Six ways for teachers to address the Haitian crisis

When a crisis the scale of what is happening in Haiti hits the headlines and gets “blanket coverage” from news outlets like CNN, it’s tempting to bring it up with students. But does this sort of thing have a place in the language classroom? One the one hand it feels negligent not to mention it at all, but on the other hand one wants to avoid descending into a sort of gruesome spectacle (using youtube clips or the like) which may not be that productive at all.  Here are six suggestions on ways you could address the Haitian crisis in a language classroom.

1 Use an existing lesson plan – e.g. Breaking News English

Sean Banville at Breaking News English has already made a general lesson plan about Haiti and the disaster.  You could use that on its own or in conjunction with any of these ideas.

2 Understand the Richter scale and earthquakes

I’m very fortunate not to live in an earthquake zone, so those of you who do may already be very aware of how the Richter scale works.But if you or your students aren’t, it makes for a useful and timely read. Or you could use as your text any of the many websites giving advice on what to do during an earthquake. Here’s one from FEMA in the US.

3 Analyse how the media is portraying the crisis

Ask students to pay attention to the news and make a list of the keywords being used. Ask them to bring these to class and translate them into English. Then, depending on the level of your students you could ask questions such as the following: What elements of the disaster are focused on most? What is attracting the attention of the news stations? Do different stations focus more on one kind of story? How are average Haitians being portrayed?

4 Use something Haitian other than the disaster

It might make for a welcome change from death and looting stories to raise awareness about other aspects of Haiti. One possibility would be to use a folktale or Haitian proverbs as a text. You can find examples of both here. Alternatively, and especially if you are working with younger learners, you could make a poster project about Haiti, its geography and culture.

5 Encourage a critical eye

One way to look at events in Haiti is also through the prism of “who benefits” from such disasters? With all the money flowing in from around the world there is ample incentive for many different players to get involved: from all kinds of aid organisations (some perhaps with political or religious agendas), to corrupt government officials to multinational building companies wanting to get rebuilding contracts. And then there are the fraudsters (see warning from the FBI here). These questions could be a starting point for a higher level class discussion on how, why and who to donate money to in the name of solidarity. Or ask students to do a webquest on this topic and bring in articles or viewpoints themselves.

6 Ask students what they think they can do to help

Of course, any of the above might lead to a feeling of urgency to “do something” for the victims of the earthquake.  This could form the basis of a class project: either to organise a fundraising event, create a poster project for the school to educate others about Haiti or generally raise awareness among students who can then choose themselves what they should/are able to do.

I currently don’t have a class (my last one finished just before Christmas and I won’t have a group until April) but I’d personally be tempted to do a combination of two or more of the above if I did. I know some teachers who believe this kind of stuff is best avoided in the classroom. So I’m curious, would any of my readers address this issue? And if so, how to do it sensitively? Post a comment if you have time.

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 10:10 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Lindsay,

    Heres’s the link for the article I tweeted:
    Should be useful for anyone considering 3 or 5 above.


    • Fantastic, thanks for that Mike. Great link.

  2. Six photos from Flickr to work with students:



    Haiti Woman on Crutches After Quake

    Jan. 22: Dartmouth Team One at Hinche hospital, Haiti

    Caritas workers celebrate rescue of woman from rubble

    Remains of Cathedral in Haiti

    Thanks Lindsay for your blog!!!

  3. Schools have used silent reflection, well at the school where I teach in assembly and during tutor time. Students have wanted to do what they can during school time and some students have grouped together for charity fund raising for the disaster. I have used the event to show students how well off they are in general and to show how other people’s lives are so different. The idea was to show how lucky we are in the western world for choice, shelter, opportunity, heat and food.

    • Thanks for coming by… your suggestion sounds like a sensitive and sensible one. Let’s hope we don’t have to do too many of these classes in the future!

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