Teacher's notes on Environmental Challenges - A river ran through it - Part 1

These lesson planning notes for teachers are for use with the text of the article in the Student Centre 'A river ran through it' Part 1. (See also Part 2.)

Activity 2 - Listening

1. Tell the class that you are going to play a short passage on climate change. Play a recording of the first 5 paragraphs. General listening first.

2. Ask them to listen a second time and to note down answers to these questions with a word or phrase:

  • Which river is being described? (River Murray)
  • Where is it? (Australia)
  • What is happening to it? (It is drying up.)
  • Do the farmers agree that climate change is happening? (No.)
  • What other country is being affected by these problems in Australia? (The UK.)
  • Who is Professor Tim Flannery? (He is an Australian environmental scientist and an international leader on climate change.)
  • What are drinking in swimming pools? (distressed koalas)

4. Play the tape again and ask them to listen for a word or words that mean the same as:

  • dying - choking to death
  • doubtful / unwilling to believe - sceptical
  • rubbish / nonsense - hogwash
  • fearfully - nervously
  • bringer of bad news - harbinger
  • labelled - dubbed
  • a very small flow of water - trickle
  • an area where water is stored - reservoir

5. Ask them questions. Replay the tape (or parts of it) as necessary.

  • What has happened to the Murray River? (It is drying up because of drought.)
  • What are two immediate results of the drought? (water rationing / suicides)
  • What important question is being asked? (Is this a localised problem or the first sign of world-wide water problems.)
  • What are scientists worried about? (Problems like the ones in Australia happening in other areas of the world.)
  • What does Tim Flannery believe is going to happen in the future? (He believes that there will be similar problems over water all over the world.)
  • What is every city facing in Australia? (water shortages)
  • What's happened to Old Adaminaby? (It has reappeared after being abandoned and then flooded by the water of a reservoir years ago. The reservoir is now drying up.)

6. Hand out the tape script for the first 5 paragraphs. Tell the students to read it silently to themselves.

  • What dramatic (journalistic?) language is used by the writer in Para 1? (legendary river / thundered through / choking to death / worst drought in a thousand years (how does the writer know?) / Earth is running out of water.)
  • How would you describe Australian farmers in your own words? (conservative / sceptical / resilient )
  • What does the farmers are on the frontline mean? (They are the people most exposed to difficulties and dangers caused by the drought.)
  • Where can we find climate canaries? What does this expression mean? (In this passage they are described as living in Kenya. A hundred years ago canaries were taken down into mines to check on the quality of the air. If the air became unhealthy the canaries became unwell or died and so that would be the time for the men to get out. Today, some groups in Kenya, and the farmers in Australia too perhaps, are like the canaries as people are watching to see what happens to them.)

Scanning activities

Scan the text and find the significance of these figures and expressions:

  • £4.5bn - The amount allocated by the PM of Australia, John Howard, in an attempt to revive the Murray-Darling basin.
  • 41% - The percentage of Australia's food produced in this region.
  • £9bn - The value in terms of exports produced in this area.
  • an area the size of France and Spain combined - The Murray-Darling basin.
  • 3 million people - The number of people living in this area.
  • March, 2006 - Professor Flannery's The Weather Makers was published in the UK.
  • 1% - Computer models relating to climate suggest that every degree Celsius of warming leads to a 1% increase in rainfall globally.
  • drop by 40% by 2070 - The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has forecast that on the east coast, rainfall could drop by 40% by 2070,10-25% by 2050 - the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stated that 'the annual flow in the Murray-Darling basin is likely to fall by 10-25% by 2050', resulting in a decline in production from agriculture and forestry.

D Key words

  • legendary
  • devastated
  • resilience
  • sceptical
  • unprecedented
  • verge
  • overhaul
  • havoc
  • freak
  • fragile
  • cyclical
  • unequivocal
  • prolonged

Use the words above to complete these sentences.

  • The ancient vase was very fragile and we were afraid that it would break.
  • The small town was devastated by the violent storm and took years to recover.
  • The floods caused havoc in the region and thousands of houses were destroyed.
  • The cyclical nature of the weather meant that the heavy rain fell every second year.
  • Despite all the problems the family faced they were able to overcome them because of their resilience.
  • He was unequivocal in his view of what was best for the country and he asserted his views strongly at every meeting.
  • When he saw the legendary folksinger in his town, he could hardly believe his eyes.
  • I was very sceptical about what he said and didn't altogether believe him.
  • The long and painful operation prolonged his life, but not for many months.
  • We had never seen anything like it; his actions were unprecedented.
  • They had to overhaul the machinery completely before the start of the new year to make sure that it worked properly.
  • The team was on the verge of making many new discoveries when their funding was cut and they were forced to stop.
  • The weather was unlike anything we had seen before and the freak storms that came that year destroyed many trees in our orchard.

E Read the text. Answer these questions

  • Why is the Murray-Darling basin so important? (food production / exports / water for towns and cities / population)
  • What the two main effects of climate change in Australia? (freak flooding and drought)
  • What was the major difference the writer found between 2002 and 2007 on visits to Australia? (The belief by most people in 2007 that climate change was the root cause of the problem.)
  • How is this crisis affecting politics? (The environment has become and central issue in politics.)
  • What immediate steps has the government taken to alleviate the problems? (Building desalination plants / stopping the use of light bulbs that consume more power)
  • Do you think that Flannery is angry? What evidence is there? In Para. 12 it says that he believes that Australia has great potential for solar power and other forms of environmentally friendly renewable power, but that these resources are not being fully exploited.

F Discussion questions

  • What do you know about El Nino (El Niño)?
  • What do you know about the Stern Report?

F Exploration of language 1

There are a number of examples of metaphor in the text; for example, the lifeblood of Australia's farming country. How many others can you find?

Examples of metaphor include:

  • choking to death
  • warning bells are ringing
  • sparking water rationing
  • Murray-Darling basin
  • hogwash
  • frontline
  • fragile ... landscape
  • loud wake-up call
  • squeeze every drop

F Exploration of language 2

Explain the meaning of the following:

  • Para. 2: ... pride themselves on their resilience. They are proud of their ability to overcome adversity.
  • Para. 7: ... like an aluminium dinghy. The boat was tossed around by the sea as if it was something small and lightweight.
  • Para. 7: We are learning about this 1% effect as we go. We are learning by experience.
  • Para. 12: While everyone is on rations ... While everyone has their current water supply rationed to protect the available resources, people need to be protecting the water resources and planning for the future.

A Pre-listening/reading activities

Assuming that global warming is happening, how do you believe it could affect you in the next 20 years? Work in pairs and then report on what you have discussed.


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