Field Tripping ESL Learners in the Community

image source:

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:  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.


9 thoughts on “Field Tripping ESL Learners in the Community”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience Carol! I have had similar outcomes with students in my classes. However, the first time I did it with low level students (CLB 1-3), it may have been too early in the semester. I took them to the cafeteria to record items from the menu and look around for items from our food word list. They were embarrassed and asked if we could go back to the classroom. They didn’t want the other college students to watch them. However, later in the semester I took them to the library, (also busy with other college students), and they were totally engaged in the activity. I was surprised to see how much more motivated the students became, engaging in conversation in this authentic situation with the “strangers” working in the library, as opposed to their classmates in the classroom. I noticed that when the experience is meaningful to the students, they tend to have better recall of vocabulary and their writing even improves. Thanks for the link!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Maria. Thanks for adding your experience and observations . Interesting how your students were more comfortable outside the classroom a little later in the semester!

  3. I’m a former ESL teacher and I now work in museums and may I suggest museums as a good place to visit?! Museums have programs geared for ESL students. Prices can vary between museums but there are many that are very, very inexpensive.

  4. That’s a great idea, Karen. Maybe I’ll try that for our next class adventure!

  5. The biggest challenge in my program is that funding for field trips has been cut. We are therefore limited to those places we can visit on foot. So far I have had great success taking literacy students to the grocery store and to the library. My multilevel class has benefitted from trips to the library and to the Windsor Workers Education Centre, where they learned about workers’ rights and what to do if those rights are violated. During our local “Doors Open” festival, my seniors showed an interest in local architecture, so I created a tour of the grand homes of Victoria Boulevard for them. We all learned a lot and enjoyed getting a sense of local history.

  6. Local history is an area I’m planning to explore for this fall. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  7. In 2012 the TDSB Con. Ed published a Field Trip Resource for ESL Instructors called Exploring the Greater Toronto Area. Each chapter is about a location and includes activities that relate to the four language skills with pre and post visit classroom ideas. The book is CLB 4 +
    Locations include Allan Gardens, Crawford Lake, High Park, St. Lawrence Market, University of Toronto, Police Museum and many more. If you’d like a copy to peruse, please email me!

    1. Wow! What a great resource! And it obviously goes beyond Toronto since it includes Crawford Lake. That’s a great site and we had a very successful field trip there.

      Would you send me a copy please?

Comments are closed.