The idea of going outside and leaving the classroom fills most ESL students with excitement.
Especially if they are bored teenagers that are stuck in class day after day and yearning to get out into the fresh air. Same for young children who find it difficult to sit still for longer than ten minutes.
Even adult students like it. They want to be in the environment and learn English in a real-life situation.
We are talking about field trips.
No doubt you had these when you were at school and maybe at college too. I can remember going to a farm, some museums, the cinema… Just the actual thought of leaving the school and not having to stare at a blackboard all day was enough to get me racing out the door.
We could have been going to look at traffic all day and I would be just as excited.
But for ESL students, going on a field trip can be a very useful part of the learning process. There are many choices for you as the teacher to offer your class.
Let’s take a look at what you can do.
Where to Go?
If you are teaching younger students, then you could go to a place where you can combine a learning activity and letting the kids have some fun outside the class.
Obvious choices would be a park, a zoo or a museum. In all of these places, younger students can learn some useful words related to the activities but at the same time, they can enjoy themselves too.
For teenagers and older students, you can go to the same places plus a shopping mall or an activity that involves being in nature.
And for adults, you need to offer them something that will be useful to them in their professional life. In the past, I have taken adult students to a bar — this could be useful for them as a bar may be a setting for them to discuss business with potential clients or just as a place to go and unwind after work with colleagues. You could also take them to a restaurant for the same reasons.
Where you choose to go really depend on who your students are, what they are learning and their age.
If your students are mostly sixteen and studying for the IELTS speaking test it would be a waste of time taking them to a fast-food restaurant and practising nouns and verbs used in this environment.
Use your common sense and you can’t go wrong.
Set Some Ground Rules First
Before venturing outside, you need to establish some ground rules.
This is especially true for younger students but you should make rules for any class before going on a field trip. Going outside with your students can demand a whole new set of skills in terms of managing them so make sure they are aware of the boundaries.
You could do this as part of a lesson before going on the field trip.
If you are in a big city or even a smaller town, you should have plenty of museums to choose from. Just go online and you should easily find museums you can visit as part of your field trip.
Why go to a museum?
For young children and teenagers, going to a museum can be a great day out. Museums are well aware that teachers organise field trips for their students and as such, they cater to these groups. If you call ahead you may find that there are other activities open to a group of students that may not be available to the general public.
Science museums are always popular — you may be able to combine a field trip visit with the science teacher. The students are then learning about science in their own language and in English.
But there are also natural history museums and many other places that are perfect for young kids and teenagers.
Many museums today have interactive exhibits to enable students to really come to grips with what they are looking at. This is something you can definitely use to your advantage.
Adult students may also enjoy a trip to the museum — but you should make sure that it is something useful in their day to day life.
Museums also offer books, posters and other goodies that may be very useful to you in the classroom.
A Zoo or Aquarium
Cities always have at least one zoo and an aquarium. These places, like museums, are perfect for field trips. What younger student does not like animals?
You may be able to combine a field trip with the science teacher. In the students’ science class, their teacher may organise a field trip to the city zoo. If so, it might be a good idea to join forces with them and make it part of your English class too.
You can prepare a trip to the zoo or aquarium by having a lesson on animal nouns. Then as the students are running around the zoo screaming their heads off, hopefully, they are also using the English words for lions, tigers and bears.
Like museums, zoos love to receive field trips from schools. As such, they cater to these groups. A phone call ahead may help you greatly.
This should be a very simple field trip to organise as there should be a local park or garden near to the school.
The only real issue with using this as a field trip is that if you are teaching very young students they may think this is just playtime. With this in mind, you really need to prepare carefully outlined activities that they can follow.
And another thing you have to consider is the weather. I once saw a teacher leading his students to the park for an Easter egg hunt. Great idea — except that the day he chose to do it was the day that it poured down with rain.
No one can control the weather but it is something you need to think about. Make sure you have a backup plan.
I have taken small groups of business students to the park for some classes. It just makes a nice change to be outside on a nice day. As long as your students are keen to go, then why not?
A Coffee Shop
I have used coffee shops many a time for English classes. Usually for one-on-one classes and usually with professionals looking to improve their English for work.
Sometimes needs must and due to lack of space anywhere else, a coffee shop can be the ideal location for a one-on-one class.
But what about a field trip?
For young kids, absolutely no.
What would they gain out of it? What interest would they have in going to a coffee shop?
None at all.
But for older students, it could be ideal. If you have been teaching lessons on food and drink and eating out then going to a coffee shop could be a good place to have a lesson.
If I were you, I would choose a privately-owned coffee shop and not a chain. Avoid all those big company coffee shops if you can.
Here is why.
If you choose a privately-owned place you may be able to set up a good deal with the owner. If you speak to the owner beforehand and set up a time when you will go there with all your students, they might give you a group deal on coffee and any food that you order.
Also, if you go at a time when the place is not packed with customers you might be able to use the coffee shop as a kind of classroom.
You could have role plays on ordering food, serving the customers and taking orders.
You could do this in the classroom easily but if you do it in the coffee shop you are then in the right environment and it makes it more fun — and a whole lot easier — for the students.
The coffee shop could also be used by small groups of business students, a more relaxed place to have in-depth discussions on finance or marketing.
I think the key thing here is to find the right location.
But it can be a great place for you and your students.
A Shopping Mall
If you are going to visit a shopping mall with your students, the first thing you need to do is make sure exactly what the purpose is — and establish very strong ground rules.
The last thing you want is to arrive at the mall and all your students disappear and go window shopping.
Or maybe you do, in which case it is fine.
But going to a shopping mall is the perfect place if you are teaching students lessons about shopping, clothes and buying consumer items.
It is a good idea to create a very strong lesson plan before going. Otherwise, it could just descend into you and the students wandering around the mall and chatting.
For example, you could get all the students to take pictures using their smartphones of clothes that you have talked about in a previous lesson. Then back in class, the students can do presentations and show the different clothes they have seen in the mall.
You could also do classes on the different kinds of shops in the mall. And then later the students do presentations about this.
The important thing to remember is to prepare well. Or the students will arrive at the mall and treat it as a day off.
A Toy Store
This could be great. Or it could be really terrible!
You have to establish very clear rules before going or you could have a lot of trouble on your hands. Turning up to a large toy store with a class full of screaming kids could end up in disaster. And the store management demanding payment for damaged goods.
I have never done this personally but I did know of a teacher who took his students to a huge toy store in the city. They said it was fine but they went with a teaching assistant and they had established all the ground rules before going.
And of course, this would not work with adult students. Unless they worked in retail or sales or something related to the environment.
An Art Gallery
Not for young kids. More suitable for older teens and adults.
Although some art galleries have set days for younger students — talk to the gallery before going. Some art galleries run workshops. In which case, this could be the perfect setting to have a class with younger students.
But most art galleries are for showing paintings and artwork in an environment not suited for children.
If you are doing lessons on art or creativity, this could be the perfect place to do it.
It can also be a great place to take students and get them to describe what they are looking at. If there is an exhibition of paintings of realistic representations of people and landscapes this could be perfect. But if the paintings are abstract this could get much more difficult.
I went to an art gallery with some students and I just asked them to describe what they could see in the paintings. The art gallery made it a more sociable location for describing people and things. This is more appealing than just staring at pictures and describing people and objects.
Make sure you are going to an art gallery that is showing artwork you can use in your lesson. If it is too abstract then it becomes very difficult.
A Local Landmark or Tourist Attraction
Every city has its own famous landmarks or tourist attractions. Even a smaller town has one or two of these.
You can use this very effectively as part of a lesson plan.
For example, most cities have a very famous shopping street. You could go there with a lesson plan or an objective in mind and then report all the findings back in class.
The students could then do presentations on what they found and saw on the shopping street.
Obviously, this would not work well with younger students as they may get lost or you lose control of them. But for older teenage students it could work very well.
Also for working adults, this could be part of a lesson plan on sales, retail or even architecture.
Quite often a field trip like this could just be going to the place and doing presentations later in class. The students can take pictures and do a show and tell in front of the others.
A Walk in Nature
If you are fortunate enough to live near some natural setting, this can be great.
A visit to a beach or a hilltop can be a great day out for you and the students.
Prepare a lesson that the students can use while going for a walk in nature and this can work very well for you. The lesson could be about nature, the environment, the arguments about global warming or about activities and things people do at the beach, in the countryside, in the woods, on a hill…
A field trip in nature is a great choice for younger students who just love to run around outside. But also good for teenagers and adults too.
A Sports Game or Event
This is a great idea for a field trip for teenagers and adults.
Make sure you choose an event that most of the students can enjoy. If football is the most popular game in the country you are in, then choose a football game. But it could equally be basketball, cricket or ice-hockey.
You could have a lesson or two before about sport. You could give your students a class on going to a sports game and all the vocabulary based on the stadium or wherever the event is held.
Then you could ask your students to do presentations on the game using photographs and any of the language they learned before.
This can be a great day out for some classes. But use your initiative. If you are teaching certain groups of students they may have no interest in sport. If you are teaching a group of teenage boys they would probably love it though.
An Old People’s Home
I know what you are thinking…
An old people’s home? What could my students possibly learn there?
But if you prepare this class well it could be fantastic.
You could teach the students a class on caring for people and facilities for looking after the elderly.
Some schools run programs on taking care of old people. They often have special days of the year where the students have to do activities to help old people in their community.
If you are teaching at such a school, then you could incorporate a class into this program.
If your students are upper-intermediate or advanced, you could get them to do an English class for the old people in the care home. Often the management of these places is looking for people to run workshops or do activities for the elderly.
We should not imagine that the elderly are just sitting in armchairs staring at the TV. Many of them are very active. They want to do things just as we want to do things.
What better activity than to teach them some basic English skills?
Good for the old people in the home and good for your students too.
Adult Field Trips
The next two ideas are for adults only. Adult students often want to do things that suit their interests and lifestyles.
You can incorporate these into teaching them English.
I have two choices here — going to a bar and eating in a restaurant. I am sure there are other places you can take your adult students but I will leave that to your discretion.
Going to a Bar
Many adults around the world like to go to a bar and unwind after a busy day. Many adult ESL students conduct business meetings with potential clients in a bar. This is very common in many parts of the world so some students — especially business students — may wish to learn how to say certain things in English in a bar setting.
I have had classes in a one-on-one class in a bar. Who would not like to be paid to sit in a bar and drink a nice cold beer?
But please remember you are still teaching your students, so there has to be a purpose for being in the bar.
Maybe going over bar and alcohol vocabulary and phrases beforehand is a good idea.
Eating Out in a Restaurant
Going to a restaurant with students is a very popular out of school activity.
Obviously not with younger students.
But certainly, with adult students, this can be a great way for them to speak English in a social setting. But also a good way to practice English in terms of food, eating out and restaurants.
I have been asked many times to join the students after class — or to just replace the class if it is in the evening — and have dinner with them.
The students are more relaxed, the teacher is treated as the guest of honour and everyone can speak English as if they are just a group of friends out for the night.
What NOT to do on an English field trip
I think it probably goes without saying that there must be a solid reason why you are leaving the class and having a lesson outside.
Do not be that teacher that just rocks up to class and says to all the students: Hey everyone, it’s a really nice day! Let’s all go outside and sit in the park!
Of course, if the students are younger they will not say no. But they are also in your class to learn English or at least improve or practice their English.
Going outside and having a field trip should be of benefit to the students.
Don’t just treat it as a way of not having to do any work for the afternoon.
If done well and if the lesson is prepared well, there is no reason why a field trip should not be an effective part of your ESL class.
As we can see from all the choices above, there are many places to go and you can incorporate these effectively into your English lesson as long as you make a clear lesson plan.
The good thing about teaching ESL is that the students can do all kinds of activities. So by going outside and joining a field trip, you can combine learning English with some really fun things to do.
I hope this is of some help to you.
Please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments below!
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