Everyday conversations: Teaching young learners about the ocean [audio]

Coral reef bleaching is an effect of ocean acidification. (Wikimedia Commons)

Six students from around the world meet. What do they have in common? They are all exchange students studying at a U.S. university for a semester. Throughout the semester, they learn more English, learn about U.S. culture, and learn more about their fields of study. This series of Everyday Conversations is about these six students and their experiences during a semester at a university in the U.S. These conversations are for intermediate-level English-language learners or higher.

In this conversation, a student (Peter) explains a complicated topic — ocean acidification — in a simple way for his future students.

Peter: I’m really glad you dragged me to that lecture, Lee. That was great. Now I want to make a lesson plan about this topic for young learners.

Lee: Wow, that’d be hard. Ocean acidification isn’t an easy topic to simplify for kids. Do you think you could do it?

Peter: I think so. It helps to get kids interested first. Start with things they already know about. For example, ask them, “Do you like corals, crabs, clams and fish?” Then, explain the process that is harming these things.

Lee: The process seems like it would be the hard part to explain to kids.

Peter: Maybe a little. Let’s see, how would I start? First, there are fossil fuel emissions. This produces carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Over time, the oceans take in the carbon dioxide.

Lee: You really learned a lot today! I’m impressed. Okay, so now the oceans have a lot of carbon dioxide. Then what?

Peter: The increased carbon dioxide changes the chemistry — or, more simply, the structure — of the water. And that can have a bad effect on the marine ecosystem, such as harming corals, crabs, clams and fish.

Lee: That was pretty straightforward. Your future students are going to be lucky to have you as a teacher.

Now let’s review the vocabulary.

To drag someone somewhere means to make someone go somewhere he/she does not really want to go.

Ocean acidification is the decrease in the pH level (how acidic or basic a substance is) of the oceans. This is caused by an increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the oceans due to an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Fossil fuel emissions: the carbon dioxide released into the air due to the burning of a fuel such as coal, oil, or natural gas.

The Earth’s atmosphere is the large amount of air and gases that surround it.

A marine ecosystem is everything that exists in a marine (ocean) environment, including living things, such as plants and fish, and things that are not living, such as rocks, soil and water.

Ready to learn more English? Our materials can help.

The American English website offers a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily.

Everyday Conversations are developed by the State Department’s Heidi Howland, a senior program officer in the Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.