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Blog post: Global Learning in the English classroom

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Blog post: Global Learning in the English classroom

08 May, 2017

By Joanne Hall, English Teacher

“The world is full of magic things, waiting patiently for our senses to grow sharper.” - W. B. Yeats

Spoken by 335 million people as a native tongue and by 505 million people as a second language (1), English has birthed a vast, diverse and continually growing canon of literature which educates about the world, its peoples and, at times, its injustices.

Global learning is central to the English classroom. As the policy of the National Association for the Teaching of English states:

  • English is a subject with a global dimension. The subject involves students’ place in the world as well as the world of literature and language study.
  • English is a cosmopolitan language with a cosmopolitan literature; our pupils’ knowledge of language and literature should reflect this global dimension.
  • English lessons are concerned with the ways language is used to represent the world and the ways people experience it. Pupils’ language, understanding and feelings develop through a wide range of activities from discussion and role play to personal writing and immersion in literature.
  • Reflecting on global issues and communicating with communities around the world gives the subject vital richness.

In the English classroom, we have a wealth of opportunity to incorporate global learning into our subject. It weaves its way into every piece of communication we study with pupils, such as when we listen to inspiring orations on liberty like Nehru’s famous “Tryst with Destiny" speech. Or when we are analysing the totalitarian autocrat Macbeth becomes, turning Scotland into a country where Macduff sardonically exclaims, “Great Tyranny! Lie thou thy basis sure, / For goodness dares not check thee!".

Aim to inspire within children:​

  • A thirst for world knowledge, as Irish travel journalist Dervla Murphy evokes when she recounts how, “On my tenth birthday a bicycle and an atlas coincided as presents and, a few days later, I decided to cycle to India.”
  • An appreciation of what it means to be a global citizen who values diversity through bildungsroman and autobiography like Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini or  I Came Alone: The Stories of the Kindertransports by Bertha Leverton & Shmuel Lowensohn (editors).
  • A desire to tell the world of injustice, such as Amy Carmichael’s retort in the title of her publication 'Things as They Are' to those who complained her description of native life in colonial India was too dismal.

How do we go about this in the English classroom?

1. Expand perceptions of race, gender or disability by including the author’s photograph with the extract, poem or journalistic article you’ve chosen to complement your lesson. This subtle technique allows pupils to focus on the writing itself, yet including the picture allows them to absorb difference as part of the canon of English writing. A mini map alongside the piece showing from where the writer originates could also be a useful way of adding a global dimension.

2. Keep a collection of newspaper articles, short stories and poems which foster global learning in one area of your classroom or departmental learning resource space.

3. Suggest a book which incorporates global learning themes for wider reading. In the words of Emily Dickinson, “There is no Frigate like a Book /To take us Lands away”.

4. Create links to the world beyond the text. Allow time for discussing global issues which tie into whatever poem, book or piece of prose your class is studying

Ideas for Key Stage 1

  • Story time! Pick a book to read with your pupils which explores another time, place and/or culture. For example,  Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi, Bethany Hegedus and Evan Turk (Illustrator) is a great tale about social responsibility in an Indian village. You can find lots more books suitable for pupils of this level from the Global Dimension website.

Ideas for Key Stage 2 and 3

  • Educate older primary school children about social challenges for children in countries where freedom is restricted and poverty is rife. Set in Afghanistan, The Breadwinner Trilogy by Deborah Ellis tells the story of young Parvana who masquerades as a boy to earn a living for her family under the Taliban. 
  • Look at tales from across the world. Stories in every culture link across the world’s legends. Every tribe, no matter how remote, has some sort of creation story. All tell legends of tricksters and fables of wisdom. With your pupils, compare fairy tales or fables across cultures. Primary school pupils will enjoy Viking sagas, ancient Greek myths or Caribbean folk tales. Finding similarities and differences when reading tales from around the world encourages pupils to focus on the details and hone their critical thinking skills.
  • Read modern-day short stories from different countries. As Walter Mosley said, “A good short story crosses the borders of our nations and our prejudices and our beliefs.” The New Windmill Book of Stories From Around the World is a great source of stories which gently, but clearly, unpack ideas about identity, land, social class and the treatment of others. One of these stories is Beneath the Baobab by Hilary Patel, in which a village’s sacred tree is under threat of being cut down make way for a new road.
  • Contrast stories from different cultures which encompass similar themes. For example, you could compare The Stolen Party by Argentinian writer Lilian Heker, which is available from the above anthology, with The Potato Gatherers by Brian Friel, which is found in one of his collections of short stories. Both of these stories incorporate the perspective of children while examining issues surrounding child labour and social class.
  • Explore world poetry. Seamus Heaney explained the importance of poetry very well when he said, “I can’t think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world." Teach metaphor through this poem by Salman Haider, the Pakistani academic, activist, blogger and poet who disappeared over a period of 20 days in January 2017 after The Civil Society of Pakistan filed a police complaint of blasphemy against him. In the poem, Haider lists things is has almost already become as he feels the drawing presence of inevitable arrest for his criticism of the military. As he envisages being arrested and ‘becoming’ the objects he lists, his humanity quickly diminishes to a ‘file’, a ‘murmur’, a ‘confession’ and, finally, a ‘law’. Pakistan is one of the world's most dangerous countries for reporters and human rights activists, and critics of the powerful military have been detained, beaten or killed.

Ideas for Key Stage 4 and beyond

  • Give older KS4 and KS5 pupils the opportunity to read Coban Addison’s powerful 2012 novel, A Walk Across the Sun, which explores the brutal reality of child sex trafficking in Mumbai.
  • To fulfil CCEA Spoken Language requirements at KS4, listen to these TED talks on social change to analyse how the speakers use language to inspire desire for social change.
  • Select texts from CCEA’s specification for English Literature at KS5 which incorporate or allude to or explore race, gender and economic inequality. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Shakespeare’s Othello, and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire all deal with various representations of the ‘Other’ in society, drawing attention to the injustice that comes with prejudice. Take time to connect these texts to modern day contexts to understand how a contemporary reader or audience would understand these issues.


See the global dimension in everything you teach. Take time to tell children that the sonnet came from Italy, the novel from Spain, the theatre from Greece and folk tales from every corner of the globe. When teaching creative writing, use well-known novel openings from around the globe to extend a class’ general knowledge of literature. Start a Macbeth lesson with a brief consideration of totalitarian regimes around the world. Acknowledge the global dimension in your planner for each Unit of Work and, before you know it, it’ll be obvious in every lesson.



Resources to Support Classroom Practice and a Whole School Approach

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