Everyone enjoys a change of scenery, especially during a long semester spent largely in the same classroom.
Field trips break can helpfully break up routines and inject a new enthusiasm into your class, and are especially appropriate if the students have worked hard and earned a treat. Some field trips offer practice opportunties, while others are more geared towards helping the students develop confidence when traveling around a new and unfamiliar city. Whether they have a specific educational objective is up to you, but there are many ways in which field trips can be tied in with your syllabus, and provide an effective method for using recently acquired language.
Field trips also help by:
- Giving the students experience on your local public transport system
- Providing the chance for several classes to mix, making possible new friendships and cultural connections
- Obliging students to use a map of the city, its subway or bus routes, and the building you’re visiting; this helps gain familiarity with the names of boroughs, subway lines, stations and landmarks, and their pronunciation.
- Letting the students know that your city is accessible to them, and not the big, scary place they first thought it was
Plan an Effective and Unforgettable Field Trip
Choose Your Destination
Any attraction which would appeal to a tourist might also appeal to an ESL student. Reflect on their age group and the topics you’ve been covering, and whether there are any special interests or a particular prevalence of occupations in your class (bankers, medics, journalists). Consider any and all of the following:
- Sports venues, either for a game or for a stadium tour. If you take your students to a game, be aware that (with a handful of exceptions) few students from abroad will ever have seen NFL or baseball, for example, so you’ll need to give them a primer on the rules.
- A Museum can be a terrific visit, even if the students initially express some skepticism. Investigate this with them; what about art galleries has turned them off? How would they organize a museum to appeal to everyone? The best choice might be a museum of local history, so that the students feel a connection, or a gallery which mixes genres and eras, hopefully providing something for everyone. Exhibitions about sports they’ve never seen, or famous politicians they’ve never heard of, are possible if thoroughly prepared, but be aware of the additional classroom preparation this might require. On the other hand, almost anybody can get something from a top-ranking Museum of Natural History or aquarium; consider how to make modest language demands of your students during the visit.
- A Historic Building can be a good way to introduce your city’s culture and history. A state capitol, major church or cathedral, the birthplace of a famous person, a monument to a key event, all are potentially fascinating if the students are geared up for the visit and arrive with a little curiosity and enthusiasm (and a mission to accomplish – see below).
- The Park is a good place to let off steam, although this may feel more like recess than a field trip. Amusement Parks make for a popular outing, though I’d found the students spend more time screaming than speaking English!
- A local university visit, whether students intend to apply there or not, will be of interest to many of your 16-20 year olds, and perhaps to others if the college has a long history, famous students or special architecture. Be prepared to act as a docent, as universities tend to lack the interpretative signage found in museums.
- A local business or factory can be visited by special arrangement, though may only be of interest to those with a career in the same field. Exceptions include chocolate factories, breweries (careful!) and those producing famous brand goods.
Encourage Best Behavior
I remind my students that they are, in actual fact, ambassadors for their home nation (whether they like it or not!) and that their behavior will reflect on themselves, their classmates and their country. Threats aren’t nice, but bringing up the cancellation of future trips can be useful leverage in ensuring against nuisance behavior, wandering off inappropriately, or bothering others.
Puzzle It Out
I’m a great believer in those neat quiz sheets which many museums provide for free. The challenge of locating a particular item, noting the details of a painting, figuring out how old something is, or taking a photo from a particular angle, are all good methods for keeping students engaged and moving.
To prepare your own sheet will require research, unless you’re an authority already. Consider going beyond the basics and asking ‘why’ and ‘how’, as well as ‘when’ and ‘who’ questions. Help the students to see this monument in context, or that famous cemetary as a cultural meme, or this skyscraper in comparison to those which influenced its design.
Taking It Home
Once the visit is over, the students now have a body of experience and information on which to base some extension exercises, if you so wish. Possibilities include:
- Presentations on the place they visited; you could arrange in advance for certain groups to focus their visit on one aspect of the church, or museum.
- A travel guide article advising other students or visitors on the best way to enjoy the attraction.
- A radio or TV show discussing the events surrounding the place you visited
- A debate which centers on issues raised by the visit; consider a debate about self-determination after visiting the site of the Boston Tea Party, about civil rights and equality after seeing the Native American Museum, or about the influence of technology after a visit to the Air and Space Museum, for example.
It needn’t be an exercise, but a frequent reiteration of the lessons learned will help a lot of information sink in and stay there.
Informally quiz the students every few days on the names of people, places and things they encountered, checking for pronunciation and usage. Invite them to go back, in their own time, and report on their experience to the class. Remind them that – school policies permitting – the city is there for them to enjoy, and that they should take every opportunity to see, visit, eat or photograph its memorable and unique offerings.