wrong with the world?
The aim of the activity is to help students to get a perspective
on sustainable development.
When to use the activity
Suitable for use at the very beginning of the work but could be used later,
possibly when students understand the links between their choices and problems
like pollution, malnutrition, conflict and poverty.
Who is the activity for?
This activity can be used with both AS and A2
level students. It works best in groups
through discussion between students.
The activity provides a broad overview of the problems and needs of the world
and how they can be addressed through sustainability.
It will help their understanding of sustainable development and of the role
of environmental, social and economic issues.
The Activity and hints on how to organise it
• Using the words below, print out a list for each group on thin card
(preferably recycled) and cut them up (or get them to do it).
• Provide them with a sheet of blank card so that they can add their own ideas.
The given list is deliberately not comprehensive.
• Ask students to brainstorm what’s wrong with the world, what they think the
really big problems in the world are, the things that they would like to change
if they had three wishes. Using the “three wishes” always seems to work. Point
out that it is issues resulting from human behaviour that we are looking at, not natural disasters.
• Divide them into small groups (3-5 in a group) and give them the words and
blank card. Tell them to put these issues into an order of priority, using the
blank card to add any others that they feel are important.
• Decide whether you want students to put them into a particular form (e.g. a
linear list or a diamond or pyramid shape) or one they choose themselves. A
particular form puts a lot of pressure on people to discuss things in depth. It
puts them in the position of making difficult choices, particularly if they have
to put one issue as the most significant one.
• Give them a time limit for this discussion (10 minutes) but then be flexible
about stopping them. If every group is absorbed in an interesting discussion at
the end of 10 minutes let them carry on.
• Get each group to feed back their conclusions and the reasons for them at the
• There are no right or wrong answers but there are points to consider
about problems that have local impact, those that have global impact and
those that have a temporary impact as opposed to a long term or permanent
It is important to pursue a discussion of what emerges as the biggest
problems and then to see how those things fit into a bigger picture.
Sometimes students will say ‘crime’ or ‘smoking’. All responses
provide the opportunity to talk about how a particular issue fits into
You can then select the most ‘popular’ problems and construct a definition of
sustainability which starts with those problems and turns them on their heads.
So, for example, if the problem is hunger, one would say:
'In a sustainable world the whole of the world’s population would... have enough healthy food etc.'
You will probably end up with a list that is very worthy and relates closely to
people’s needs. It is worth throwing in at the end the question of fun and
beauty. (What would be the point of preserving the existence of people on this
planet if we did not enjoy it?) Sustainable development is, of course, about
ensuring that we can go on providing for the needs of the world’s population
not only now, but in the future.
You can pursue the discussion by looking at what we do that adds to the problems
and what we could do to move towards sustainability. Inevitably it leads to talking about prioritising, into the relative significance of the actions
we can take to improve the world.
Climate change -
Lack of health services -
Pollution Lack of schools -
Lack of water
Lack of clean water