It’s the dog days of summer and, for lots of Americans, that means it’s time to jump in the car and head out of town. In my classes, it’s an opportunity to help my students learn more about the different regions of the United States by taking an imaginary road trip.
For this purpose, I use two activities. Starting close to home, I put students in groups and tell them to imagine that they have $100 to spend on an 18-hour day of seeing the sights in New York City. It’s a great excuse to introduce them to the Trip Advisor website, which in addition to its hotel and restaurant reviews, offers detailed suggestions on what to see and do almost anywhere in the world. I encourage my students to use their smartphones in class to peruse links like Things to Do in New York City, which they can discuss and debate with their teammates before making their final selections.
The creativity that students display during this activity—which can easily be adapted to wherever you teach, using any city in the world—is remarkable. When we did this in a high beginner/low-intermediate class last month, one group announced that they had decided that they would start their imaginary day by singing a cappella in Grand Central Terminal station to raise additional funds for their visit, since, in their estimation, $100 wasn’t going to get them very far in New York City! Others opted to take the free public Staten Island Ferry to photograph the Statue of Liberty from the harbor, rather than the pricier private ferry to the Statue of Liberty itself.
I usually conclude this first activity by asking them to share what they know about free things to do and show them links (e.g., Time Out New York ) where they can find out about additional free or inexpensive activities. Many students are invariably amazed to discover that they do not have to pay the full adult admission fee of $25 to get into the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art, since that amount is only “recommended” and the Met will accept whatever students can afford to pay—a dollar, a quarter, or even a nickel.
As a follow-up activity, I ask students to imagine that they have 2 weeks to take a road trip anywhere they want in America. It helps to have a map of the United States in the classroom or in their textbook, or to cue one up on the Internet and project it on a screen. Again, I encourage my students to work in groups and to consult not only Trip Advisor and the U.S. National Park Service’s maps and videos, but a quirky website, Roadside America, that introduces students to less well-known attractions and tiny, oddball museums. When they are done with their planning, I have the groups take turns reporting out on the trip they intend to take, and their classmates have an opportunity to quiz them on their selected route and their choice of destination.
Of course, the weather can have a big impact on any trip, so I introduce my students to the Weather Channel, and ask them to use their smartphones to check the forecast for the area they are planning to visit. It’s also a great way to have them practice the grammar they need to talk about their future plans and to make predictions (“It’s going to be in the upper-90’s in Orlando next week” or “There will be severe thunderstorms in Virginia tomorrow”). And if comparatives are on the agenda, I have them use the Weather Channel to research the forecast in their home town (Puebla, Warsaw, Teheran, Quayaquil, Beijing, Sao Paulo) and compare it to the forecast for their American road trip destination.