Becoming a global teacher: Ten steps to an international classroom

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Kip Cates


Cates Figure

One of the most important tasks for educators in the world today is to help students learn about the rich variety of people in our multicultural world and the important world problems that face our planet. English language teachers have a special role to play in this important task. In this article, I'd like to outline ten steps that classroom instructors can take to become global teachers and to add an international dimension to their language classrooms.

Step 1: Rethink the Role of English

The first step in becoming a global teacher is to rethink your definition of English. Definitions are important because they limit what we do. How do you define life, for example? As a party? A pilgrimage? A to-do list? A vale of tears? Each of these definitions will lead you off in a different direction. In the same way, how you define English determines what you do in your classroom. What is "English" then? Traditionally, English has been defined as:

  1. a linguistic system of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar
  2. a school subject and a topic on university entrance exams
  3. a language of "daily conversation" about family, sports and hobbies
  4. the mother tongue of English-speaking countries such as the USA and Britain

These four traditional views have long formed the basis of much English teaching worldwide. A global education view of English, however, involves two further dimensions. It sees the English classroom as a place for teaching:

  1. English as an international language for communication with people from around the world
  2. English as a subject for learning about the world's peoples, countries and problems

A global approach to EFL, therefore, means showing how English can be a language of world citizenship for learning about our global village, for communicating with people from other cultures and for working to solve problems facing Planet Earth.

Step 2: Reconsider Your Role as Teacher

How we define ourselves is just as important as how we define our field. A key question teachers can ask themselves is "Who am I?" How you answer this determines what you do in class. Do you define yourself as "just an English teacher?" Or do you see yourself as an "educator" in the wider sense? I prefer to define myself as a global educator who teaches English as a foreign language. This means that I'm dedicated to good English teaching but that I'm also committed to helping my students become responsible global citizens who will work for a better world.

This mission we have as global educators is outlined in UNESCO's (1974) Recommendation on "Education for International Understanding, Cooperation, and Peace." This calls on teachers in schools around the world to promote:

  • an international dimension and a global perspective in education at all levels
  • understanding and respect for all peoples, their cultures, values and ways of life
  • awareness of the increasing global interdependence between peoples and nations
  • abilities to communicate with others
  • awareness of the rights and duties of individuals, social groups and nations towards each other
  • understanding of the necessity for international solidarity and co-operation
  • readiness on the part of the individual to participate in solving the problems of his/her community, country and the world at large

How we teach English in our EFL classrooms can either promote or hinder these important goals.

Step 3: Rethink Your Classroom Atmosphere

A third step in internationalizing your teaching is to rethink your class atmosphere and the impact it has on students. What do students see when they enter your classroom? Bare concrete walls? Pictures and photos of the USA? If we really want to teach English as a global language, we need to think carefully about our classroom atmosphere and what it says to students.

What is a global classroom? A global EFL classroom is a room decorated with global posters, world maps and international calendars—all in English. It's a dynamic, colorful place which stimulates international awareness and curiosity about our multicultural world. It features globes, international displays, and walls decorated with posters of world flags, current events, and Nobel Peace Prize winners. A global classroom is also an environmentally-friendly classroom where teachers and students use recycled paper, save energy, and use both sides of the paper for handouts and homework.

Step 4: Integrate Global Topics Into Your Teaching

Global education doesn't happen through good intentions alone. It must be planned for, prepared and consciously taught. After all, students can't learn what you don't teach. It doesn't do any good, for example, to teach English grammar and hope that students somehow become more international as a result. Rather, a good global language teacher must sit down and write up a "dual syllabus" comprising: (1) a set of language learning goals and (2) a set of global education goals. Once these are listed, the teacher's job is to design effective, enjoyable class activities that achieve both sets of objectives in an integrated, creative way. A sample global education lesson plan might look like this:

Language Learning Goal Global Education Goal
To practice the present perfect
"Have you ever..?"
To raise awareness of environmental problems

Activities to Accomplish the Above Goals

  1. Show the class pictures of environmental problems and ask present perfect questions:
    "Have you ever seen...?"
    • a polluted river
    • an oil spill
    • a dead tree
    • litter on the ground
  2. Put the class into groups and have them do a group eco-survey about environmental action by asking each other the following present perfect questions:
    "Have you ever...?"
    • picked up litter from the ground
    • turned off the lights to save energy
    • used something that was recycled
    • given money to an environmental organization
  3. For homework, assign students to do 3 good deeds for the environment over the next week. Then, make a present perfect class poster entitled: "Things our class has done for the environment"

Step 5: Experiment With Global Education Activities

Part of becoming a global teacher involves experimenting in class with global education activities such as games, role plays, and videos. Games designed around international themes can stimulate motivation, promote global awareness, and practice language skills. Typical global education games range from environmental bingo, to human rights quizzes, to world travel board games. Books such as Worldways (Elder & Carr, 1987), Multicultural Teaching (Tiedt, 2001) and In the Global Classroom (Pike & Selby, 2000) provide a variety of such activities that can be adapted to the EFL classroom.

Role plays can stimulate students' creativity while promoting communicative language use in a way that lecturing can't. There's a big difference between reading about Third World refugees, for example, and actually becoming one in class. Global education role plays include conflict resolution skits, discrimination experience games, and Model United Nations simulations, and can have students take on roles ranging from endangered species, to African slaves, to world leaders.

Video allows teachers to bring the world into class in a very real way. Through the magic of video, we can take our students back in time to meet Gandhi, or off to visit UN headquarters in New York - all at the touch of a button. For EFL lessons on the environment, I'd love to fly my students to Brazil, but my salary doesn't quite allow that. Since I can't take my class to the Amazon, the next best thing is to bring the Amazon to my classroom. This I can do with global education videos such as "Spaceship Earth" (Worldlink, 1990). This allows my students to travel to Brazil with pop singer Sting and learn about tropical rainforest destruction—all in English and without ever leaving the classroom.

Step 6: Make Use of Your International Experience in Class

Language teachers are an incredibly "global" group of people. Some speak foreign languages such as French or Korean. Others know Spanish dancing or Chinese cooking. Some have traveled widely in Asia. Others have lived in Brazil or Germany. Despite their "global" backgrounds, however, many language teachers leave their international experience at home and spend their class time just being "ordinary" teachers. In my view, these teachers lose out on a special chance to add an international dimension to their teaching and to promote good language learning.

Good teaching means using our talents to promote effective learning. If you're good at art, you should use your skill through blackboard drawings to motivate your class. If you're good at drama, you should exploit this in your teaching. The same applies with international experience. If you've lived in the Middle East, use your experience to design exciting English lessons to promote understanding of Islam and the Arab world. If you've been to Hanoi, prepare an English slide show about your trip to Vietnam.

As teachers, we bring to the classroom a variety of talents, skills, and experiences. Using these effectively can enliven our teaching, stimulate motivation, promote global awareness, and encourage language learning. If you have a global talent, skill, or experience, exploit it. If you don't have any international experience, then why not try to get some?

Step 7: Organize Extra-Curricular Activities

Extra-curricular activities are another way to combine global awareness with English practice. Arranging penpal or keypal programs is one way to get your students using English to communicate with young people around the world. Setting up an English "Global Issues Study Group" is another idea. Some schools write English letters to foster children from Third World countries. Yet others hold English charity events to raise money to remove Cambodian landmines, help African AIDS victims, assist Iraqi children, or build schools in Nepal.

Some schools add an international dimension to their school festival through English speech contests on global themes, or by inviting English guest speakers from groups such as UNICEF. Others arrange volunteer activities where students pick up litter on local beaches, or participate in charity walk-a-thons to end world hunger—all while using English out-of-class.

School trips are a further way to promote international understanding. Language study tours to the U.S. and Australia can include projects on social issues to broaden students' experience beyond homestays, sightseeing, and shopping. Taking students to destinations such as India, the Philippines, or Korea can improve their English as they learn about life in developing countries, or neighboring Asian nations. One of my current projects is an Asian Youth Forum (AYF) which brings together students from across Asia to build friendships, break down stereotypes, and discuss global issues all through the medium of English-as-an-Asian-language.

Step 8: Explore Global Education and Related Fields

Another key step in becoming a global teacher is to explore global education and its related fields. Exploring a new field to help improve our teaching is nothing new. Good teachers have always gone to other disciplines to learn new ideas, techniques and resources. Teachers who wish to deepen their knowledge of grammar, for example, turn to the field of linguistics. Teachers interested in student motivation turn to the field of psychology. In the same way, if we are serious about teaching English to promote global awareness, international understanding, and action to solve world problems, we need to turn to those fields which specialize in these areas:

  • Global education aims to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed by responsible world citizens. Global education can provide language teachers with ideas, techniques, and resources for designing lessons on world religions, for creating units on Asia, or Africa, and for teaching about global issues such as AIDS, refugees, and world hunger.
  • Peace education deals with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to build a peaceful world. Peace education can provide language teachers with ideas, techniques, and resources for designing lessons on topics such as war, peace, conflict, violence, Gandhi, and the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Human rights education aims to inspire students with the knowledge and commitment required to protect human rights. Human rights education can provide language teachers with ideas, techniques, and resources for teaching about topics such as prejudice, sexism, ethnic minorities, Martin Luther King, and organizations such as Amnesty International.
  • Environmental education aims to develop the knowledge, skills, and commitment needed to protect our home, Planet Earth. Environmental education can provide language teachers with ideas, techniques, and resources for teaching about such topics as pollution, endangered species, solar energy, recycling, Rachel Carson, and organizations like Greenpeace.

Exploring these fields can be done in a number of ways: by reading books, by attending conferences, by contacting organizations, and by trying out teaching materials. Global education conferences take place throughout the year. The Peace as a Global Language (PGL) conference in Kyoto this September is one such event. Global issue groups such as Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, and Amnesty International can provide teachers with useful information and teaching materials. Global education videos, CD-Roms, posters, and teaching packs can be obtained through on-line resource centers such as Social Studies School Service.

English teachers who explore these fields soon discover a new excitement in their classes and a new mission in their teaching. They are able to approach global issues and world topics more confidently, and can draw from a wider variety of teaching activities, techniques, and resources for their content-based classes. The result is usually greater student motivation, increased global awareness, and enhanced language learning.

Step 9: Join a Global Issue Special Interest Group

A further step in becoming a global teacher is to join one of the many global education special interest groups (SIGs) in the English teaching profession. These offer a rich variety of ideas, activities, and resources for language teachers. The oldest of these is JALT's Global Issues in Language Education Special Interest Group (GILE SIG) which features a quarterly newsletter and active website. Similar groups include the Global Issues SIG of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) and the TESOLers for Social Responsibility Caucus (TSR) of the US-based organization TESOL.

Step 10: Deepen Your Knowledge through Professional Development

A final step in becoming a global teacher is to invest your time and money in professional development linked to global education. It's now possible to enroll in academic courses in global education and peace education in Japan and overseas to increase your professional knowledge and skills in these areas. The Teachers College Columbia University MA-in-TESOL program in Tokyo, for example, offers graduate courses on global education as well as a Peace Education Certificate for language teachers wishing to acquire knowledge and qualifications in this field. In the United States, associations such as TESOL now organize regular seminars on topics such as Classroom Responses to War and Terrorism (Washington DC, 2003), Teaching for Social Responsibility (Brazil, 2004), and TESOLers as Builders of Peace (New York, 2004).

I hope the ten steps above prove useful for teachers seeking to add a global dimension to their EFL classrooms. I'd also like to encourage teachers in Japan and overseas to promote international understanding, social responsibility, and a peaceful future through professional content-based language education aimed at teaching for a better world.



Elder, P., & Carr, M. (1987). Worldways: Bringing the world into your classroom. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Pike, G., & Selby, D. (2000). In the global classroom. Toronto: Pippin.
Tiedt, P. (2001). Multicultural teaching (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. UNESCO. (1974). Recommendation concerning education for international understanding, cooperation, and peace. Paris: UNESCO.
Worldlink. (1990). Spaceship earth (video). Order from


Asian Youth Forum (AYF)
Social Studies School Service (USA)
Peace as a Global Language Conference (Kyoto)
Teachers College Columbia University (Tokyo) TESOL (USA)

Global Issues Interest Groups

JALT Global Issues SIG (Japan)
IATEFL Global Issues SIG (UK)
TESOLers for Social Responsibility (US)

Kip Cates has a B.A. in Modern Languages from the University of British Columbia and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Reading. He teaches English at Tottori University and courses on global education for the MA-in-TESOL program of Teachers College Columbia University (Tokyo). He is the chair of JALT's Global Issues in Language Education Special Interest Group, past president of TESOLers for Social Responsibility and founder of the Asian Youth Forum. He has presented on global education and language teaching in countries such as Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Hungary, the US, and the UK.