering information about these countries from the news and write wiki pages based on that information.
Wikis are web-based writing tools that allow multiple writers to help create the same document or web page. There are many widely available wikis; each one is slightly different, but overall they are quite similar. The most important consideration when choosing a wiki is classroom fit and student access. Below is a list of the most popular wikis on the web.
Media Wiki - https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki
PBWorks - https://plans.pbworks.com/academic
Wiki Dot - http://www.wikidot.com/
Wikispaces - http://www.wikispaces.com/content/classroom
Besides wikis, other online tools can be used for collaborative writing activities. Online course management systems, such as Moodle, usually contain their own wiki tools, and online tools such as Google Docs can be used just like wikis. Below is a list of non-wiki alternatives.
Moodle – http://moodle.org
Google Docs – http://drive.google.com
Regular Paper – If computers are not an option for your class, students can still engage in collaborative writing with paper and pencil. Remember technology is never as important as the skill being learned!
Procedures – Fantasy Politics Expansion
The procedures for this activity are based on your class playing fantasy politics from Week 3 of this month’s Teacher’s Corner.
- After student teams have drafted their nations for fantasy politics, have students begin searching for news stories online that feature the countries on their team. Remind students that only current news stories can be counted.
- As students collect news stories, have them keep a journal. Each student should keep his/her own journal as he/she cannot predict when she/he will find a news story. Remind students that the more stories they find, the more points they earn! These journals should track the stories they read.
a. Journal entries should contain the name of the news article, the author of the article, the name of the website/newspaper where they found the article, and the date (day, month, and year).
b. The journal entry should also include a summary of the article that highlights the main points about the country of interest to them. Documenting sources and summarizing articles serves as a great introduction to academic writing in English.
Writing Brainstorm Phase
- At the end of the first week of fantasy politics, have the students gather in their teams for group work.
- Each team member should bring his/her journal to class and share it with the other members of the team.
- Give the teams time to look through their journals at the stories each student documented. If students documented the same story, encourage them to discuss the article with one another to clarify their understanding of the topic and any new vocabulary.
Collaborative Writing Phase
- After students have had time to sort through their team’s articles for the week, have them visit the class wiki page. If computers are not possible have them get out sheets of paper.
- Using the wiki space, have the students write a weekly report for the countries. The team should collaborate to include the information they learned from the articles collected by the team.
a. If students have many countries on their team, they can choose several to write about, such as those that earned the team the most points that week.
- If class time permits, have the students engage in this collaborative writing activity at the end of each week of fantasy politics or make it a required homework assignment each week.
Potential Expansion Activities
Depending on classroom goals or student abilities, it is possible to expand upon this collaborative writing activity. Below are just a few ideas.
- Team Peer Edit – After the teams have written their country reports for the week, have the teams trade wiki pages and engage in peer review. Teams can check the pages of other teams for issues of grammar, spelling or even factual correctness. You can even allocate bonus fantasy politics points each week for the team with the fewest grammar mistakes on their wiki page!
- Oral Reports – After student teams have written their country reports for the week, have them come to the front of the class and give a presentation on what they learned that week. This gives the students a chance to speak and learn new information from other teams. You can do this at the end of each week.
- News Reports – If classroom time for students is not an option, have students create audio or video journals in the form of news reports. These can be submitted as homework and shared amongst the class for additional listening opportunities.
High-Intermediate to Advanced
Speaking, listening (primary focus); reading (secondary focus)
Students will increase their speaking and listening skills through role-play activities centered on deforestation.
- Teacher: whiteboard/chalkboard, markers or chalk, a timing device, a world map for reference.
- Students: pencils or pens, notebooks or writing paper.
This week’s Teacher’s Corner is a role-play. Each of the three roles has a different agenda and goal on whether forests should be protected or cut down for profit.
- Read through all the materials carefully.
- For large classes, consider having students work in pairs or small groups. To encourage speaking and communication, having students work in pairs or small groups is recommended.
- Prior to class, read the Voice of America article Deforestation Decreased Over the Past 10 Years and listen to the audio version of the story as well.
- Print enough role-play cards for each student (or pairs/groups) found in Appendix 1.
- If needed, print copies of the VOA Article “Deforestation Decreased Over the Past 10 Years” for students to read after you play the audio in class. If possible, show the article to students using a classroom projector instead of printing copies, and save a tree!
- If possible, give the role-play cards to students before the class. This provides them time to research information online that may be helpful in their role-play.
Part 1 – Pre-Role-Play
- Begin the class with a brainstorm activity. Write the word trees on the board and ask students “What makes trees important in our lives?” Have the students do a think, pair, share.
- Think – after asking the students, “What makes trees important in our lives?” give them several minutes to brainstorm some reasons why trees are important. Have them list these ideas on a sheet of paper.
- Pair – once students have generated a list, have them find a partner and share their lists.
- Share – elicit ideas from the pairs of students and list their reasons for the importance of trees.
- Next, play the Voice of America article “Deforestation Decreased Over the Past 10 Years” audio file for the students. For the first play of the audio, allow students to just listen.
- Check student comprehension by asking:
- What is deforestation? – The cutting down of trees.
- Has deforestation increased or decreased during the last decade? - Decreased
- Which countries reduced their deforestation rates? – Brazil and Indonesia
- Which countries began tree planting programs? – China, India, Vietnam, United States
- Which parts of the world lost the most trees over the last 10 years? – Africa, South America
- If a map is available, show the places after each question is answered.
- Note – students may say that cutting down trees is always bad. The goal of these questions is to encourage them to think critically about the issue of deforestation and why it may happen, so ask follow-up questions to get them to think beyond good and bad.
- Have the students work in pairs to think about and answer these questions. Give them several minutes to brainstorm answers to these questions. When the pairs of students have brainstormed ideas, have them work with another pair and share their ideas as a group. After several minutes, bring the class back together and elicit some answers from the class.
- There is no correct answer to these questions. The goal is to encourage them to think about the economic reasons deforestation may occur. For example, if trees are cut down, wood can be used to build homes or the land can be used for farming.
Part 2 – Role-Play
The role-play can be played with three students, each student playing a unique role. However, to encourage more collaboration and speaking opportunities, have pairs or small groups of students take on each role.
- Place students into pairs or small groups. These pairs/small groups will work together and get a single roleplay card, of either A, B, or C. They will work with two other groups to make a unit.
- Combine the pairs/small groups into units of three pairs/small groups each.
- Provide each pair/small group a role-play card. Each pair/small group should keep their role a secret from the other pairs/small groups in the unit.
- Provide the students time to work in their pairs/small groups to think about their role.
- Circulate around the room and help students brainstorm ideas by asking them what is important for their role. What goal does their role have? What is the best way to convince the other pairs/small groups to share their opinion?
- Begin the role-play with Group A. They should start with a brief introduction to the other groups and then allow the other groups to introduce themselves.
- Encourage students to role-play! This means they should avoid just reading their cards to the other pairs/small groups. One way to encourage this is to have students put their role cards away after the brainstorming period in step #8!
- Give the students 10-15 minutes to role-play the discussion. Circulate around the room and check with each unit to ensure that all pairs/small groups are getting speaking time.
- If time permits after the debate ends, have the pairs/small groups take on new roles and then form new units with other pairs/small groups. By switching roles, the students can practice understanding different sides of a discussion.
- End the role play by having Group A of each unit announce their decision to the class. Will they limit deforestation or continue cutting down trees? Encourage them to explain how they reached their decision.
- This activity can be followed up with a homework writing assignment. Have each group write a report of the meeting to their bosses:
- Group A – Write a report to deliver to the President. Give the President advice on whether the Forestania should continue deforestation or save the trees.
- Group B – Write a report to supporters of Speak for the Trees International and describe the meeting. Was it a success? If so, why? Was it not successful? If so, why?
- Group C – Write a report to the business that Northington Business Advisors supports. Was the meeting a success? If so, why? Was it unsuccessful? If so, why?
For more information on incorporating environmental issues into your class, check out the following resources:
Low-Intermediate to Advanced
Speaking, writing (primary focus); Reading (secondary focus)
Students will increase their speaking and writing abilities through a task-based activity on preventing and responding to natural disasters.
- Teacher: whiteboard/chalkboard, markers or chalk, world map, a timing device, a computer lab.
- Students: pencils or pens, notebooks or writing paper.
Bringing world affairs into the classroom provides students opportunities to explore real world issues and consider how these issues may affect their own countries and towns. These types of classroom activities can get students thinking about the issues in their own communities and prepare for real-life events such as natural disasters.
In this week’s Teacher’s Corner, students will learn about natural disasters and disaster prevention.
- Read through all the materials carefully.
- This activity utilizes resources created by the United Nations’ Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). You can find out more about the UNISDR here.
- During the activity students will play the UNISDR game Stop Disasters! The game requires players to implement safety measures in a community before a disaster strikes. Play the game before class to learn the rules to provide students help as needed.
- The third part of the activity uses the website Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System. Prior to class, view the website to ensure it works on your Internet browser software.
- For larger classes, consider having students work in pairs or small groups. Having students work in pairs or small groups is recommended because it encourages speaking and communication.
- This activity can be used in one class or across several class periods. Decide which approach is best for your classroom goals and objectives.
- This activity uses the computer game Stop Disasters! Playing the game requires an Internet connection. If computers with Internet are not possible, consider assigning the game as homework prior to doing this activity in class. If only a teacher computer with Internet is accessible, consider playing the game in class. Students can, as a group, make decisions in the game.
- Students may have questions on vocabulary such as hurricane and tsunami. Encourage the students to play the game first to discover the vocabulary in context. After playing the game, check for any vocabulary they may not have understood.
- This activity has disasters as the major theme. When using serious subjects in the classroom, be sensitive to student experiences and their age, and consider if such material is appropriate for your classroom.
* The game Stop Disasters! uses the English word hurricane. However, in English the terms typhoon and cyclone are also used depending on where the storm originates. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon; we just use different names for these storms in different places. In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, the term “hurricane” is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a “typhoon” and “cyclones” occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.
Depending on your location, you may want to use typhoon or cyclone as the in-class vocabulary.
Part 1 – Stop Disasters! Game
Using video games in the classroom requires allowing students time to understand the rules of game. In this part of the activity, students may seem unfocused and appear to click on everything in the game during the first five to ten minutes of playing the game. This is a normal part of learning how a game’s rule structure works, so be sure to plan for this time accordingly. If time is limited, consider having students play the game prior to class so they come to class with an understanding of the game.
- Place students in pairs or small-groups and have them play Stop Disasters! Encourage the students to play at least three scenarios if time permits.
- Instruct the students to have a pencil and notebook available. In their pairs/small groups, one student should act as note-taker. Their responsibility is to take notes on the decisions their pair/small group makes during gameplay.
- During gameplay, remind the note-taker to document the score their pair/small group receives.
Part 2 – Disaster Debriefing
Video games work best in classroom practice when students are allowed to make choices and see the results of those choices. In this section of the activity, students will engage in sharing their decisions with other teams.
1. After the pairs/small groups have finished playing Stop Disasters!, have them review their notes on the decisions and choices they made.
a. Encourage students to think about their gameplay by asking them, “How successful was your team?”
2. Next, have the pairs/small groups partner with another pair/small group to form larger teams. Have these teams share notes and discuss their in-game actions. On the board, write the following questions for the teams to discuss:
a. Which scenarios of the game did you play?
b. Why did you choose those scenarios?
c. How well did you complete the scenario?
d. What would you do differently next time?
3. If time permits, have the students play again. Instruct them to replay the scenario in which they did the worst. Prior to playing the game again, encourage the students to think about the discussion they had with the other pair/small group and have the students write out a brief plan of action.
a. These plans of action will vary from group to group. What is important about the plan is the students take time to reflect on the decisions they made during the first play through, the conversation with the other pair/small group, and the notes they took. The goal here is for the pairs/small groups to develop a strategy before playing the game a second time.
Part 3 – Disaster Management
Video games can be an effective part of classroom practice when used to provide experiences to students. This experience can then be used as a resource for follow-up expansion activities such as the one below. Stop Disasters! is an example of a serious game. In serious games, the goal is to use the digital experience to draw attention to real world issues and events. This part of the activity uses real natural disasters around the world, so consider this before bringing this part of the activity into your classroom.
1. In the game Stop Disasters! players are asked to prepare communities for the following types of disasters. Begin this section of the activity by asking the students which disasters are shown in the game. As students name the disasters, write the names on the board:
b. Wild Fires
2. Have the students form teams of three or four students each.
3. Ask the teams to organize the disasters in order of most critical to least critical. Instruct the students that they must also be able to explain why they ranked the emergencies in the order they did.
a. Important – There is no correct answer to the order of most to least critical. The goal of this section of the activity is to encourage students to think critically about disasters and to understand the challenges of providing disaster relief around the world.
4. After the teams have made their rankings, have them share their ordered lists and the reasons for the order of disasters that they selected.
Part 4 – Disaster Response
- Instruct the students that their teams work for the United Nations Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System and they must respond to disasters around the world.
- Have the teams visit the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System website and check the Open Emergencies. This is a list of current global natural disasters.
a. Students may notice the dates on the website can be old, in some cases up to a year. If students ask about the date, inform them that these dates refer to the initial event and that people in the region are still in need of assistance. These dates should influence their decision-making process in the next step.
- Have the students check the recent emergencies and make critical decisions on where to send help. Inform the teams that they have only enough resources to assist in three natural disasters or disaster recovery situations. Each team must decide where to allocate their resources. After each team has decided the disasters to which they will allocate resources, have them present their decision to the class. Instruct them to explain their decisions.
- The goal of this activity is to help students understand how decisions can be influenced by real world events. As students decide which natural disasters are in need of the most attention, have them check the list they made in step #8 and think critically about how that list was made. Encourage them to consider decisions made about the disasters shown on the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System website and how those compared to that earlier list made in step #8.
Possible Follow-up Activities
This activity requires students to make decisions about real world disasters. It is important to encourage students to consider how disasters can affect their community. Here are some possible follow-up activities to encourage students to consider disasters in their community.
For homework, have teams make disaster prevention posters. The teams should design the posters to teach classmates how to prepare for disaster that could possibly occur in their community.
Disaster Relief Debate
How should disaster relief be decided? An in-class debate can be organized in which students debate the statement: Disaster relief is a global responsibility. In the debate, students should take two sides: one that supports the statement and one that refutes the statement.
For more information on using both video games and debates in the English classroom, check out the September 2015 Teacher’s Corner.