EFL Lessons on Parks
All kinds of lessons on the vital topic of green spaces in our towns and cities.
A fair number of kids’ textbooks introduce vocabulary like “slide” and “swing” or develop the topic of parks more, but it is a rare topic in adult classes. This obviously makes it difficult to prepare lessons for people with particular interest in this topic such as gardeners, people who spend most of their weekends and holidays in parks, landscape architects, etc. Given that it is tied to the very contemporary topics of city planning and green spaces, it could also be of more general interest, and could indeed be one of the best of all possible topics for a roleplay debate (see below). It is also exactly the kind of obscure thing that students have to describe nowadays in IELTS Speaking Part Two.
Which of the above are true for your students will obviously influence what and how much they will want to be able to describe about parks, but the possibilities are:
- Plants and parts of plants, e.g. “daffodil” and “branch”
- Animals and things connected to them, e.g. “tadpole” and “nest”
- Equipment/Facilities, e.g. “tennis court” and “bench”
- Negative words, e.g. “dog’s mess” and “mud/muddy”
- Positive words, e.g. “child friendly” and “leafy”
- Parts of a park, e.g. “lawn”, and “playground”
- Things connected to sport/exercise, e.g. “running track” and “chin up bar”
- Things connected to water, e.g. “fountain” and “paddling pool”
- Things for children, e.g. “climbing frame” and “sandpit”
- Things that people do in parks, e.g. “climb trees” and “walk my dog”
Activities specific to that language include:
- Students debate the use of exotic plants, limiting the park to local plants, or letting the park run wild
- Students try to solve problems connected to plants such as old ladies running off with cuttings and children walking over them
- Students decide what to do about wildlife in parks that is considered inconvenient or unpleasant, e.g. that empties the bins or attacks people
- Students design a park to be more suitable for particular animals, e.g. dogs or migrating birds
- Students decide on the park policy on dogs
- Students decide how to spend a budget, perhaps looking at online catalogues for real prices
- Students design a new and better piece of park equipment, e.g. a bin which compacts the rubbish or a safer swing
- Students decide on which equipment/facilities will be replaced and which will just be scrapped (e.g. for budget reasons) in a kind of balloon debate
- Students design a park to get rid of negative aspects, perhaps after deciding which problems are priorities to tackle
- Local residents complain about a park to the relevant government official in a public meeting. The government official must try to make them happy while spending as little money as possible.
- Students try to find negative things to say about a park their partner has been given or designed
- Students design a park that matches as many positive words as possible, perhaps after deciding which are the most important
- Students present a park design that they have been given, using as many positive words as they can to present it – or they can design a pamphlet or website in the same way
Parts of a park
- Students redraw a map of a real park (e.g. a local or famous one) to make way for a new area such as a skateboarding park
- Students decide policies on people using the park for paid sports and exercise lessons (e.g. group tai chi), ball sports, cycling, roller skating and/or skateboarding
- Students redesign the park to make it more suitable for one or more sport, or for keeping fit more generally
- Students try to come up with ways of using less water or reusing it
- Students decide on rules on how the pond/lake can be used
- Students try to come up with ways of attracting children who are more interested in computer games and other technology
- Students design a safer park
- Students decide on the health and safety rules for a park, perhaps after looking at real examples (including over the top or silly ones). They could then go on to design signage etc telling people those rules.
Things that people do in parks
- Students decide what actions (e.g. topless sunbathing or napping on benches) will be banned, plus maybe how they will make that happen with punishments, signs, etc.
- Students design a park to be more suitable for particular actions, perhaps after discussing which ones should be most encouraged
The activities above can also be done for several categories or without particular language suggested, e.g. designing a park which matches ten randomly picked words or debates on topics such as:
- Who should be allowed to take control of a park (with students taking roles like local residents and a gardening centre)
- Cuts to services to save money, e.g. shorter hours or less gardening
- Ecology, e.g. getting rid of most of the grass
- Forcing local residents to be responsible for a local park if they don’t want it to be shut/sold off
Lessons can also be based around suitable texts, e.g.
- Catalogues, press releases and/or reviews of things to go into parks such as playground equipment
- Past or future designs, e.g. computer generated pictures of what a park would look like and how it would be used
- Website pages, e.g. official park pages
- Reviews on travel sites
- Signage, e.g. ones showing park rules
As well as using the sources mentioned above to stimulate speaking about parks themselves, you could also talk about and design/write those things, e.g. deciding which park has the best website or pamphlet and using that to help improve one of the other ones such as that of a local park.
It is also possible to find or write articles and blog posts on parks. Topics that you should be able to build an interesting lesson around include:
- Commercialisation/Privatisation of parks
- Odd rules in parks
- Parks in different countries
- Private or exclusive parks
- Strange parks/Parks designed by artists/Modernist parks
- Teenagers and parks
- History of parks
- Controversial parks
- Security in parks, such as high pitched sounds to stop young people congregating and videoing people in the park
- Sexual harassment in parks
- Homeless people in parks
The topic of parks can also be extended into greening cities or public spaces more generally.
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.