Helping Students Write for a Real Audience: Travel Blogs

As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, the concept of audience seems to be quite challenging to grasp for second language writers. One of these challenges may be rooted in the lack of ability to link their knowledge about audience to the other components of rhetorical situation, such as purpose, tone, language, and media. Unfortunately, L2 writing instructors may not dedicate much of class time to teaching about audience, not only because of the rather intensive curricula of English programs, but also due to the L2 writing textbooks’ lack of activities and exercises designed for practicing the concept of audience.

In what follows, I will suggest one tool that you can implement in your writing course to help your students write with a particular audience in mind. In addition, this tool can motivate your students and engage them in the meaningful use of the written language. The tool is simple—travel blogging. Certainly, many of our students have traveled at least once in their lives. And it doesn’t have to be a major trip to a different country or a cruise. Some trips can be very simple, yet worthy of describing and reflecting on. Plus, students don’t have to keep their travel blog on a regular basis throughout the course; instead, they can simply start their blog to get the hang of it, and, later, they can continue updating their blogs with more descriptions and pictures from their trips. Finally, along with offering students the opportunity to write for a “real audience,” travel blogs also give teachers a chance to introduce the concept of multimedia composing in their classes.

To get your students started, you can simply demonstrate a few examples of travel blogs. You can discuss the language of the blogs and the techniques the authors used to make the blogs more appealing to the readers. Be sure that your students understand the differences between travel blogs and other types of blogs by pointing out the focus of a travel blog—a particular destination. Therefore, in a travel blog, any story that is related to a specific journey can be of much interest to the reader. For example, a story about the trip to a grocery store can be absolutely boring for the readers, but a story describing a trip to a store in a new place and new culture could be quite fascinating.

You could also do a few activities in your class to help students start developing their blogs. For example, you can ask them to think about the most memorable trip they had. Ask them to think about these questions:

  • What was so memorable about that trip?
  • What was the most exciting thing they did on that trip?
  • What was the most amazing thing that they saw during that trip?

Have students write down the answers to these questions. Then ask them to think about the audience they would write for. The following questions can help:

  • What will be particularly interesting for my readers?
  • What was different during that trip from my home?
  • How were people different from people at home?
  • What is different in the lifestyle of the people on the trip from the lifestyle of the people at home?
  • Would it be worthwhile to write about?

One word of caution. Students may feel quite excited to see their stories online at first, but they can also pretty soon lose enthusiasm or run out of ideas. Encourage your students to stay motivated. Tell them that writing a travel blog shouldn’t be viewed as a chore. Ask students to share their travel blogs with the class. You can also organize an activity in which students will respond to each others’ blog entries.

Certainly, blogging is just one of the many activities that can be implemented in a writing course to help students compose for a real audience. Please feel free to share your suggestions with the TESOL community.

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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3 Responses to Helping Students Write for a Real Audience: Travel Blogs

  1. Edo Forsythe says:

    Very interesting suggestion. I do something similar with my EFL university freshmen in northern Japan, but instead of writing travel blogs, I have them collaborate in groups to update Wikipedia or Wikitravel sites. We’ve totally revamped the university’s English-language Wikipedia page from a stub to a detailed entry with helpful information for exchange students coming to our university. While Wikipedia is stricter about the information it allows to be added, Wikitravel seems to be more liberal with tourism-related information and suggestions for places to eat and stay–something that would be closely related to the travel blogs you’re advocating. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your work!

  2. Caitlin says:

    I really enjoyed reading about a new writing activity, as I often struggle with teaching writing. Though many students may not have a lot of experience with travel, this activity can cause them to look at life differently and notice things in a new way. For example, even though I am an American, when I travel to other parts of the US, putting on the hat of a “travel blogger” can make me more aware of my surroundings and help me to look at a things differently. This is a good tool for English language learners as well.

  3. Matthew says:

    I love the idea, especially because the concept of audience really is both important and challenging to grasp. Thank you for sharing.

    One potential barrier, however, might come about when teaching students who may not have traveled much. This may not be a major issue for students being taught in the US who have more than likely done some traveling, having at least traveled to the US. This becomes more problematic when teaching in places like my first position in rural China. Most students were from farming families, and many had never really traveled until coming to the college. Students such as these may not have more than one or two potential blog entries.