What’s your ecological footprint?

Gwyn Helverson, Ritsumeikan University


Quick guide
  • Key words: Adverbs of frequency, habits, advice, environmental issues 
  • Learner English level: Low-intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: University and above
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes for vocabulary worksheets depending on students’ level and difficulty of quiz used
  • Activity time: 30 minutes in class, 30 minutes homework, 30 minutes follow-up
  • Materials: Computer with Internet access, vocabulary worksheets 
Given recent tragic events in Japan which have highlighted electricity usage, many of our students are primed to discuss environmental issues: While we may already realize that our resource consumption is excessive, how bad is it really? The shocking answer to the question “If everyone lived like you, how many earths would we need?” can be found by taking an online quiz about consumption habits. The easy version of the Ecological Footprint Calculator quiz includes questions such as “How far do you travel by car each day?” and “How often do you eat meat?” Aside from a few ecological terms which must be pre-taught, the Ecological Footprint Calculator quiz is therefore applicable to a range of student levels and is an excellent supplement for textbook activities related to adverbs of frequency and habits.
Step 1: Choose a quiz to match your students’ English level and interests. The easiest is at <footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/calculators>. Click on Footprint Basics, then scroll down to Personal Footprint to get to the Take the Quiz button. A lengthy, complicated (and rather personal) version for advanced-level and/or science students is found at <myfootprint.org>. Click on Select language to get started on this quiz.
Step 2: Whichever quiz you have chosen, first review grammar and vocabulary for adverbs of frequency and habits.
Step 3: To introduce the topic, ask the class, “How many earths do you use?”  Sharp students may ask why earth is pluralized but not capitalized, which you can explain by stating that resource usage has overshot the Earth’s capacity from .56 earths in 1961 to 1.5 earths today and, for example, that the average American consumes 5.3 earths while the average Bangladeshi uses just 0.6. Ask about Japan’s rate (4.3), and what students personally do to conserve resources. One likely response will be “Cool Biz.”
Step 4:  Put the students in small groups to brainstorm a list of 5-10 questions about habits related to eco-issues. Some examples may include “Do you turn off the lights when you leave a room?” or “How often do you take a bath?” Have the students switch groups and compare their questions as you roam the room to assess their work. Go to the board, elicit questions, and compile some of the more interesting or unusual ones (creative groups’ questions may have to be censored!). Then have the students break into new pairs to interview each other using questions from their lists. Once again, scanning the room for unusual responses and putting them on the board to spark discussion is recommended here.
Step 5: In a conversation class, you may want to assign the quiz for homework. Students in a reading or computer-related class could take the quiz during class. Note that the easy version of the quiz is available in many languages including Japanese, so that monitoring and/or an additional worksheet may be necessary to keep a less-focused class in the target language.
Step 6: Tell the students to print and bring the last page of their quiz results to class for discussion. A follow-up activity is to have the students give each other advice on how to improve their eco-friendliness, then compare their ideas to those of the Ecological Footprint experts on-line.
Students will need a certain amount of vocabulary preparation to get through these quizzes; for example, global hectares is a term they may not know. Nonetheless, I have used this lesson plan with a wide variety of classes, from non-English majors in universities to high-motivation engineers in corporate classes. Most students stated that they were stunned by their personal rate of consumption and happy to learn how to reduce it, whereas a few criticized the quiz’s premises, thereby leading to debate and further research on the validity of environmental conservation. My ecological footprint? Sadly, it’s 3.6 earths (because of a long commute by car), and students love to tell me how to reduce it.
Although these links are currently available, the sites may be altered in the future. Googling “My Ecological Footprint” should enable you to access various versions of the quiz quickly and easily.