Transportation is a common subject in ESL classes.
Not only does a unit on transportation have practical applications, like vacationing in a foreign country, most ESL students who study in English speaking countries have experienced many types of travel just to enter their program. Travel units lend themselves to all kinds of activities on how to get from one place to another or “Where would you go” style discussions, but a transportation unit can include so many other aspects of language. Here are some fresh ideas that can be included in a transportation unit for your ESL classes that go beyond the norm.
Check Some New Ideas to Teach about Transport
Different modes of transportation have different rules for being safe. For example, safety precautions for riding a bicycle are very different for those for flying in a plane. Start by brainstorming with your class all the possible modes of transportation, then have your students choose one mode of transportation from the list. Ask them to write five ways to be safe when travelling that way. For example, when riding a bicycle, someone should wear a helmet and reflective clothing. They should obey traffic laws. They should walk their bicycle through intersections, and they should not let another person ride on the bike with them. As they write their safety precautions, they should number them one through five but not write on their paper what mode of travel they are talking about. Collect everyone’s paper, assign each a number, and then share them with your class. You can either post the safety measures or read them to the rest of the class. (You may want to work it in as either a reading activity or a listening activity.) The other students should try to guess what travel method the writer was describing when he wrote his five safety measures. Have them number their papers and write what method of travel they think each list describes. Let students check their answers with a partner and then clear up any that are still stumping your students.
Do you want to stir up some competition among your students? Have a grammar race as part of your transportation unit. Divide your class into teams of around five students each (try not to have more than four teams), and have each team use a large cardboard box to make some type of vehicle. (Boxes from copier paper would work well. Students can decorate them with scraps of paper, cardboard tubes and other craft supplies.) Then use masking tape or pieces of construction paper taped to the floor to create a life sized game board. Each round, one player from each team comes to the front of the class and stands at one corner of a student desk. You should tape a red construction paper circle to the center of the desk to serve as the “buzzer”. Practice a current grammar topic or review ones you have already covered by asking a fill in the blank question. Even better, ask a grammatical question that ties into the transportation theme. If a student knows the answer, he hits the buzzer. The first one to hit it gets a chance to answer. If he is right, he rolls a six sided die and moves his team’s vehicle that many spaces. If he gets it wrong, the second to the buzzer answers, rolls the die and advances. The first team to the end of the game board is the winner.
A transportation unit is a good opportunity to teach some vocabulary that might not otherwise come up in class. With your students, brainstorm as many different types of transportation as possible. (You may have done this in activity number one.) Your list should include everything from hot air balloons to mopeds, skateboards to space shuttles. Then, have each student choose a different vehicle as the topic for some personal research. As they research, your students should create a diagram of their mode of transportation and label several of its parts. (The actual number is up to you.) A person who diagramed a bicycle might label handle bars, wheels, spokes, seat and reflectors. This is a good activity to use for homework or during a free study period. Once students complete their diagrams, put them into groups of about four to share what they have discovered. Each group should make a comprehensive list of all the vehicle parts they labeled on their diagrams. Now your students have a chance to get creative. Each person should choose at least three components from the comprehensive list that he would add to his original vehicle that were not already part of his vehicle. He should make a new diagram which shows the three additions to the vehicle. Have students follow up by writing a paragraph describing the additions they would make to their vehicle and why.
Do You Hear What I Hear
A transportation unit is a great opportunity to talk about onomatopoeia in English. Onomatopoeia is a category of words that represent an actual sound. Words like woof, ding and thump fall into this category. (You can find other examples here.) Students of foreign languages will soon learn that even though onomatopoeia is a representation of a sound in real life, not all languages transcribe those sounds alike. This is why a dog says woof woof in English and wang wang in Korean. All kinds of vehicles make noises that are represented with English words. Sounds like vroom, choo-choo, toot-toot, honk, zoom and chug represent sounds that have all become English words. Give your students a chance to talk about their home countries and language by asking them what noises different vehicles make in their native languages. Then brainstorm a list of English onomatopoeia related to vehicles and travel. You might want to have students use these words to write a poem about travel. A haiku is a simple poetry structure of five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables in three separate lines. Challenge your students to choose one type of transportation and write a haiku using at least two words from your onomatopoeia list. This is also a good opportunity to review syllables and word stress as your students follow the haiku format. If you like, have students illustrate their haikus and display them on a bulletin board in your classroom.
Challenging your students to give directions from one place to another or making conditional sentences about places they would like to visit are great activities that tie into a unit on transportation. Sometimes, though, students and teachers alike want something different, a new approach to a classic ESL unit. When something different is what you are in the mood for, try talking about vehicle safety with your students, making a life sized game board, getting creative with a transportation reinvention or talking about unique sound words and poetry. It will challenge your students and take what they are learning about trains, planes and automobiles to a new experience.