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Practical tip
Getting Started: Working Sustainable Development into Your German Class

Sustainable development in the classroom
Sustainable development in the classroom | © Adobe Stock

Climate protection, clean energy, responsible consumption – young people are taking to the streets nowadays to demonstrate for these issues, which are also economic, social and environmental development goals set by the United Nations. So let’s talk to kids about sustainable development in the classroom.

By Janna Degener-Storr

How can we live sustainably? This is a question that concerns us all. And one that interests young people nowadays on every continent. Many high schoolers have been asking teachers lately to talk about this vital issue in the classroom. And many teachers are finding it a good way to motivate kids… to learn German, among other things.

So there are good reasons to include Sustainable Development Goals in your German courses. And the Goethe-Institut offers free support for teachers who do, including:

  • Teaching and homeschooling materials on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • A video dossier on the subject of sustainable development
  • An online course of teacher training on “Sustainable Development Education in German Class”

Tips for teachers

How can teachers draw on this support to work Sustainable Development Goals into their German classes?

#1 Getting started and making the most of teaching aids

If you haven’t read up on the subject yet, you’ll find a useful introduction in our video dossier on sustainable development. And if you’ve already picked a Sustainable Development Goal for your first discussion of the subject, you’ll find a suitable topic to focus on in the Goethe-Institut’s teaching materials. Teachers who are more experienced and interested in launching a “projects week” or developing their own materials might opt for our online course in “Sustainable Development Education in German Class”. In any case, remember that getting started is always the hardest part, but practice makes perfect, so don’t lease heart!

#2 Selecting suitable Sustainable Development Goals

Some German teachers may already have their own approach to one or more of the UN’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals e.g. from a second subject they teach, or to a topic covered in the Goethe-Institut teaching materials. Others can invite a subject teacher with some expertise in the field to talk to the class. In any case, it’s important to choose your subject-matter with the learners in mind: How old are they? What’s their level of language proficiency? How much do they already know about the subject? Do they have any everyday experiences which the teacher can draw on in the classroom?
The seventeen goals for sustainable development The seventeen goals for sustainable development | © Adobe Stock #3 Using subject-specific content to teach language

The so-called soft version of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is a good way to work Sustainable Development Goals into your German class. The idea is to teach language and subject-matter together, though prioritizing the language instruction and using the subject-specific content to serve that end. The language requirements should be just a cut above the students’ actual language skills to make for what’s known as a “calculated linguistic challenge”.

The Goethe-Institut’s teaching materials are based on this approach. Language learners don’t need to become experts on paper recycling, for example, but they might find the subject interesting enough to watch a video about it in German – with help from the teacher – and pick up some new vocabulary and grammatical skills (e.g. passive verb constructions) more or less “passively” while they’re at it.

#4 Using various methods

Graphic visual materials like graphs, tables and films used in subject teaching can also serve as matter for language learners to talk or write about as well as for experimental assignments. But kids can be creative themselves, too, so the Goethe-Institut’s teaching materials allow plenty of scope for creativity.

#5 Working sustainable development into everyday school life

The subject-matter covered in some school curricula may serve as natural stepping stones or as logical “entry points” for a discussion of sustainable development. If not, teachers can take advantage of a “projects day” or “projects week” to delve into the subject. It might also prove useful to team up with a subject teacher for this purpose. You can get interested parents involved, too, using the Goethe-Institut homeschooling materials (already available in Russian).

Our teaching and homeschooling materials on Sustainable Development Goals were developed by Gila Hoppenstedt, a teacher, CLIL expert and author, for the Goethe-Instituts Moscow and Bangkok as part of the collaboration between the digital Kinderuni & JuniorUni and Science Film Festival projects. For more information, contact Konstantin Sharanov at the Goethe-Institut Moscow.

We managed to sign up Professor W. Linder at the University College for Agrarian and Environmental Pedagogy in Vienna for the video lectures. This course of online training is currently in the pilot phase. For more information, contact project coordinator Ludmila Sokolowa at the Goethe-Institut Moscow.