Automotive Language Lessons Can Give Your Students the Drive to Learn

Cars hold a high position in the American culture’s teenage psyche. Cars may be necessities for students attending schools in rural areas or background noise to kids in cities, but you’re not likely to find a student who is completely apathetic about automobiles. They can symbolize freedom, a rite of passage, a future career, or just things students think are cool. Whatever the situation, they can be a nice break from dry academic activities or a nice way to keep the students engaged during a short week.

So when you need an “evergreen” activity, or if you want a fun writing activity, here are some car-related categories of activities I found to be effective.

1. Morphology and Language Change. Since cars are newer inventions, the English names for their parts are often simple compound words that explain their function—windshield, hubcap, airbag, rearview mirror—which you can put together, take apart, and define as separate units and combined words. More advanced students may enjoy learning the etymology of words like “dashboard” or “glove compartment” that are still in use even after their literal meaning has changed. This is one situation where I love using my Oxford Picture Dictionary due to its excellent graphics on everything from types of vehicles to the parts of an engine.

2. Descriptive Writing. Students who are hesitant to write their opinions or analyze a piece of prose may be enticed into writing about their dream cars. Depending on the students’ levels, you can offer pictures, a framework with questions to determine the color and features, or even some research about their favorite make and model.

3. Direction Writing. A simple map, either of the local area or an imaginary one, can give your students an easy subject to write about. I like to start these activities by having them describe simple trips with only a few turns to more complicated routes where they have to point out landmarks or avoid tricky situations like traffic or construction. Intermediate students may enjoy using MapQuest or Google Maps to connect this to a real-world activity that requires simple straightforward writing.

4. Situations and Scripts. Before they can drive, students will have to venture to their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to get a license, and possibly negotiate to buy a car, get insurance, or handle an accident. These allow for lots of speaking opportunities—beginners can start with simple scripts, and more advanced students can improvise or collaborate to create a skit to demonstrate their negotiation skills.

About Nathan Hall

Nathan Hall
Nathan Hall, MA TESOL, MS Education, lives in Pottstown, PA with his wife and two daughters. He has been involved in ESL since he volunteered as a tutor in 2001, which inspired him to leave the field of journalism for education. He has since taught English language learners in a variety of settings ranging from community programs to colleges as well as in several different types of middle schools and high schools. He is currently an ELL specialist at Achievement House Cyber Charter School in Exton, PA.
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