Learning for Sustainability

Toolkit for schools

Learning for Sustainability

Learning for Sustainability (or Education for Sustainable Development, as it is more commonly referred to outside of Scotland) empowers learners with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to take informed decisions and make responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society.

- UNESCO definition

Toolkit for schools

This toolkit aims to explore and equip, by

  • looking at questions that teachers of languages may have around reframing areas of their classroom practice to incorporate Learning for Sustainability and Global Citizenship Education, and
  • collating reading, resources, case studies and CLPL opportunities to support this.

"Learning for sustainability (LfS) is an approach to life and learning which enables learners, educators, schools and their wider communities to build a socially-just, sustainable and equitable society. An effective whole school and community approach to LfS weaves together global citizenship, sustainable development education and outdoor learning to create coherent, rewarding and transformative learning experiences.

"LfS is an entitlement for all learners within Curriculum for Excellence. LfS is embedded within the General Teaching Council of Scotland Professional Standards for practitioners and permeates How good is our school? [Fourth edition]. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are central to Scotland’s national vision and are at the heart of the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework."

- Education Scotland National Improvement Hub (May 2021)

"We live in a turbulent, interdependent and rapidly changing world, with a complex range of social, cultural, political, ecological and economic challenges shaping our future – locally, nationally and globally. For everyone to live as we currently do, consuming natural resources and generating carbon emissions at the rate we do in Scotland, we would need three planets, not just one, to sustain us. As a result of the overuse of resources across the world, ecosystems are exploited and damaged; conflict is common; inequality and injustice widespread. Learning for Sustainability is learning to live within the environmental limits of our planet and to build a just, equitable and peaceful society, and is essential for the well-being of all.

"Learning for Sustainability is about knowing and understanding the world as it is, and equipping educators and learners with the confidence, values, knowledge, attitudes, capabilities and skills that will enable us to contribute effectively to making a better world. In Scotland, Learning for Sustainability is an entitlement of all learners and the responsibility of all teachers as part of a whole learning community approach."

- Learning for Sustainability: A professional guide for teachers (GTCS 2021)

Learning for Sustainability, Global Citizenship and climate change have been moving steadily up the educational, social and political agenda in recent years. The COP26 event in Glasgow in November brings this closer to home, and gives an opportunity to maximise the momentum to explore these issues further in languages classrooms.


United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is 'the global “gold standard” for children’s rights and sets out the fundamental rights of all children. The UNCRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world and sets out the specific rights that all children have to help fulfil their potential, including rights relating to health and education, leisure and play, fair and equal treatment, protection from exploitation and the right to be heard. The UK ratified the UNCRC in 1991’. (Scottish Government, 2021)

The Scottish Government has committed to incorporating the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law to the maximum extent possible.

Many elements of the UNCRC are intrinsically linked to Learning for Sustainability and Global Citizenship Education. Support for the incorporation of certain articles of UNCRC will be found within the individual sections of the toolkit, and there is also a section at the end dedicated to information and resources focused specifically on the UNCRC.

What is Learning for Sustainability; is it the same as Global Citizenship? And when did it become a ‘thing’?

In Scotland the term 'Learning for Sustainability' was introduced to schools education in 2012 following the report of the One Planet Schools Ministerial Working Group. Learning for Sustainability is viewed in schools as a concept and process which weaves together sustainable development education, global citizenship and outdoor learning into a unifying vision of learning for a better world.

(GTCS, Learning for Sustainability microsite)

What does it have to do with languages?

Learning other languages enables children and young people to make connections with different people and their cultures and to play a fuller part as global citizens.

(Scottish Government’s Modern Languages Principles and Practice document)

Modern Languages classrooms are uniquely positioned to incorporate Learning for Sustainability into their learning and teaching. As we know, learning a language in school is not simply about learning vocabulary and grammatical structures; it offers a window into other cultures, traditions, ways of life and ways of thinking, and developing Global Citizenship is an essential element to this. Every day, pupils in our classes are being made aware in a very real way of their interconnectedness with the wider world, both socially and environmentally. The Modern Languages curriculum, particularly within the Senior Phase of secondary school, already includes topics such as equality, social justice, environmental issues and gender – as teachers teaching languages, whether in primary or secondary contexts, we are very often already teaching around Learning for Sustainability without even realising it!

Why should we develop this?

One of the questions which is all too familiar in languages classes, unfortunately, is that of ‘why are we doing this?’ Pupils do not always appreciate the many benefits of language learning, both cognitive and cultural, or see its connection to their lives and plans. This has led in recent years to a decline in uptake in secondary schools, and a huge challenge for us as language teachers is to motivate our learners to see the value of learning languages.

One way to do this is by enriching the curriculum by the inclusion of contexts for language learning which pupils can relate to their own experiences and interests. It is inspiring to see how many young people are currently engaged with global concerns, and how passionately they feel regarding social and environmental issues. Bringing Learning for Sustainability into the Modern Languages classroom allows us to tap into this and to achieve two aims together – engaging young people in language learning while at the same time equipping them with the confidence, values, knowledge, attitudes and skills to contribute effectively to the development of a better world.

How can we develop this?

Although many aspects of Learning for Sustainability, both in terms of content and of values, are already implicit in our teaching and learning in Modern Languages in upper BGE and Senior Phase, there is still scope to bring this further to the fore. Currently, French and Spanish are the most widely-taught languages in Scotland’s schools. Both languages have a wide range of native speakers far beyond the borders of France and Spain, and the cultures and ways of life of Francophone and Hispanophone countries in, for example Africa or South America, allow naturally-occurring connections to be made within Modern Languages lessons. A typical lesson on, for example, rooms in the house, comes to life when it is used to look at different house styles and standards of living of a young person in Barcelona compared to one in Caracas.

In primary schools, the wide diversity of contexts for learning allows languages to be woven through this naturally. The Case Studies section below will showcase some recent examples of this.

The Resources section below has many examples of newly-developed resources aimed at incorporating Learning for Sustainability and Global Citizenship into learning and teaching. Some of these are generic, and are useful in introducing the topic, while some are specifically geared towards language learning. As this is an emerging context, resources are continually being added and this section will be updated as new materials are released.

Where do we start?

An initial starting point could be an audit of the existing languages curriculum in your school against the sustainable development goals, or UNCRC articles. This could be done using the exemplars in the Resources section, or at a wider level using the GTCS Reflection Tool (in Key Links section).

What if I feel I just don’t know enough?

This is a very common fear; as languages teachers we do not as a rule have specialist knowledge on environmental and social issues. Another reason why some teachers hesitate to approach the subject of environmental and social issues in class is that learners can feel overwhelmed when they realise the global situation, and sensitive handling is important.

The British Council, in their Climate Action in Language Education course, offers excellent advice in addressing these fears:

Teaching resilience & optimism:

  • Don’t bring only 'bad news' to the classroom. Successful environmental stories provide examples of how problems can be overcome.
  • Lead by example, but don't preach or nag. You can share your tips for leading a green life but don’t talk down to learners for their own personal choices.
  • Use active learning techniques. Hands-on tasks and projects give a sense of achievement and progress and make learners feel involved in a positive way.

Information & Education:

  • Teach with data. Don’t make emotional statements and avoid sweeping generalisations. Statistics and figures can be shocking so use personal stories shared by you, other learners or guests that are supported by the data.
  • Show learners how to check the reliability of the sources of their information.
  • Combine critical and creative thinking. When working on environmental issues, you mix science, economics, and politics so make sure you teach the science behind the facts. However, also look for ways to add creative tasks that allow learners a more personalised approach and that cater to all learning preferences.
  • You don’t have to be an expert! Teaching the process of discovery is valuable in itself.

GTCS overview shows where LfS sits within the Professional Standards and includes a link to an LfS self-evaluation tool which may be useful.

GTCS microsite includes links to further reading and some resources.

Education Scotland general LfS page gives information on policy and practice.

Education Scotland LfS microsite which includes details of the ES Countdown to COP initiative.

UNESCO features Education for Sustainable Development (the global equivalent of LfS) information and resources

RCE Scotland includes some interesting case studies of LfS in action in primary and secondary schools across Scotland. While not particularly languages-focused, these may again give ideas and inspiration for projects into which languages could be incorporated.

Ideas Forum is a Scotland-based Global Citizenship Education network. Their website includes information and links to some teaching resources.

Sustainable Development Goals has information on the SDGs, which are readily available in many different languages.



Each of the websites below features a collation or assortment of resources around areas of LfS. There is inevitably some overlap in the resources covered, but each site has their own unique slant or content and so all are included here.

Youthlink Scotland is a comprehensive collection of general resources which may give ideas of contexts for language learning. Their general LfS page has a useful Get Involved section at the bottom which is updated regularly with events and campaigns that may be of interest.

Controversial Issues is an interesting collation of resources giving advice on how to tackle sensitive topics in a teaching situation.

Education Scotland COP26 Wakelet is a collation of general resources linked to COP26.

Education Scotland Learning for Sustainability/Outdoor Learning Wakelet includes some useful ideas on developing Outdoor Learning at both primary and secondary level, and may give ideas for how this can be done using different languages.

National Improvement Hub provides a summary of resources on Education Scotland and other related sites.

Highland One World offers a collation of useful resources on racism and climate change.

WOSDEC As well as a wide range of resources, this includes a useful section of videos showing different Methodologies for Global Citizenship Education.

Learning for Sustainability Scotland is a summary of resources which feature in their Connecting Classrooms activities.

Oxfam includes guides to Global Citizenship in the classroom, teaching controversial issues, and the SDGs.

British Council has some practical advice on how and why to teach the SDGs in particular.

UNESCO also focuses on teaching the Sustainable Development Goals, with more ideas and advice.


BBC/OU video clip which beautifully links environmental and linguistic survival. A great talking-point for classes.

Scotdec has produced the Issue to Action resources in French and Spanish, aimed at BGE levels 2,3 and 4.

LeedsDec is a series of frameworks and lessons in French, German and Spanish based on the Sustainable Development Goals. These are generally aimed at KS3 in the English education system, which broadly equates to Secondary BGE.

LFEE’s Elapse project offers some guidance and resources for integrating elements of global citizenship into the languages curriculum. In the Resources section, there are relevant materials in French, German and Spanish for BGE Primary and Secondary learners in a number of the areas such as Science, Social Science and Technology.

British Council has a range of generic language education resources for primary and secondary pupils, all of which could be adapted to teaching languages.

Signposts is the resource site of the Ideas Forum mentioned above, and has a section dedicated to Languages resources.

Amnesty International have two excellent resources on Human Rights if the Curriculum in French and Spanish. They currently hold stock of the French resource which can be requested at the link given; your local Development Education Centre may be able to help with the Spanish resource.

Polly Glot Languages is run by Suzi Bewell, who also collaborated on the LeedsDec materials above. Her site includes other resources with a Global Citizenship focus.

World’s Largest Lesson offers resources in English and, by using the filter to select your chosen language, in many other languages too.

The Global Goals YouTube channel also features videos in many languages on topics related to the Sustainable Development Goals; put the required language in the ‘Search’ tab to filter.

Nature is Speaking videos by Conservation International. Scroll down to see videos in a number of languages including French, German, Spanish and Mandarin, many voiced by well-known public figures. All videos can be played with subtitles. The Spanish section also has short bios of the speakers in Spanish for extra reading practice!

Traidcraft Schools on TES offers a wide range of teaching materials for primary and secondary learners, and has both generic resources and languages-specific ones.

Modern Languages Global Citizenship Resources Facebook group was set up by Suzanne Ritchie, PT North Berwick High School and is an excellent forum for sharing resources with colleagues from around Scotland. It is a closed group, so a request to join needs to be sent.

Sangterra gives information on a forthcoming documentary with accompanying resources. An event streaming the documentary, in English with French subtitles, will be hosted by SCILT in November. The subject matter and materials will be suitable for H/AH learners.

Bread for the world is a German charitable and educational organisation. Their many resources include videos, teaching materials, projects and pupil workshops, and a very useful downloadable world climate justice map.

Audit and planning tool gives an example in French of a template for an audit of your current languages curriculum against the Sustainable Development Goals. This is in Word format in order that they can be adapted according to level and language, or, for example, against articles of the UNCRC.

The EcoModLang project is a great resource for senior phase learners. It features a really useful multilingual lexicon of environmental concepts in different languages, and a bank of teaching resources for use with classes.

There are many other resources available which deal with themes and ideas contained within Learning for Sustainability. Those featured here are ones which have been specifically developed with SDGs/ LfS in mind, but existing materials which you already use can obviously continue to be useful in developing your Global Citizenship teaching.

As this context is relatively new, and constantly evolving, new materials will be added here as they become available.

All of these courses are currently online and asynchronous.

British Council: Connecting Classrooms/ Making Connections through LfS and Climate Action in Language Education are both very useful courses in offering a background to Learning for Sustainability, and looking at application in language education. As with the British Council language education resources, it deals with language education in its widest sense, but nonetheless the content is interesting and applicable to teaching languages. The British Council has also recently developed the Climate Connection podcast series looking at climate change in the context of language education. Again, it is a generic language education resource, but many of the ideas and points are transferable.

British Council/ LfSS/ University of Edinburgh/ Future Learn Learning for a Sustainable Future is an introductory course which will run through October and November. This course includes an optional pedagogical strand aimed at teachers.

Scotdec Professional Learning menu offers a wide range of professional learning on Global Citizenship, climate and rights. Their Issue to Action course, which has a module specifically on language teaching, is regularly offered.

The Global Citizenship and Multilingual Competences (GCMC) toolkit is an Erasmus+ project with partners in Austria, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. The GCMC educational resources aim to support teachers in including global citizenship and multilingual pedagogies into their teaching. The resources consist of two modules with five units in each module. The Teacher Module is an online self-study course for teachers with useful resources, tips for teachers, and self-reflection tasks alongside the input. The second module (Teaching Module) is still being developed but will ultimately provide resources for teachers to use in-class with their students and will feature materials in languages including English, Italian and German.

Conversations about LfS showcases a range of projects from across the country.

Espacios Increíbles is a SCILT project, aimed at S3 learners of Spanish, which looks at sustainable design in South America. It is an annual competition based on teaching resources developed by SCILT. Look out for information about this year’s competition soon!

A pilot of a new project along similar lines, this time based on one of the articles of the UNCRC, is planned for the coming session.

Plastic pollution and Falkirk-Créteil partnership is a SCILT PLP, in partnership with Falkirk Council and l’Académie de Créteil. This exciting cross-channel collaborative venture promotes Learning for Sustainability with French in the primary school. 

More case studies to follow; watch this space!

UNESCO global review of environmental issues in education 

Scottish analysis

Stride E-magazine for global citizenship in Scotland

Teaching Sustainability (Vanderbilt University) Useful background and tips on approaching Learning for Sustainability

GCMC An Erasmus+ project focusing on Global Citizenship and Multilingualism.

Learning for Sustainability Scotland newsletter Follow link to subscribe

Global background


Background in Scotland



Education Scotland

Education Scotland Improving Gender Balance and Equalities Team overview of Professional Learning around UNCRC

Self-evaluation tool


Taking a children's human rights approach: guidance


UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools

UNICEF teaching materials

As this is very much an emerging context for learning, even more so that Learning for Sustainability, very few specific materials have been developed as yet. As new materials and projects emerge, these will be added here. As with Learning for Sustainability, existing materials that you have on topics covered by the articles such as health, equality or education, can be adapted in the meantime.

Most of us as language teachers will already be aware of, and convinced of the importance of, Global Citizenship Education, and it will already feature in our teaching – that is the nature of our subject. The key question for many of us is how to integrate it more explicitly into our language teaching in a way that is manageable and (appropriately!) sustainable. Here is our advice in a nutshell:

  • Start where you are
    Look at your current course outlines and see where the SDGs/UNCRC articles fit naturally, for example in a topic about weather, or food, or homes – once you start to look, you’ll see connections everywhere!
  • Use what you have
    As above, look at your existing resources and see how they could be adapted to these areas. Or, use what is already out there! Don’t reinvent the wheel if there are already resources available that can be used as they are or adapted to your context.
  • Do what you can
    This is an evolving context which will be with us for the foreseeable future. You don’t need to rewrite your entire curriculum overnight! Make it manageable, and make it sustainable. Start with one year group, or one topic, or one term’s plan, for example, and take it from there.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this area in more depth, please contact Sheena Bell.

University of Strathclyde Education Scotland British Council Scotland The Scottish Government
SCILT - Scotlands National centre for Languages