What happens when you take ESL learners outside the classroom? There’s a peak in interest in the class and in the lessons, a growth in connection among the class members, and an increased sense of belonging to the wider community.
Over the past number of years, I have taken adult learners in small, mixed-level ESL classes on field trips in the community. We have visited the public library, a farmers’ market, a curling rink, the local fire station, a nature park, our city hall (including sitting in on part of a city council meeting), an outdoor nativity play, and a maple sugar bush.
On every one of these outings, we found that our hosts were happy and even excited to have us visit, and welcomed us warmly. They were interested in our class and in our students. The ESL learners really valued the opportunity to get an inside look at some aspects of our culture they had not previously experienced. They enjoyed listening to different English speakers and practising their spoken English by asking and answering questions. And the successful interaction gave a great boost to their language-learning motivation!
Prior to each trip, using photos, clip art, video clips, and realia, we go over pertinent vocabulary in class along with some general information and/or history of what we will experience. We also explore the way these institutions and opportunities may occur in the students’ home countries. Then we try to predict what we will learn, and generate some good questions that might be addressed or that we could ask if given opportunity, and we think of ways to thank the people who welcome us. In the ESL class meetings following the field trip, we reflect on the experience and what we learned, and discuss any follow-up questions the students have. The whole process generates real language practice before, during, and after!
Preparation and logistics for field trips do not have to be overwhelming. The hardest part may be having a good idea of where to take the class. (Hint: Here’s a great blog post by Tara Benwell on the ESL library blog: http://blog.esllibrary.com/2015/05/27/ell-field-trips/. She offers 25+ great ideas for field trips and ideas of ways to prepare for each one.)
Once the destination has been settled, good communication with the contact person at the site is essential. Most want to know the size of the group and some, such as the public librarian, ask about the CLB level of the class so they can prepare well. Beforehand, we ask students to sign up themselves and any friends or family members they want to invite. Preparing the students with any necessary advice regarding how to dress or behave makes everyone more comfortable. Meeting at the class location and travelling by car pools or public transit together gets everyone there at the same time.
Field trips are interesting and effective for students of all levels, and are great for mixed-level classes: everyone has authentic interaction with native speakers. In fact, they are often one of the highlights of a semester. Some students may have approached their first field trip with uncertainty or even trepidation, but after going on one, everyone looks forward to the next one!
Carol Blake graduated with a Masters in Linguistics and a TESL certificate from the University of Toronto in 1982. For the last 30+ years, she has been involved in teaching various aspects of English and language learning in first language, second language, and foreign language situations. Currently, she lives and teaches in Kitchener.