EFL lessons on gardens and gardening

Alex Case
All kinds of lessons on a pleasant and surprisingly popular topic, also suitable for ESP students such as landscape architects.

What kinds of lessons you will want to do on the topic of gardens and gardening depends on your reasons for choosing this point, for example:

  • Students work in or are studying gardening or landscape architecture, or will do so in the future
  • It’s a hobby
  • It’s likely to be of interest due to the age and/or nationalities of the students
  • Students need to speak to someone who is interested in this topic, e.g. a host family or foreign boss, colleague or client

If the needs above make this desirable or necessary, actual gardening vocabulary that you can introduce includes:

  • Actions that gardeners do, e.g. “weed” and “water”
  • Actions that things in the garden do, e.g. “grow”
  • Adjectives for describing gardens, e.g. “overgrown” and “unkempt”
  • Other positive and negative words connected to gardens, e.g. “weed” and “ecologically friendly”
  • Plants, types of plants and parts of plants, e.g. “cactus”, “perennials” and “blossom”
  • Animals in the garden, e.g. “sparrow” and “slug”
  • Things connected to animals, e.g. “birdbath” and “pesticide”
  • Architectural features of gardens, e.g. “shed”
  • Things connected to water, e.g. “hose” and “pond”
  • Things for children, e.g. “swing”
  • Furniture, e.g. “bench” and “patio table”
  • Decorations/ornaments, e.g. “trellis”
  • Parts of gardens, e.g. “flowerbed”
  • Tools, e.g. “trowel”
  • Supplies, e.g. “fertiliser”
  • Differences between similar words, e.g. “weed” and “plant”
  • Compound nouns, e.g. “greenhouse”
  • Non-gardening uses of garden vocabulary, e.g. “(light) bulb” and “lawn (tennis)”
  • Proverbs and quotes on the topic of gardens or with garden vocabulary, e.g. “The grass is always greener on the other side”.

Alternatively, you can just give them one of the activities below, giving them language they need to do it in a “useful language” box or as they go along.

Classroom activities on the topic of gardens and gardening

Gardening inventions
You can find some descriptions and photos of interesting, clever and downright odd gardening inventions online, and there are several activities you can do with this topic. One is to get students to come up with their own improvements on garden tools etc and/or technological solutions to gardening problems. They then compare them with the real ones. Another is to get them to guess how an invention works and what is special about it from a photo and then read and check.

Gardening balloon debate
Give students a ridiculously limited number of gardening tools and supplies that they can have such as four, and ask them to agree which they will keep and to describe how they will keep their garden in order using just those things.

Gardening “A Team” style
Tell students they have to keep their garden in order without using any actual gardening tools and supplies and ask them to decide what other household objects and supplies they can use in their place, e.g. tea bags instead of fertiliser. Things they will need to think about include mowing the lawn, weeding and keeping control of garden pests.

Gardening suggestions
Students give gardening suggestions for particular kinds of people, e.g. students who love to party, a person who mainly wants a garden to relax, and old people who can’t kneel down to weed. They could also give suggestions for solutions to gardening problems such as slugs or too little sunshine.

Use the vocabulary to design a garden
Give students a list of garden vocabulary and tell them how many of those words (e.g. six) they must use to design and present their garden. After the presentations, students vote on other groups’ designs and/or give feedback on whether they think the vocabulary was used in the right way.

Gardening ranking tasks
Students could rank gardens from their descriptions or photos, rank features of gardens by which are the most important, rank good reasons for forcing yourself to garden, or rank a list of things in which gardening is one item (e.g. things which should be studied at school and things local governments should spend their money on).

Your neighbours’ gardens
Other people’s gardens are a surprisingly common cause of complaints about things like overhanging trees and rebuilt fences encroaching on their land. Students could give each other advice on what to do if they have those problems with their neighbours and/or try to negotiate an agreement with them.

Explain it
Ask students to try and think of explanations for aspects of gardens, e.g. why the Japanese use gravel. They can then read the real explanation(s) and check. They can also do something similar by trying to explain what gardening terms in their language that aren’t really possible to translate mean.

Topic-based lessons on gardens and gardening

Topics related to gardening which it should be possible to design lessons on include:

  • Bad taste in gardening
  • Eccentric gardens/The world’s strangest gardens/Gardens of artists
  • Ecological issues related to gardening, e.g. pesticides, use of peat, encouraging wildlife in gardens, feeding birds and squirrels, and hosepipe bans
  • Encouraging more fruit and vegetables in gardens for ecological and food security reasons
  • Gardening as therapy
  • Government policies related to gardening, e.g. stopping the “ash dieback” or the disappearance of sparrows and bees
  • Guerrilla gardening
  • Laws related to gardens, e.g. not being allowed to beat carpets and mow the lawn on certain days
  • Making gardening accessible to more people/poorer people
  • Predicting the future of gardens
  • The history of gardening, e.g. how innovations changed gardening or the influence of one person
  • The influence of gardening in their country on other places, e.g. Japanese gardens in the USA, and vice versa
  • Ways of increasing the amount of green in the city, e.g. forcing all new buildings to have a rooftop garden or having a best kept garden award

You can tackle several of those points at once with a list of discussion questions, which is a good activity with the topic of gardens more generally as long as the questions don’t assume knowledge about gardening that the students don’t have.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.

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