Background information and didactical perspective

Mobile phones, specifically smartphones, are the epitome of our modern, flexible, fast-moving societies, and add to the current sense of ever-decreasing distance between the world’s different parts, countries and peoples. After all, smartphones enable us – or so it seems - to communicate with others at any time, regardless of physical or geographical distance. There is another side to smartphones, however – the inhumane working conditions in the countries where they are made, the exploitation of natural resources for their raw materials, and a lack of transparency in global production and supply chains. This module explores smartphones as products that are highly illustrative of various aspects of globalisation, and enables pupils to access and understand the various associated economic, social, environmental, political and individual issues.

Learning outcomes

  • Methods: working with sources; understanding and analysing text and images
  • Social and communication skills: formulating arguments and sharing them within a group
  • Forming judgements and opinions that draw on sound evidence
  • Acquiring knowledge about global interconnections
Topics / National curriculum
Globalisation, the global economy, labour, human rights, use and stewardship of resources and commodities, production of goods, life and economic activity on earth, sustainability, consumption
  • Play
Suitable age 12-16
Time frame 3 x 45 min.
Required materials copies of the worksheets; equipment for watching online videos (e.g. tablet/laptop); pens; paper; ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ signs; world map; if desired, photographs or objects for placing on the map as illustrations of the stages of a smartphone’s production (e.g. a piece of metal for raw materials, a screwdriver for manufacturing, an old phone for disposal/e-waste, etc.); if desired, materials for creating a collage (paper, scissors, glue, advertising supplements);
Description This module teaches pupils about the production process behind a smartphone, from the mining of its raw materials and the product’s manufacture to its ultimate destination as electronic waste, and encourages them to explore ways of making it fairer and more sustainable.
Subjects / Topics Geography Business and economics Political/social studies Ethics/values education

Lesson plan


  • A = Activity
  • D = Discussion
  • GW = Group work
  • IW = Individual work
  • HW = Homework
  • PW = Partnerwork
  • PTS = Previous Teacher’s Study
  • PO = Pupils opinions
  • PP = Pupil’s presentations
  • TP = Teacher’s presentation


Phase Content Media, Material

(30 min.)

  • PO
  • The teacher has prepared ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ signs.
  • The teacher has read M1 and considered which aspects of smartphone production she or he wishes to include on the map, as well as doing research on the background to these aspects.
  • A map of the world is available and displayed.
  • The teacher may wish to provide photographs or objects for display on the map as illustrations of the various stages of smartphone production (e.g. a piece of metal for raw materials, a screwdriver for manufacturing, an old phone for disposal/e-waste, etc.)
  • If required, materials for collage-making are available (paper, scissors, glue, advertising supplements).
Background information A journey from the mine to the dump: the life cycle of my phone

Opening phase
(10 min.)

  • PO
  • Step 1

    The pupils think and talk about their use of mobile phones. The teacher may elicit their thoughts and self-reflection on the topic by asking the following questions, which the pupils can answer in writing (on their own) or orally (via discussion in small groups):

    If the answer is no:

    • Why don’t you have a mobile phone/smartphone?

    If the answer is yes:

    • How many phones do you have?
    • How many phones do you use?
    • How long have you had your current phone?
    • How many phones have you owned altogether?
    • Why did you get rid of your last phone/get your current one?
    • What are the main things you use your phone for?

  • Step 2 The teacher may ask the pupils to make a collage, including text and images, to show what they use their phones for and how important their phones are in their lives. (This activity could also be incorporated into art lessons)
Additional material
  • if desired, materials for creating a collage (paper, scissors, glue, advertising supplements)

(10 min.)

  • D

Pupils now work in small groups to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using smartphones. The teacher may ask the following questions to get the discussion going:

  • When does using a smartphone make you feel good?
  • When does using a smartphone make you feel bad?
  • Do you experience situations where you feel pleased not to have your phone to hand?
  • Do you experience situations where you feel weird or uncomfortable if you don’t have your phone to hand?
  • What in your life does your smartphone help you with?
  • Where in your life does your smartphone hold you back?

Sliding scale
(15 min.)

  • D
  • A
  • Step 1 The teacher hangs/pins up the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ signs at opposite ends of the room and then reads out a number of statements. For each statement, the pupils take a position along an imaginary line between the two signs, to show the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement. Ideas for statements (which the teacher can adapt for her or his class) could be:
    • I can imagine living without my phone.
    • My phone makes my life easier.
    • Phones and the internet have got people communicating more with one another.
    • Everyone should be able to have a phone, even if they can’t afford one by themselves.
    • My phone is always switched on.
    • I know which countries the raw materials in my phone come from.
    • I know where my phone was made.
    • We have old phones lying around in drawers at home.
    • I know what happens to my old phones when I throw them away.
    • I’ve never thought about the people who make phones and the processes it involves.
  • Step 2 After each statement, the teacher asks a small number of pupils to explain why they placed themselves where they did. This will enable the class to take note of a variety of views on each statement.


  • The teacher should not attach any judgement or moral value to the statements. The exercise is not about picking the ‘right’ response, but rather about raising pupils’ awareness of a range of different attitudes and experiences on the subject of phones.

Additional material
  • ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ signs

(10 min.)

  • TP

The teacher gives the pupils a brief summary of a smartphone’s life cycle, and may choose to indicate on the map of the world where each stage takes place.

  • Development and design: at the head offices of the major smartphone brands (based in the US, China, Japan, South Korea, Europe)
  • Mining of raw materials: largely in Africa and Latin America
  • Production: primarily in Asia
  • Sale and use: worldwide
  • Disposal: Only a small proportion of discarded phones are recycled; many end up (illegally) on enormous e-waste dumps, in Ghana, India, China and other countries.
Background information A journey from the mine to the dump: the life cycle of my phone
Additional material
  • world map
  • if desired, photos or objects to be placed on the map for illustrative purposes
Phase Content Media, Material

Introductory phase
(5 min.)

  • TP
  • For the group work phase, the teacher has made copies of the worksheets (M2, M6 and M9), the reports from places where phones are produced (M8), the quote from a worker at an e-waste dump (M10) and potential solutions (M12). She or he has also printed and cut out the information cards (M3 and M7), the stakeholder descriptions (M5) and the photos (M11).
  • A map of the world, large enough to accommodate small pictures, is available and displayed
  • A laptop or tablet with internet access for playing a video (M4) is available
  • Step 1 The teacher explains the ‘jigsaw’ method to the pupils. Each pupil will be assigned to a group, and each group will work on one of the aspects of the topic (raw materials, production, disposal), becoming ‘experts’ in this aspect. After this, the groups are mixed up and new groups formed which contain experts on each aspect. Each of these experts shares their newly acquired knowledge with the other members of this new group.
  • Step 2 The teacher divides the class into three groups, one for raw materials, one for production, and one for disposal. A large class may be divided into six groups, with two groups each working on one stage of a smartphone’s life cycle.

Work phase
(20 min.)

  • GW
Group 1: Raw materials in a phone
  • Step 1 Group 1 receives the worksheet on the raw materials contained in a phone (M2).
  • Step 2 The pupils also receive, and read through, the cards that give brief information on the raw materials that go into a phone (M3). Each card gives the name of one country in bold. The pupils find that country on the map of the world and place the picture of the associated resource/raw material on that country.
  • Step 3 The pupils watch a critical video (M4) about mining for raw materials for phones in Bolivia.
  • Step 4 Each pupil in the group takes one of the descriptions of stakeholders in relation to a (fictional) planned new mine (M5). They discuss together whether they think the mine should go ahead. If they think it should, they discuss the conditions they would place on this. They give their reasons if they think the mine should not happen.
Group 2: Working in mobile phone production
  • Step 1 The pupils are given the worksheet on the manufacture of mobile phones (M6).
  • Step 2 They consider together which workers’ rights they would regard as important if they were workers, and write them down on the worksheet.
  • Step 3 They read through the information cards that detail the fundamental rights of workers (M7) and compare them with their own views.
  • Step 4 They read through the reports from places and settings where phones are made (M8) and identify the workers’ rights that are at stake in these cases.
Group 3: E-waste and recycling
  • Step 1 The pupils in this group receive the worksheet on electronic waste (M9).
  • Step 2 They read the quote from a worker at an e-waste dump (M10) and discuss it.
  • Step 3 They look at the pictures of an e-waste dump in Ghana (M11).
  • Step 4 They agree on and write down three ways of improving the situation, which they would like to see implemented. The potential solutions in M12 can provide inspiration.
Worksheet Raw materials in a phone
Information cards on raw materials
Video A phone’s life
Stakeholder descriptions (Bolivia)
Worksheet Making your mobile
Information cards on workers’ rights
Reports from places where phones are made
Worksheet on e-waste
Quote on e-waste
Photos from Ghana
Potential solutions
Additional material
  • world map
  • tablet/laptop with internet access

Work phase
(10 min.)

  • GW
  • Step 1 The teacher mixes up the groups, ensuring that each group has at least one person from each of the three previous groups.
  • Step 2 In the new groups, each pupil tells the others what they learned in their original, ‘expert’ groups. Prompt questions to help them: What did I find out that I didn’t know before? What did I find surprising? What do I think is most important to tell the others?

Reflection on learnings
(10 min.)

  • The class comes together to discuss the things they have learned. The teacher may prompt the discussion with these questions (or others):
    • What things didn’t you know before/did you find particularly interesting?
    • Is there anything you haven’t quite understood yet?
    • What idea of Bolivia, China or Ghana do you now have after this lesson? Do you think anything is missing from this idea?


  • While using examples from specific countries is a helpful way of illustrating the issues and problems associated with the smartphone production process, there is a risk that pupils will be left with reductive ideas of these countries, such as ‘Bolivia = mines’, ‘China = factories’, and ‘Ghana = rubbish dumps’, which do not reflect their true social, economic and cultural complexity and diversity. The people in these countries and in the examples are not passive objects to whom things are done. There are numerous local activists and campaigning groups working for improvements in the conditions and issues detailed in the examples. If the teacher gains the impression that the pupils have begun to form stereotypes, she or he may find it helpful to show other images/aspects of the countries discussed or to ask the pupils to do some research about them or about local grass-roots campaigns. This may help counteract simplistic, one-sided ideas and images of the countries and open up new vistas on them.

Background information A journey from the mine to the dump: the life cycle of my phone
Phase Content Media, Material

Introductory phase
(5 min.)

  • TP
  • The teacher has made sufficient numbers of copies of the worksheet (M13) and information sheet (M14).
  • The teacher divides the pupils into small groups, in each of which there is at least one pupil from the ‘raw materials’ group (from the previous lesson), at least one from the ‘production’ group and at least one from the ‘e-waste’ group. This will ensure that each group’s prior knowledge covers the entire smartphone life cycle.
  • Each group is given a copy of the worksheet (M13) and the information sheet (M14).
Worksheet Our start-up
Information sheet on Fairphone

Work phase
(25 min.)

  • GW
  • The groups’ task is to set up a new business producing phones. The groups consider what issues they would take account of in relation to purchasing, production and recycling. They give their business a name, design a logo and prepare a two-minute presentation (M13).
  • They may draw inspiration from the example of Fairphone (M14).
Worksheet Our start-up
Information sheet on Fairphone

(10 min.)

  • GW
  • The pupils give their presentations.

Concluding phase
(5 min.)

  • D
  • The class comes together to discuss one or several of these questions:
    • What did you learn during these lessons that you hadn’t known before? What did you find especially interesting? What aspects of the topic would you like to find out more about?
    • Who has, or could have, the most power to change the way things are done now in mobile phone life cycles/production chains?
    • What is the role of politicians and policymakers?
    • What is the role of businesses in the sector?
    • What role do we play?