Often English for tourism lessons are high stress.
In my experience, students book a fabulous summer holiday abroad, panic that they don't speak English well enough, and sign up for my class, hoping that in six short weeks I'll turn them into the perfect English speaker. Unfortunately, it's never happened like that. No teacher can guarantee miracles, but they can build up a student's confidence and ability to speak English more freely. What's most important for any travel class, whether beginning or advanced, is to help students face their fear of speaking. One way to do this is to think less about grammar (it's difficult, I know) and focus more about fluency.
Here are six games and activities to get your English for tourism class talking:
How to Improve Your Students’ Fluency
“What are you bringing on holiday?” - Sentence Building
This game is a travel themed spinoff of a basic chain game. The teacher should model the target phrase, which is something like “I'm going on vacation and I'm bringing a guidebook.” Working around the room, students should repeat the previous sentence and add another object. For example: “I'm going on vacation and I'm bringing a guidebook and sunglasses.” By the end of the exercise, the chain should be quite long and students will have fun trying to reproduce the full sentence.
This game is excellent for lower levels – the repetition is useful to cement key phrases in the students' minds without being too challenging. The chain activity can also be modified for higher levels in several ways. One option is to have students list items alphabetically (“I'm bringing an apple, a ball, a candle...”). Another option is to limit the word choice in some way, such as only letters beginning with “s” or words longer than three syllables. This game is very flexible and gets students listening very carefully – they don't want to be the one to mess up!
Role Plays and Dialogues
Role plays are perhaps the single most effective way to introduce English for tourism students to potential real world situations. Role plays also have the unique benefit of releasing a student's inhibitions in several ways. Instead of an intermediate level English student making mistakes, it is the concierge of a famous London hotel. It has also been shown that students are much more willing to express opinions when these opinions are the explicitly those of the student's; instead, ESL students are able to express themselves freely in the guise of a travel agent or traveling tourist.
Examples of role plays in the English for tourism are almost limitless. Consider the needs of your class while planning appropriate role plays. Will they be working as a tour guide for English speakers?, will they be traveling abroad and staying in five star hotels or will they be backpacking?, how will they be traveling? and so on. Role plays are fairly simple to prepare and have myriad positive benefits for students. Such dialogues encourage close listening and communication between students, while giving them the chance to work on their oral fluency in somewhat unpredictable situations.
Chain stories are an excellent way to get students talking to each other. To begin, the teacher should designate a title (“The Worst Summer Holiday Ever!”) or the first sentence of a story (“I was sitting on the beach with nothing but my umbrella...”). In my experience, the funniest titles or sentences inspire students more.
There are two ways to create chain stories in the classroom. First, there is the option to just practice oral fluency. Create the first sentence of the story, write it on the board, and ask the first student to continue the story. Going student by student, the story is built by adding an original sentence. Be sure to write the sentences on the board so that you can read the story again and correct any mistakes.
Second, you can add an element of writing. Divide students into groups of 3-4 students (too many and inevitably someone will not speak) and again provide the first sentence. The group should work in the same way as the spoken game with each student adding an original sentence. To ensure that the group works together, have the students designate one person as the writer. This makes sure that the students don't separate and simply write their own stories. If time allows, consider posting the stories around the room and have students get up and read all of them. After that, mix up the groups so that there is one person from every group in the new groups. Tell the students they must choose one winning story. Watch the discussions heat up as each argues for their own story to win!
“Where am I?” - Practicing Questions
Where am I is a great way for students to practice question structures and question tags. The basic premise of the game is similar to twenty questions, but one student (A) is a tourist on a mysterious holiday abroad. Student A is given a picture of a famous location while the rest of the class asks questions to find out where student A is. The catch is, of course, that the class may only ask yes or no answers. “Do people speak French there?” is a good question; “what language do they speak there?” is not. Encourage student A to answer with a question tag – “Yes, they do” rather than just “yes”.
As the level of your students increases, this game becomes more nuanced. Encourage higher level students to cover a range of tenses by not allowing two questions of the same tense twice in a row. This almost guarantees that students will have to practice trickier forms like the present and past perfect at some point. Switch the tourist several times and don't forget to keep count of the questions – the class loses if they don't guess correctly after twenty questions.
“What is it?” - Describing Unknown Objects
It is important for students to understand that when traveling abroad they may not know or remember everything they need – and that's okay! By giving students the tools to describe objects, they can largely sidestep any vocabulary problems they may encounter. This game is one of the most useful for ESL students studying English for tourism because it gives them practice describing objects without naming that specific object.
There are several ways to play this game. One option is to have cards with previously studied vocabulary on them. One student draws a card and describes the word on the card without using any form of the word (for example, with “washing machine” they could not say “wash” or “machine”). The rest of the class should guess the word. To make it more competitive, divide the class into two groups and have two students simultaneously describe the same word to their groups. Whichever group guesses correctly first gets one point.
Another option is to use this to teach new vocabulary. This can be a little trickier, but works well with higher level students and effectively simulates that it is possible to understand someone without ever knowing the specific word they're using. Highlight that this is incredibly important when traveling abroad. To play the game this way, you should provide cards with pictures of the target vocabulary. One student should draw a card and describe what's on it. The rest of the class can either name the object (if they know the word) or have certain students draw what they think it is. After a short time, compare pictures and teach the new word if it wasn't elicited. This game is an interesting way to teach new vocabulary and encourage English fluency, even when encountering an unfamiliar word.
Describe and draw
Describe and draw is another excellent general English activity that can be modified for the English for tourism classroom. This activity is dually useful for students. First of all, with the teacher choosing the appropriate picture, students are able to revise vocabulary. Secondly, while it is important for students to use grammatically accurate structures in this activity, even more important is to practice giving, getting, and interpreting vague instructions.
The game is simple: divide students into pairs and give one a picture. It should not be overly complex but should have plenty to describe. If you've just taught hotel vocabulary, you can should a picture of a hotel room. If you're talking about summer holidays, you might have a picture of a beach scene. The student with the picture should describe it as accurately as possible without showing the second student. The second student should draw what the other student describes. Have students compare pictures after they are finished. They are sure to enjoy the results! Don't forget to switch so each student has a chance to describe and draw at least once.
These games are all extremely useful for students who are a bit hesitant to talk for fear of making mistakes. The only terrible mistake you can make in the English classroom is not talking! Finally, remind them that the concierge will still let you check into a hotel if you mis-conjugate the verb “buy”. Really.
What is the ratio of grammar to fluency exercises in your English for tourism classes?
Have you tried any of these games; or better yet, can you add any more winners?