Every new year holds much promise as we look ahead: 12 months of possibility for learning and adventure. Sitting in my house in the middle of a week of pouring rain, however, after nearly 2 years of staying close to home because of the pandemic, I am suffering from a bout of cabin fever. I frequently pull out my passport and gaze wistfully at the stamps from countries across the globe, remembering the days when I could hop on a plane to meet up with friends and attend conferences while exploring new cultures, cities, and foodscapes. This month’s blog post is an attempt to give our students the thrill of adventure even if they continue to be stuck at home and learning on Zoom.
This post offers you some general ideas for developing a lesson or unit around writing travel guides. It can be adapted to meet the needs and proficiency of your students and to address any writing, reading, or other standards your program requires.
Depending on your students, you may choose to have students work individually, in pairs, or in small groups. How much scaffolding you provide also depends on your students and your goals for the activity—you may want to create templates and provide a set of resources, or you may want to leave them to research the genre and explore the internet to find what they can on their own.
Activate students’ schema through a discussion (supported perhaps by an assigned reading or video) about travel: Why do people travel? What kinds of activities do people do when they travel? Where would they like to visit? How could they find out more information about those places?
Start the project by selecting the destinations. While students could choose a place they already know something about, it might be more fun to try spinning a globe and pointing randomly at a location. (For a virtual try at globe-spinning, check out GlobeBop.) Another option would be to choose from among a list of recommendations, such as AFAR magazine’s “Where to Go in 2022.” These methods can push students toward new and unfamiliar travel destinations.
Encourage students to investigate their chosen destinations broadly. Wikipedia is a good place to start, as most cities and countries have extensive entries with numerous subpages about history and geography, but they should also check out pictures from the place (searching for a variety of place names and keywords can turn up different images), tourist information, and other websites about the location. Some key information that can spice up a tour guide:
- Important buildings and historical sites in the region
- Traditional and famous foods of the region
- Famous people (living and dead) from the region
- Folk and popular music from the region
- Movies and TV shows set in the country
- Things to do for fun in the region
Good websites for finding additional travel information about places around the world:
If you want to make the research process more complex, consider asking students to find and interview a person with experience in their chosen country or region. Questions for their interviewee might address recommendations for what to see, eat, and do, as well as advice on how to visit the place safely and how to act appropriately within the culture. This approach can also add more speaking practice into the process.
Decide on the modality for students’ travel guides and provide them with some parameters for the project. An easy digital approach is to use Google Docs or Slides, which allow multiple people to edit at the same time. Students can also include hyperlinks to relevant websites or embed pictures and videos. If you want to make the students’ projects public, they could instead design pages for a class website, which would also allow for hyperlinks and embedded information. Alternatively, students could design a print brochure or magazine article about their destination. (Here’s a free brochure template that could be used with younger learners.)
One focus could be to design itineraries for visitors to the country or city. They might model their itineraries after the “Three Perfect Days in…” series in Hemispheres magazine, for example. Such guides often include recommended hotels and restaurants, advice on where to shop and what souvenirs to buy, and off-the-beaten-path activities that give visitors a taste of what the destination is like for local residents. Designing an itinerary also requires investigating maps and transportation options for getting around the region.
As students design and write their travel guides, incorporate peer feedback into the process. Because this is a real-world genre, students should read their classmates’ guides from the perspective of someone who wants to know more about the place. If a description of a city is unclear or they wouldn’t be able to follow a self-guided tour, for example, their feedback can help the writers improve both the text and the overall guide design.
Once students have revised and polished their travel guides, they should have the opportunity to share them with an interested audience. Although this could just mean their classmates, if they are comfortable sharing the guides more widely, they could publish them on a website or send them to friends via social media. (Note that both Google Docs and Google Slides allow writers to publish their projects as web sites, which generates a URL that can be viewed by anyone but not edited. This approach protects students’ work while still letting them share it on the internet.) In a four-skills class, students could also give family and friends an oral presentation about their travel guides.
Just the process of looking at travel websites while drafting this blog post has helped a bit with my cabin fever, although it has also made me even more hopeful that I will be able to travel again in the coming year. What travel-related writing have you tried with your classes? Share your ideas in the comments below.