“Be My Guest!” ESL Summer Conversation Activity

By Cathy Sunshine

Last week my students hiked to the top of a volcano in El Salvador, sampled fine wines in a Chilean vineyard, enjoyed tapas in Barcelona, danced the night away in a Buenos Aires tango club, and visited an organic garden and coffee farm in the Vietnam countryside.

All without leaving the classroom.

It’s summer, and everyone wants to go on vacation. Hotels are expensive, so it’s best to stay with friends if you can. For some virtual summer fun, our students planned whirlwind week-long trips to each other’s countries. The 18 students formed nine traveling pairs. In each, one partner was the host in his or her home country, and the other was the guest.

Tapas_Barcelona

A tapas spread in Barcelona, Spain . . . mmm.

The nine countries visited were Mexico, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, Chile, Argentina, France, Spain, and Vietnam. Each visit lasted seven days, and the partners planned it together. They made notes in a chart saying where they would go and what they would do each day. Finally, each pair stood up and briefly shared their plans with the class.

Revelers surround a Carnival float in Las Tablas, Panama. Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, los carnevales in Panama is a Lenten celebration that reaches its peak on the day before Ash Wednesday.

Revelers surround a Carnival float in Las Tablas, Panama. Like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Carnival in Panama is a Lenten celebration that reaches its peak on the day before Ash Wednesday.

Their plans were so exciting! Here are just a few of the things they decided to do:

  • Sail through the forest canopy on a zip line in El Salvador
  • Eat seafood on the beach near Haiphong, Vietnam
  • Climb the towering Peña de Bernal boulder in Querétaro, Mexico
  • Take a walking tour through the historic colonial center of Lima, Peru
  • Go whale watching and scuba diving off the coast of Patagonia, Argentina
  • See ships pass through the Panama Canal
  • Go rafting and kayaking in the Picos de Europa mountains in Spain
  • Splash in the Ahuashiyacu waterfall near Tarapoto, Peru
  • Tour the house of poet Pablo Neruda in Valparaíso, Chile
  • Visit the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan, near Mexico City
  • Party in the streets of Las Tablas during Carnival, Panama’s Mardi Gras
  • Visit the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower in Paris (where our Senegalese student grew up)
Cat Ba beach near Hai Phong, Vietnam.

Cat Ba beach near Hai Phong, Vietnam.

The itineraries were impressively well thought out. The virtual travelers crisscrossed their countries by car, boat, and plane, hitting the hosts’ favorite spots. Having the hosts so familiar with their countries added rich detail and possibilities that an outsider wouldn’t have thought of. Best of all was the lively conversation as the pairs planned their adventures. Here’s the plan for a week in El Salvador:

El_Sal_planIf you’d like to try this with your class, feel free to download and adapt the worksheet. The instructions are on one side and the 7-day planning chart is on the other. Here are the steps we followed:

  • We began with some whole-class chat about famous landmarks and tourist sites in the US and in the students’ countries.
  • We handed out the worksheet and students read the instructions for the activity out loud.
  • My co-teacher and I chose nine countries from among those represented in the class, trying for some geographic diversity (though most of our students are from Latin America). We wrote the hosts’ names and countries on the board. Then each of the other nine students chose one of the countries to visit.
  • The partners then had half an hour to plan and make notes. We circulated around the room, answering questions and helping with vocabulary.
  • Finally, each pair stood up and shared their plans with the class. We allowed three minutes for each trip and told them that both partners should have a chance to speak.
Visitors cool off in the Cataratas de Ahuashiyacu near Tarapoto, Peru.

Visitors cool off in the Cataratas de Ahuashiyacu near Tarapoto, Peru.

Keeping to three minutes was hard. They were very enthusiastic about describing their plans, and answering questions from other students,  and we soon ran short of time. If I were to do it again, I would allow the whole two hours, or most of it, for this activity, and let the conversation flow.

Planning shorter trips of three or four days would allow you to complete the activity in less time. So would grouping students in threes or fours instead of pairs, to have fewer total trips. Shorter trips would also be helpful if you’re adapting the activity for levels below Advanced.

The Peña de Bernal in Mexico, seen from the town of Bernal. Our energetic students planned to climb it.

The Peña de Bernal in Mexico, seen from the town of Bernal. Our energetic students planned to climb it.

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2 Responses to “Be My Guest!” ESL Summer Conversation Activity

  1. letc teacher corner says:

    Great idea. Now I know how to plan my next vacation….ask a LETC student. Thanks for sharing a very useful teaching idea.

  2. Mary Janice Dicello says:

    Terrific project! You tapped their patriotism and nostalgia for their homelands and thus motivated them to do a great job speaking and writing in English. So student-centered – always our goal as ESL teachers.

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