Whether your ESL class is full of international travelers or just those dreaming of travel one day, a unit on geography is a great option for the English classroom.
With a little planning, you can bring speaking, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary lessons to your students while talking about interesting places all over the world. Here are some ways to specifically tie geography into your language lessons.
Make Your Lessons Varied with the Help of Geography
Where are you from? Speaking
I have had the pleasure of teaching students from all over the world, and one of the benefits is I have learned so much about different places around the globe. Most students love to share about their home countries and cultures, and their classmates like hearing about them as well. Give your students a chance to talk about home in front of their classmates in a three to five minute presentation about their home country. If your students are full of ideas on what to share, let them decide what their presentations will contain. If they need a little more direction, you can guide them with these questions. What is your country known for? What do you like most about your country? What should people know about your country that they don’t already know? Why should someone visit your country? If you like, you can also tie in other ideas that relate to what you are studying in class such as holidays or sports.
Good, Better, Best: Grammar
How well can your students formulate comparative and superlative sentences? This fast paced, geography based activity will tell you. Divide your class into groups of around five students. Each group will work together to create comparative and superlative statements about different countries. First, give the groups five minutes to brainstorm as many adjectives as they can. Then have each group list ten different countries. Have each team post their adjective list and their country list at the front of the room (ideally on the whiteboard). Then each team should line up for a relay race. On your go, the first person from each team will rush to the front of the room and write a comparative sentence using one of the adjectives on their list and two of the countries on their list. For example, a student might write, “The United States is bigger than Korea.” Once the player is finished writing his sentence, he rushes back to his team and tags the next person in line. Players race to write sentences as quickly as possible. The first team to write a grammatically and factually correct sentence for each country on their list wins the race.
It’s Time to Travel: Reading and Writing
It’s probably safe to say that students who travel overseas to study English like to travel. Granted that isn’t always true nor does every ESL student leave home to study the language. In this activity, though, your students can travel anywhere they want to in the world, at least in their minds. Start by asking your students to think about a country they would like to travel to and that they have never visited before. Once students have chosen a country, have them start a KWL chart about that country. Starting with the first column, students list everything they already know about that country. This might include tourist attractions or things that would bring travelers to the country. In the second column, students should list what they want to know but don’t yet. Then, give your students some independent research time in the computer lab or the library to read up on their countries and answer their questions. As they do their research, students can fill in the third column of their chart with the things that they learned about their vacation destination. Students can then put all their knowledge and research together in a travel brochure for the country they would like to visit. Either with a desk top publishing program or by hand, ask students to write a trifold brochure for potential visitors to the country. Display the brochures on a bulletin board or make them available in a learning center so your students can read them during independent learning periods.
The Wonderful World In Which We Live: Vocabulary and Reading
Maps are a good visual to bring into the ESL classroom, and no time are they more appropriate than when you are doing a unit on geography. Your students can identify countries and cities all over the world on maps, but don’t let their use end there. Your students can also use maps to identify important geographical features throughout the world, things like rivers, lakes, mountains, desert, forest, the equator, volcanoes, islands, the oceans and the continents. Review these words with your students and show them how these geographical landmarks are marked on various maps (online or in an atlas). Looking at map keys is a good place to start. Once your students are somewhat familiar with mapping landmarks, divide your class into seven groups and assign one of the world’s continents to each group. Have each group read several maps to identify the important geographical features on their assigned continent. Then, give students time to make a poster of their continent showing these important geographical landmarks. Display the posters in your classroom or in the hallway outside.
A Flag for All Nations: Speaking
How well can your students identify national flags? To find out, copy or print a selection of flags from countries around the world and cut them out to make a sort of flashcard. (The greater the number of flags, the more challenging this activity will be.) Then give students a list of the countries whose flags you have cut out. Less familiar countries will get your students speaking more as they try to determine which flag goes with the country. Have students work in groups of three to match each flag to the correct country. If students are unsure of a particular flag, they should talk about it among their group and make an educated guess. Once everyone has made their best guesses, come together as a class and review the answers.
ESL students are by nature globally minded. They are hardworking students who hope to use English to open their futures. You can take advantage of their broad perspective on the world when you tie geography into language in the ESL classroom. Talking about their countries or learning about others may be just what your students need to come out of their conversational shells.
Do you do any geography activities in your ESL class?
What are your best activities?