[RESOURCE] Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals

At Routes to Resilience, we believe educators have one of the most important jobs on the planet: preparing tomorrow’s leaders to be future-ready. We are thrilled to share Oxfam’s new resource with you, designed especially to help educators integrate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into school curricula.

At Routes to Resilience, we believe educators have one of the most important jobs on the planet: preparing tomorrow’s leaders to be future-ready. 

Last year we were lucky enough to be part of a first working session with Oxfam held at the TEESnet conference. Today we are thrilled to share with you their new resource, designed especially to help educators integrate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into school curricula.

The resource, The Sustainable Development Goals: A guide for teachers, is a treasure chest of ideas and inspiration for educators, and contains a plethora of cross-curricular activities, inspiring case studies and practical advice.

We recently chatted with Dr Harriet Marshall, the lead author behind the guide, to find out more about this exciting resource. 

What are the SDGs?  

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of social, economic, environmental and political goals and targets to make the world a better place. The 17 SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, have ambitious aims including: ending poverty and hunger, achieving gender equality, improving the quality of education for all children, and taking action to protect the climate and environment. 

Why are the SDGs relevant for young people?

The SDGs are hugely relevant to young people because our ability to succeed at achieving these goals will determine what sort of world our young people grow up in. Young people, in fact, will not only be most affected by the challenge of sustainable development, they will be pivotal to its success.  It is they who will drive global resource use trends, direct future consumption patterns and lead future political systems change. That said, it is important not to place too heavy a burden on the shoulders of the young – these global challenges will only be solved if all generations work together now, and big business and governments have a crucial role to play. 

We believe that the SDGs provide a very powerful and accessible framework for linking to a range of complex global, national and local issues and questions and this guide supports teachers to make use of them, both in the classroom and across the school community.

What are the benefits of incorporating the SDGs into school curricula for students and educators?

Learning about the SDGs has a number of benefits for students, including: 

  • Supports the acquisition of core skills, such as: carrying out research; developing, presenting and responding to informed arguments; and building agency.
  • Helps learners to see the links between different subjects and skills.
  • Motivates and enhances learning across the curriculum.
  • Acquaints learners with the systems used in national and global governance and the concept of international law (with its opportunities and limitations).
  • Empowers learners to make sense of the diverse world and local communities in which they live; and to participate in and have a say in decisions that affect them.
  • Deepens understanding of social science, scientific and mathematical concepts and processes by applying them to real-life contexts and data.
  • Develops critical thinking and empowers learners to confidently challenge inaccurate or false assertions made by others – for example, in the media.
  • Can support learners to feel that positive steps can be and are being taken to address global challenges and that everyone has a part to play in making progress.

There are also numerous benefits to teachers and schools:

  • Provides a unifying, golden thread for schools that would like to place values, human rights and global competences at the very heart of learning. 
  • Can promote the value of diversity within and beyond the school.
  • Supports schools to deliver on curriculum priorities. 
  • Provides opportunities to explore controversial issues.
  • Sharing learning about the SDGs can engage and strengthen relationships with parents, communities and businesses and between these different groups.
  • Supports linking with teachers around the world through SDG-focused projects, programmes and movements such as the #TeachSDGs movement, the World’s Largest Lesson or CCGL. 

You’ve developed this wonderful guide for teachers to incorporate the SDGs into the classroom – can you tell us a bit more about the guide and why you created it? 

This guide supports teachers and educators working with young people to deepen their understanding of education about and for the SDGs and to see how global citizenship education (GCE) approaches and methodologies can underpin and enhance good practice. 

The guide also explores the benefits and challenges of using the SDG framework with learners in schools. Practical advice, activity ideas, case studies and useful links and resources are provided to inspire and support educators with a rich breadth of ways in which learners can engage with the SDGs. The guide also serves as a useful stimulus for professional development, linking to educational priorities such as values, curriculum development and working with the local community. 

Oxfam believes that engaging with local and global issues such as those encompassed by the SDGs is not just essential for creating a fairer and more sustainable world, but that it is beneficial and motivational for young people, their teachers and their communities. Oxfam’s extensive experience of working with teachers on global citizenship education over the years strongly informs our motivation for producing this guide. The support of external partner organisations in the GCE sector was also instrumental in making this guide happen!

In our work, we’ve found that many teachers aren’t engaging with the content and possibilities of teaching the SDGs because they don’t have foundational knowledge about sustainability or the confidence to include it in their classroom teaching.  Have you found the same challenge and how is the Guide trying to build core knowledge to support curriculum integration?

As National Leader for the South West during the Global Learning Programme and as a founding ambassador of the #TeachSDGs movement, I’ve found that the main obstacles appear to be teacher time and funding (and the two are profoundly interrelated). For example, to engage with the SDGs teachers need some time for some background reading, time to reflect upon how themes fit in with pre-existing lesson plans or schemes of work, and/or time to work with students and other teachers on projects. They may also want to take advantage of the variety of excellent CPD and training out there in the field of global learning, where time and cost can be an obstacle.

A guide like this clearly presents an accessible framework for critical global citizenship education that does not place a heavy knowledge burden on teachers. Students come into schools with tough questions about climate change, migration or poverty, and they want answers. The SDGs help teachers work with students to find answers and offer opportunities for useful distancing pedagogical techniques which can be helpful too.

In my opinion, core knowledge on sustainable development shifts and changes at such a pace that it is as much about building the skills, competences and values (in teachers and students) as engaging with this knowledge. The guide supports a Learn-Think-Act approach. This approach complements the SDG themes because of its explicit recognition of the relationship between understanding, reflection and action. 

Alongside a rigorous development of knowledge and understanding of global issues, such an approach includes opportunities for young people to foster new skills, think critically, and act and reflect effectively as agents of change. It also enables learners to explore, develop and express their own values and opinions, while listening respectfully to others’ viewpoints. This is an important step towards learners making informed choices about how they engage with global issues.

 Take us through the steps a teacher should follow to make the best use of the guide.

We recognise that educators are likely to be in different places with their engagement with the SDGs and GCE, so while this guide is designed to be introductory, it also signposts ways in which more experienced practitioners can develop their thinking and understanding further. 

Ideally, schools would take a whole-school approach to the SDGs, embedding their themes across the curriculum and the life of the school, empowering young people to take action for them, and supporting wider community engagement. However, this guide recognises that this may not always be feasible and aims to support learning and thinking about the SDGs, and acting on them, in a range of school contexts. 

My advice for those who have read this blog, for example, would be to start at page 6 and consider how the benefits of teaching the SDGs might complement your teaching and your school’s priorities and development goals this year. Then perhaps flick through the case studies and activity ideas to see if there is something that looks to be of interest to you. You might also like to read the ‘Spotlight on the SDGs’ section to deepen your knowledge and understanding of the Global Goals. Finally, take a look at pages 29–30 for some useful web links and resource ideas for inspiring and supporting your learners to engage with the SDGs.

For teachers entirely new to the SDGs or global citizenship education, my advice would be to read page 1 and then perhaps watch one of the World’s Largest Lesson’s introductory videos for students, before moving on to reading the next few pages.

For those schools or teachers that are someway along their global learning journey, the guide could also be the basis of a very interesting whole staff inset session. In fact, the guide serves as a useful stimulus for professional development, linking to educational priorities such as values, curriculum development and working with the local community.

What are some of your favourite go-to resources for further ideas on integrating the SDGs into the classroom?

Teachers on Twitter might also really enjoy linking in with other teachers (in the UK and around the world) through the @teachSDGs movement, which signposts exciting tweet chats, resource sharing and collaborative projects. Otherwise, we list further resources, web links and useful information sources on pages 29–30 of the guide.

To download The Sustainable Development Goals: A guide for teachers, click here

Want to find out more about the SDGs and how you can incorporate them into your curricula?

We invite you to attend our free introductory workshops in October 2019!

At this introductory workshop, you’ll learn practical ways in which you can apply a sustainability lens to your subject content and lesson plans, have an opportunity to connect with like-minded educators during the tea and networking session, and gain a deeper understanding of how Routes to Resilience can support you on your journey.

9 October | Brighton, UK

10 & 16 October | Central London, UK

25 October | Cape Town, South Africa

To secure your seat, email us at