Teaching an English for specific purposes class for students going in to the tourism industry can be one of the most fun classes to teach!
Combining learning English with ways to be a good tour guide lead to engaging and interactive classroom activities. As tour guides will spend most of their time speaking with tourists, here are some tips for teaching speaking with your students:
Speaking Hints for Tourism Students
Part of what a tour guide does is interactive, but another large part is explaining facts and stories about historical sites. It’s good to practice and prepare longer periods of uninterrupted speaking so students feel confident with this kind of speaking. A good way to practice this skill is to do presentations in your class. Let students choose a particular historical place or assign one to them to have them practice doing research. Then, let students give short sustained presentations around 3-5 minutes long. Be sure to guide them on how to organize presentations, use transition words to help listeners understand, and using intonation effectively.
Oftentimes, tourists will ask questions that might catch tour guides by surprise. Practice impromptu speaking to help students think quickly on their feet in English. Prepare little slips of paper with questions about random topics on them. Go around the room and have students draw out a slip of paper, and give them 30 seconds to answer the question effectively. Another way to practice quick thinking on their feet is to have students stand in a circle. Take a soft object that’s easy to throw (like a stuffed animal) and think of a category, for example, adjectives to describe a building. Begin by stating a word that fits the category and throwing the object to another student. The student who receives the object must quickly think of a new word that fits the category within 3 seconds and then throw the object to someone else. This continues until a student A) takes longer than 3 seconds to think of a word; B) thinks of a word that doesn’t fit the category; or C) repeats a word already stated. When a student violates one of these three rules, they must leave the circle and sit down. Continue until there is one student remaining who is the fluency champion! Although not directly answering questions, this will help them think quickly on their feet when under pressure.
While speaking for extended periods of time, students need to practice fluency so they can be easily understood while speaking. The best way to increase fluency is to increase the talking time of students in your class. Plan a large section of class to be devoted to students speaking in pairs or in groups to maximize the amount of time they spend speaking.
A fun fluency activity to practice is group story telling. Sitting in a circle, begin the activity by saying the opening sentence to a story. Make sure the sentence is something generic like, “Once upon a time, there was an old building formerly used as a castle” or, “This one time I had the best tour group experience.” The next student must add one line to your line that makes sense, and so on until the last student wraps up the story.
Another way to improve fluency is to reduce the number of filler words used in speech. To make students aware of the filler words they bring from their own language, do another 30 second activity, similar to the answering questions activity from above. Give students a question or a topic to answer, and make note of the number of times they use noises or fillers that aren’t English words. Next, teach them appropriate English filler words-- like, uh, um, well, okay. Also, keep in mind that speaking without filler words isn’t realistic or natural, but using more English filler words will help them to be better understood. Do another 30-second speaking activity about an impromptu topic, and have students keep track of each other’s filler words. Make sure that you as the teacher model this activity as well to show how difficult it is to speak without fillers!
Keep it light
Tourists love jokes! Most people go on vacation to relax and be entertained, so make humor a part of your class. Humor can be difficult when trying it in another language, so your students will need a lot of practice. Assign your students homework to watch sitcoms so they can practice hearing different types of humor. Bring in various cartoons to let students make sense of the humor. Riddles are also a good source of enjoyment that tour guides can pass on to their students. Teaching students about puns will also help them to discover more about humor. And of course, let students experiment with their own jokes. Not only will humor help them with their future in the tourism industry, but it will also make your classroom more effective by lowering their affective filter.
Let your city be your textbook
While a textbook is great, especially if you’re new to teaching ESP, all a tour guide needs when they work is a city! If you’re teaching your class in the same city where your students will be working, all the better. Even if your students will eventually work somewhere else, the city you all are currently in will help students become effective English-speaking tour guides. Take field trips together around the city and model some good phrases and practices as a tour guide. Then, assign buildings or places of interest to your students to have them research and develop talking points. Take your students around the city, allowing students to step up and tell the class about various places. It’s good if students have memorized their facts (tour guides rarely read from notes), but help them to practice speaking it often so that they can produce it naturally without sounding like they’ve memorized a script. As you go along the field trip, ask students to keep notes about what vocabulary items they might need to use while travelling around and what timing should look like.
Travelling is fun; therefore, teaching students to help others travel should also be fun! These activities will help get your students authentic, real practice speaking English in the tourism field so that they can have confidence when they do the real thing.
What speaking activities do you enjoy?
What vocabulary is essential in a tourism ESP class?