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Raising awareness and understanding of environmental issues: empowering our pupils to make a difference through an engaging and thought-provoking Literacy curriculum.

Feb 13th 2020

Over the past two years, we have been working with schools to promote an approach to teaching Literacy which engages pupils in global issues. This year, we have been highlighting environmental issues that can be addressed in school using high-quality picture books and novels aimed at primary age children.


‘There can be no greater legacy than giving young people the tools they need to save our planet.’

Few children and young people will not be aware of some of the challenges our planet faces. They will not have missed news coverage of the recent bush fires raging across vast swathes of Australia; they will have heard the words ‘climate change’ and seen footage of extreme weather conditions; they are likely to be aware of Greta Thunberg; they will have heard headlines or watched programmes about plastic in our oceans; they will know a little about pollution; they will have some consciousness of endangered species.

The global conversation will become increasingly loud over the next few years, as leaders come together to discuss climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development. Big changes to the way we live are likely to become necessary in order to protect and restore the natural world on which we all depend.

Over the past two years, we have been working with schools to promote an approach to teaching Literacy which engages pupils in global issues. This year, we have been highlighting environmental issues that can be addressed in school using high-quality picture books and novels aimed at primary age children, for it is today’s young people who will ultimately be most affected by any decisions made. It is today’s young people who will have an important role to play in saving our living planet through their choices and actions over the years to come.

Engaging our pupils through the use of high-quality texts provides an exciting opportunity to explore this very current and relevant agenda with sensitivity. Many of the headlines that our pupils may have seen or heard are frightening; many of our pupils may be anxious. Our book choices and accompanying lesson plans aim to provide the background knowledge behind the headlines, to inspire and empower pupils, to help them understand how each and every one of them, however young, can contribute to positive change, and that together, they can make a difference.

This video produced by The World Wildlife Fund, outlines the message powerfully:

Many schools are already addressing some of these issues with their pupils through Eco Groups, recycling initiatives, neighbourhood projects or through collaboration with conservation and wildlife experts/organisations in their localities. Teachers will be aware of their pupils’ interest and passion, and many will be supporting them as they are galvanised into action for change. How can we, in our schools, continue to develop the understanding of complex issues in a sensitive, meaningful and relevant manner which is appropriate for young children? How can we support their momentum, capitalise on their passion and help them to sustain change?

In EYFS and Key Stage 1, delightful stories about sea and forest creatures draw children into meaningful and relevant contexts. For many children, the settings will be within their own experiences. They will all be aware to some extent about not dropping litter, and keeping places tidy. However, the relatable characters, beautiful illustrations and engrossing storylines will ensure deeper explanations and understanding. The stories are a powerful way of immersing even very young children in the relevant and ongoing issues facing our planet. They are underpinned with reassuring and positive messages about how everyone, however small, can make a difference. Through our Literacy teaching, children are encouraged to see beyond the immediate and to consider consequences. ‘Clem and Crab’ by Fiona Lumbers is a beautiful story which can even be adapted for pre-school children. ‘Somebody Swallowed Stanley’ by Sarah Roberts and ‘Tidy’ by Emily Gravett both succeed in combining an important message with warm, captivating storytelling and humour.

At lower KS2 the draw of humour continues in the wonderful Oliver Jeffers’ ‘The Great Paper Caper,’ which focuses on how easy it is to waste paper, and Lara Hawthorne’s ‘Alba the Hundred Year Old Fish’ gently highlights the issue of pollution through its beautifully illustrated pages. By giving pupils opportunities to carry out research, explore findings together, write journal entries, persuasive letters and information leaflets, pupils’ understanding of environmental issues is deepened and they are helped to consider together what can be done to make changes.

Pupils in Years 5 and 6 will be both fascinated and appalled by what they learn in ‘The Brilliant Deep’ by Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe and Georgia Amson-Bradshaw’s ‘Plastic Planet.’ With a range of purposeful reading, research, drama and writing opportunities, and links to figures who feature prominently in the current debate over climate change, pupils’ interest is assured, and their knowledge deepened. The carefully selected texts challenge pupils to think beyond their own comfort and convenience, and to consider their own role in the wider debate.

Schools are expected to consider their curriculum intent and to ‘give all learners…the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life’ (Ofsted Inspection Framework May 19 pg 9). We need to guide our pupils to recognise how they fit into a global context and arm them with the essential knowledge they need to prepare for future success. Environmental themed units dovetail perfectly with Science, Geography, D&T, PHSCE and Global Citizenship and make current issues relevant. Every school’s context is different, yet every school can make these themes relevant to their own locality in order to match the learning needs of their pupils.

At The Literacy Company, we believe passionately in making learning relevant and purposeful through inspiring Literacy lessons. To find out more about our package of Literacy units, visit our website or to enquire about our in-school training sessions on promoting Environmental issues through your Literacy curriculum, please email admin@theliteracycompany.co.uk.