Our environment is an important issue nowadays. The current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico can be connected to a lesson about the environment. Many coursebooks deal with the topic of nature and present catastrophes can make our classes more interesting.
I simplified an article from The Times. There are two versions of this task.
The first one is for Intermediate students. The underlined words should be replaced with a synonym expression.
And the second version is for Upper-Intermediate students with more difficult phrases. Apart from the synonyms, the sentences in bold can be converted into Reported Speech again.
Also, if you prepare somebody for a language exam, it is sensible to discuss current affairs. They might appear among the exam tasks.