The Circular Economy

"Anyone who believes in indefinite growth of anything physical on a physically finite planet is either a madman or an economist."

Kenneth Boulding (1910 – 1993), American economist
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This free ESL lesson plan on the circular economy has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

Our current economic model is dependent on exploiting resources, using them to make products, and then discarding those same products, again and again and again. The observant amongst us may notice that if resources are finite, then our current economy system cannot possibly continue indefinitely. This is where the circular economy comes in. In the circular economy, products are not discarded after being used, but are either designed to be much more durable or reused to make more products. While this will have obvious environmental benefits, not all products can be recycled, and even if they could, so much money and so many jobs are dependent on our current economic model that and divergence could be catastrophic in its own right. In this ESL lesson plan on the circular economy, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as what the circular economy is, why it is needed, and what will happen if it is not implemented in the future.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for Earth Day, which takes place in April, or World Environment Day, which takes place in June. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.

PRE-CLASS ACTIVITIES

Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

World Resources Institute | Here’s What Could Go Wrong with the Circular Economy

The article highlights often overlooked consequences of the circular economy, such as job losses, the negative impact of recycling, and the possibility of even higher levels of consumption. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was said? Can they think of any ways they might disagree with the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. The questions for the video are styled in a way similar to an exam like the IELTS.

The video for this class is a called “Can the Circular Economy Solve Our Plastics Problem?” by Bloomberg Originals which looks at various initiatives around the world under the umbrella of the circular economy and their impact on reducing plastic waste.

IN-CLASS ACTIVITIES

The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including the main benefits of both the circular economy and our current economic model, the negative effects of our current system, and what economic success actually means.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with the circular economy such as product life cycle, planned obsolescence and the linear economy. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about political ideologies. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as how businesses can be persuaded to be more circular, the culture of consumption, and whether we need a new economic model.

HOMEWORK

After the class, students will write about their opinion of the circular economy. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.

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