Environment Education

with Chris Summerville

The Literacy Site

About the Text Book

Looking Back, Moving Forward: An Environmental Course for the Next Generation.
MacMillan Language House Japan, 2006

To view and listen to some sample chapters, click here for 'Reading and Discussion'text.

To view and listen to some sample chapters, click here for 'Listening and Speaking' text.

Please note: A brief author biography, interview, introduction to the textbook series and an interactive 'Green Quiz' can be found here on the Macmillan Language House website.

Looking Back, Moving Forward: An Environmental Course for the Next Generation by Chris Summerville
(Macmillan Language House, 2006)

Looking Back, Moving Forward: An Environmental Course for the Next Generation is a four-skills English Language course designed for intermediate students and above. I believe that this textbook series is unique in that it allows students to approach the topic of environmental issues through their own daily lives and personal experiences. Therefore, the chapters are organized not by specific environmental issues as is found in most global issue texts, but by the familiar topics of Shopping, Food, Health, Travel, etc. Thus, these activities are the starting point for their English studies, rather than an often distant and complex issue such as global warming or rain forest destruction. In short, the students' lives are connected to the environmental issues rather than vice-versa. As a result, the author has been satisfied to watch even lower-intermediate students engaged in sustained English conversation with a partner.

A number of the activities allow for the students to constantly practice using practical daily expressions such as statements of frequency, expressing likes and dislikes, or stating levels of interest or concern, just as they would hope to learn and practice from a standard generic English textbook For example, the 'Facts from around the World' activity at the start of each Reading chapter allows students to constantly form questions using the correct phrases to gain factual information from their partner.

Each Listening chapter contains two listening, averaging from four to six minutes in length. The first is a dialogue that a typical person might have with their family or friends in their daily life, which introduces some environmental actions or choices as a matter of course. The second is an interview with a real person (either Japanese or non-Japanese) who is connected to the topic under consideration due to either his/her business, volunteer or NGO activities. In addition, in the Introductory Listening Chapter, as well as in Chapters 7 and 12, students can listen to a number of their peers state their concerns and daily activities in response to these concerns.

The readings have been compiled from those written by the author and by his friends: Richard Donovan (Lecturer, Ritsumeikan University), Stephen Hesse (Environmental Columnist for the Japan Times), Amanda Suutari (Freelance Journalist with the Japan Times), Asako Murakami (ex-Staff Writer for the Japan Times), and Chika Yamamoto (fourth-year student at the University of Hyogo). The remaining readings are from the British newspaper Positive News. All of the readings have been carefully edited to suit students at the intermediate level and above with the full permission of the authors, and copyright permission has been received from the authors, the chief editor of Positive News, and in the case of the single writing by Asako Murakami, from the copyright division at the Japan Times.

Many of the homework activities in both the Reading and Listening texts require the students to observe daily life at and around their homes and school and/or to go to reliable and current internet sites in Japanese dealing with companies, groups, communities and people who are engaged in some environmental aspect of that week's topic. These activities further allow them to bring their world outside of university into the classroom.

This course therefore offers an integrated pair of four-skills texts where the students will constantly remain engaged in their English studies while learning about Japan and the environmental issues facing our at the same time. Finally, though the texts do not shy away from presenting the critical nature of these environmental problems, they always present the alternatives that exist and thus leave students with a sense of purpose, hope and discovery. It is because of his concern about the lack of environmental education and his belief that an informed youth will eagerly make choices that benefit rather than damage the environment that the author undertook this sixteen-month project.

Interview with the author, Chris Summerville

What kind of textbook are you compiling?

An environmental issues textbook for intermediate-level English students of university or high school age.

Why are you compiling this textbook?

For many reasons. I feel as English is considered the 'global language' it is an excellent vehicle for studying about global environmental issues. I also feel that at this time in the world, and especially in high-consuming countries such as Japan, it is essential for the next generation to be more aware of the impact their lifestyles are having on our life-support system and other species. Finally, I think that the belief an English language textbook can only teach 'useful' English by ignoring real issues is misguided and indeed harmful. There is no reason why a text cannot provide students with the language they will need in daily situations while at the same time helping to make them to more informed about the impact of their shopping, eating and travel habits, for example, on the environment and other cultures.

To whom will this book be distributed?

It will be published as an ESL university text for students who are taking English classes in Listening and Discussion, Reading and Writing. I see no reason, though, why it could not be used for students of English at language schools as well as at high school.

What are your aims regarding spreading environmental awareness with the publishing of this textbook?

To open students' awareness to the mainly negative impact their daily lives are having on the environment and to give them the chance to consider alternatives. To assist them in seeing that all the issues are inter-connected and must be addressed in a holistic not piecemeal way.

Do you feel that environmental education in Japanese schools is adequate? Why, why not?

I do not think it is adequate anywhere in the world, though Europe and India are trying to improve this gaping hole. I think environmental education should be placed at the centre of the school curriculum from as early as elementary school. After all, it is at the centre of our daily existence! I think there is a desperate need to take young people out into nature, on field trips to dams, nuclear power plants, garbage sites, to allow them to plant trees and vegetables and to go on eco-tours and thus experience both the bright and dark sides of our environmental reality. In Japan, the situation is improving slowly, with some environmental issues being addressed in junior and senior high school, but it still has a long way to go!

How will this book change that?

I hope that this textbook will connect the students daily lives to the issues in a non-threatening and creative way showing that there is the possibility for positive change once we are informed of the issues. Environmental education generally tends to present issues that seem so distant from our daily lives, like global warming and the rain forests, in a rather negative and heavy way and then to try and connect them to our daily lives. I think we need to start with the local, with us, not the other way around. Also, I hope that this book will help students to feel passionate about our earth and to discover that if we feel passionate about something, we will naturally want to find the words to express our feelings in the foreign language we are studying.

Are you aware of any other environmental education projects, classes, and books in Japan? If so, please let me know.

Well, if you mean in English, there are a large number of teachers who are addressing global and environmental issues in their classes. The newsletter, Global Issues in Language Education is a perfect resource for knowing more about this. The JET programe also has an environmental group who are working on including these issues more in junior and senior high school English classes. The Peace as a Global Language Conference that will be held this September at the Kyoto Peace Museum will provide so many workshops and presentations on this topic. There are at least 20 environmental issue English language university textbooks available. But as I mentioned before, all of them seem to mainly address the issues first and peoples daily lives second rather than the other way around.

Review of my textbook from the Japan Times February, 2006. By Stephen Hesse

To that end, let me share with you two useful environmental resources, one for English teachers and the other for anyone interested in learning more about environmental issues in English and/or Japanese.

The first is a new series of English textbooks published by Macmillan Language House. The series, titled "Looking Back, Moving Forward: An Environmental Course for the Next Generation," comprises two texts, one containing listening and speaking activities, and the other aimed at reading and discussion. Both are intended for students of English at the intermediate level or above.

The second resource I would like to introduce is a non-governmental organizations' Web site maintained by Japan for Sustainability (SFJ), which offers a broad range of environmental information from both the private and public sectors, including business news, NGO/NPO information, and the texts of selected laws.

Before discussing the textbooks, though, I have a confession: I wrote several of the passages that appear in the reading text. However, as they were given gratis, this is not shameless self-promotion. That said, if you are an English teacher looking for environmental theme-based textbooks that cover the four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing), these books are worth a look. They are systematically structured for teacher and student ease and, from the very first pages, students will begin discussing their own lifestyles and concerns, while picking up vocabulary, phrases and information from reading passages and listening activities (on CD and MP3).

Chris Summerville, the author, spent 16 months developing the texts, and he has piloted the materials with more than 300 of his own students at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto and the University of Hyogo. He has found that the texts even engage lower-intermediate students, allowing sustained English discussion with partners.

"I believe these textbooks are unique in that they allow students to approach the topic of environmental issues through their own daily lives and personal experiences, Summerville observed. "The chapters are not organized by specific environmental issues, as is found in most global issue texts, but by more familiar topics such as shopping, food, health and travel. So these familiar activities are the starting point for English study, rather than distant and complex issues, such as global warming and rainforest destruction.

"In short, the students' lives are connected to environmental issues rather than vice versa," Summerville explained in an e-mail.

In the first chapter of the reading text, for example, students are asked to answer a series of five questions and then compare their answers with a partner. The first question is, "Where do you buy your clothes? Why do you shop there?" The last question asks, "Do you know any stores that sell organic clothes?"

The reading passage that follows then explains that the clothing industry is one of the world's top polluters, and introduces organic cotton as a less harmful alternative.

Summerville noted that although the theme is environment, the texts allow students to constantly practice everyday expressions, such as statements of frequency and preference, expressing likes and dislikes, and stating levels of interest and concern -- thus improving fluency.

Students and teachers alike will find some of the listening exercises particularly interesting, since they are short interviews with known personalities, including Fukushima Mizuho, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Ken Noguchi, the famous mountain climber, Safia Minney, founder of the Fair Trade company People Tree, and Alex Kerr, author of "Lost Japan" and "Dogs and Demons."

Last but not least, the books are printed on recycled paper using soy ink, so teachers can spend money where their hearts are.