Talking Travel with ESL/IELTS Students

Travel is one of my favourite subjects to teach. I love travelling and it’s a good opportunity for me to connect with my students and share a bit of my own life. (I have a travel blog if you’re interested.) I find that it’s something most students can talk about because, even if they’ve never really travelled, they usually want to and have strong opinions about it.

Lead-in

I like to get my students interested in a topic before we really do any work. Maybe this seems pointless, but I find it helpful. Sometimes I’ll show them a photo or a video. In this case, I’d recommend a travel video. YouTube is jam-packed with copy-cat videos filmed on GoPros, shot on selfie sticks with bland music and narcissistic poses. They’re honestly quite annoying but they do the job. The beautiful scenery gets a good few gasps from my students. Find one that’s no more than 3 minutes long, or else you’re just wasting time.

Here’s one possibility:

At the end, I usually ask my students something open and vague like, “What was that about?” to which they can answer, “Travel!” or “Journeys!”

Discussion

Before any real input, I like to get my students talking a bit. This helps guide you, as a teacher, because now you know what they can and can’t do; what they are and aren’t interested in; and what common errors you may need to address. It also involves the students immediately. If you start pre-teaching vocabulary, sometimes they switch off.

I’d ask my students, “Why do people travel?” and get them working in groups to make a list.

You can start them off with some ideas:

  • to gain new experiences
  • to learn about history and culture
  • to get a suntan
  • to forget a bad relationship

(I threw in a couple of unexpected ones there to inspire some creative thinking.)

Language Input

Next, I’ll give my students some examples of places I’ve been. I usually pick out a couple of photos from my own travels. Here’s one that I used a few days ago while teaching this class:

I describe it: “It’s an island in the west of Indonesia.”

I will highlight the different parts of the sentence, drawing attention to “in the west of”.

Then I give some more example sentences, and ask my students to guess the place:

  1. It’s a city on the east coast of the United States.
  2. It’s a mountain in Japan, not far from Tokyo.
  3. It’s an island off the east coast of Thailand.
  4. It’s a country in southern Africa, between Namibia and Zimbabwe.
  5. It’s a river running through central Europe.

I let them guess, and then we discuss the language. If you have access to a big map or map software, this would be a great time to use it.

Talk to Talk

Get the students working in pairs. They can now describe a place and the other person can guess what it is. Tell them to think of different sorts of places – rivers, mountains, towns, countries, etc. You can walk around and give feedback where necessary.

Other Ideas

There are so many possibilities for teaching ESL or IELTS students how to talk about travel and places. One exercise I’ve used in the past is taking a Wikipedia article or, better yet, a good Wikivoyage article, and having students find good language to pull from it. This is really helpful in getting your IELTS students prepared to describe a place for speaking part two.

You can also write a description of a place and then blank out some words. Scramble the words and put them into a box for students to unscramble. This can be graded according to their level, from simple missing words to longer phrases.

Here’s an example:

Bali is an island in the Indonesian ____1___. It has been popular with tourists for decades and while many consider it to be a piece of heaven on earth, others think it’s just a big ____2____. In any case, people ___3____there from all over the world for it’s beautiful beaches and tropical climate, not to mention the friendly locals. The south of the island is popular with surfers because of the big ___4___, while the north has an active ____5____and is great for hiking and biking.

  1. archipelago
  2. tourist trap
  3. flock
  4. waves
  5. volcano
Head Teacher
I'm the founder and editor of Beatdom Literary Journal, author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. I'm also a teacher and operate the popular website, TED-IELTS.

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