Connecting with ELLs through The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Part One

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Connecting with ELLs through The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Part One


Natasha Welcome M.Ed 

Metamorphosis Education Consultants


Is a language barrier the ultimate barrier? Can we connect with our (English Language Learners) ELLs in spite of, despite, and regardless of a language barrier? I would like you to think of that just for a moment. Sit with that thought until the light bulb goes off in your head and the aha moment appears. 

It is common to focus on our differences rather than our similarities. It is normal practice to identify what does not work as opposed to what does. To answer the opening question, yes, we can connect with our students in the face of a language barrier. I have found that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) create a path to connect with our English Language Learners.

What are the SDGs? 

The SDGs were formulated by the United Nations in 2015 during a convention. It replaced the Millenium goals of 2009. There are 17 SDGs as they are commonly called. Read more about these goals at


SDGs: the Connector 

Several factors make the SDGs a great connector . First, they are universal. The SDGs are worldwide goals to be met by every country. The issues highlighted are to be solved by each goal do affect every country, though at different parts of the continuum. Second, since they are common, it makes them relatable. Our ELLs, regardless of which country they are from, understand the concept of no poverty, zero hunger, good health, and well-being, just to name a few. They can relate to part of their country or another country that can use each of these goals. Clearly, we as educators can capture this common ground and build thereon. Third, they are solvable. The focus on inquiry-based learning has grown over the past decades. The thrust for students to be active learners and not passive receivers of knowledge has been the mantra. The SDGs create an ideal situation for this type of participation. Again, the language barrier does exist when scaffolding ELLs. However, the knowledge and use of the SDGs penetrate beyond the language barrier and create a connection where students in spite of their language are able to identify a world deficiency and attempt to solve them. This creates a language learning hunger for ELLs because there are bigger reasons to synergize on the language front. Fourth, SDGs are evolving, thus encouraging continuous participation. They are not a ‘one and done.’ While we do get closer to reaching the goals, the evolution of the world also changes the strategies the SDGs can be met. This is intriguing to any student, our ELLs are no exception. They join in the maze to find a sensible way to create more feasible data for the world stage come 2030. 

What topics can be used to connect ELLs at every level? 

A surface view of the SDGs will indicate the very basics, that they are goals set by the United Nations with a common deadline- 2030. However, careful scrutiny will reveal that the goals can be placed on different levels. Meaning that some concepts are more suitable for students at different stages. However, this is not a cookie-cutter model, since each group of students is different. A very advanced topic may be handled well by the class you are presently teaching, however, next year may be different. Notice that they

were not placed in groups such as early childhood, elementary school, middle school, high school, etc. This is deliberate because maybe your elementary students can handle the intermediate topics etc. This will give you the leverage to choose accordingly. Also, since we are speaking of ELLs, their language level does matter as to which topics are more prevalent in their country of origin. Here we revisit our earlier notion that each problem highlighted by an SDG affects countries at different parts of the continuum. 





No Poverty

Quality Education

Industry Innovation and Infrastructure

Zero Hunger

Gender Equality

Reduced Inequalities

Good Health

Affordable and Clean Energy

Sustainable cities and communities

Clean drinking water and sanitation

Climate Action

Responsible consumption and production


Life Below Water

Climate action


Life on land

Justice, peace and strong institutions


Partnership for the goals


Your chance to be Creative 

I am certain that while you were reading this post, ideas were flooding through your mind. As an educator for over 20 years, I know how our brain works. Therefore, I would like you to think of at least one activity that can

be done with your students remaining in harmony with your state standards. Now if you don’t mind, please accept my invitation to share your activity below this blog post so that other teachers can also benefit from it. Thank you for your contribution in advance. Stay tuned for the Part Two edition of this blog post, I will also share some very interesting SDG activities for every level. 

Reference: United Nations. (n.d.). Sustainable- Development Goals.

Authors' Bio

Natasha Welcome M.Ed is a proud NYS TESOL member and speaker at the 2022 Conference in White Plains. Her topic was, ”Connecting with ELLs through the UN’s SDGs.” Mrs. Welcome has been an educator for over 20 years. She has been fortunate to teach students from every level starting from early childhood to college, where she now serves. Helping students acquire the English language is her passion. She served at an international school for 14 years where her devotion to language and cultural diversity is rooted. Presently, Mrs. Welcome also helps schools and corporations to better incorporate English Language Learners in their establishment. Her tagline is, “Synergy in the face of language diversity” 


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