By Cathy Sunshine
Our Advanced class was zoning out after a review of four ways to make the future tense, and who could blame them? So we got their attention by announcing that they had worked so hard on grammar that we were going to take a class vacation! At first they looked startled, but they soon got into the spirit of it. We told them money was no problem (to chuckles all around) and all we had to do was to choose the destination where the class would go.
We passed around several wall-size world maps and the students went to work. Each student chose a destination where he or she would like to go and jotted down three reasons why it would be a great vacation spot. Then each student had one minute to stand up and describe their destination to the rest of the class in glowing terms.
We wrote the names and places on the board, ending up with a list of 16 possible vacation spots. A student from Russia wanted to see Mexico City. Our Chinese student wanted to go to Antarctica. One of the Argentinians wanted to lie on the beach in the Maldive Islands. A Salvadoran wanted to return to Shelter Island, New York, which he’d liked on a previous visit. A Guatemalan and a Colombian wanted to visit holy sites in Israel. The Europeans wanted to visit, well, Europe. An Eritrean student dreamed of going home.
While the students took a break, my co-teacher Kelsey and I worked to group the 16 destinations into five whirlwind trips. Each set of places corresponded to the choices of three or four students, who would plan their trips and travel together. The itineraries were as follows:
Trip 1: Brazil, Argentina, and Antarctica
Trip 2: Playa del Carmen and Mexico City, Mexico, and Shelter Island, New York
Trip 3: Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand
Trip 4: The Maldives, Israel, and Eritrea
Trip 5: Mont Blanc and Provence, France, and Lake Garda and Venice, Italy
As the traveling groups pulled their chairs into small circles, we handed out a planning sheet to each student. These were just for taking notes, we told them — this wasn’t meant to be a writing exercise. The sheets listed 10 questions:
- Where will you go first? Where after that? And last?
- How will you get to each place? What kind of transportation will you use?
- When will you go? What will the weather be like then?
- How long will you be staying in each place?
- Where will you stay in each place — in a hotel or hostel, with friends or family, or at a campground?
- What fun activities will you do? What landmarks will you visit?
- What kind of food are you going to eat? Will you cook your own food, or eat in restaurants?
- What should you pack? What will you need to bring with you?
- How much money do you think you will need for food, lodging, and other expenses?
- What will you bring back home with you, as souvenirs or presents?
Fitting in with our grammar focus, all the questions prompted students to use the future tense — we will go to New York first, we will be taking a plane to Australia, we are going to be staying in a hotel, and so on.
As the students worked together to plan their trips, the room was abuzz with conversation in English. We let them plan for 20 minutes, though it was clear that they could have gone on talking even longer. Finally, each group stood up to describe their trip to the class. They were limited to three minutes, and each person in the group had to take a turn speaking. We heard about plans to eat delicious food and drink fine wine in Italy and France, take an Indian Ocean cruise, dance the night away in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, view wildlife in Antarctica, and much more. They were so enthusiastic it made us want to get tickets and go!
This is a great activity for an intermediate or advanced class. You do need a good chunk of time — we did it in an hour and a half, with 17 students, but it could easily have filled two hours. It fits well with study of the future tense. Best of all, it gets students talking, engaged, and happy. Who doesn’t like to dream?