Interactive techno-travels

Paul Braddock is one of the brains (brainses?) behind the British Council’s wonder-web TeachingEnglish, a former ‘Barefoot blogger’, a teacher based in Barcelona, webinar host extraordinaire and all-round nice guy – and it’s a great pleasure to include his post amongst the collection of guest posts we’re so lucky to have on Take a photo and…  So without further ado……. Paul Braddock.


This is a lesson I’ve used a few times using the ‘Bridges’ collection. It has always worked well and can be adapted for a range of levels & contexts. It is a more tech-integrated way to focus on the topic of travel and gives students a chance to personalise their learning.

Stage 1

paulbridge1Show students the six different pictures of bridges. Ask them to choose just one of the pictures they like and ask them to try and guess where the picture was taken.

After conducting feedback and writing their guesses on the board (next to the picture if you’re using an IWB), show the pictures with the correct locations below.

paulbridge2Put students into pairs and ask them to choose one or two of the photos. They should make notes about the place(s) they have chosen, including facts they know about the country together with some ideas about why they would like to go to their chosen locations, or what they might expect the place to be like. You can use simple sentence heads to guide them:

  • What I know about X is that it is / has…
  • If I went on holiday to X, I would…
  • One reason I would like to go to X is…

While they are working with their partner, place the individual bridge pictures around the room. This will give you an opportunity to listen to the different discussions without it looking like you are monitoring too closely.

When they have finished (give them about 5 minutes), form new groups of students and invite them to give feedback on what they had been discussing to their new partners by walking around the room, stopping at the different pictures they chose and talking about what they had written in their notes.

Explain to students that they are going to find out more things about one of the places shown in the pictures. Make a list with the class of things that they would want to know if they were going to a place. If you have slightly less motivated students, you could do this as a ranking exercise by giving them a list of things they might want to know and asking them to put the list in order of importance.

  1. Night-life
  2. Recommended Sights (monuments, squares, etc.)
  3. Cost (hotels, meals, public transport)
  4. Shopping (the best places for x, y, z)
  5. Restaurants / food you should try
  6. Galleries / museums
  7. Festivals & Celebrations
  8. The people
  9. ?
  10. ?

Stage 2

Once you have a list of 8-10 things, or you have finished the ranking activity, tell the students that they are going to find out some of these facts by researching them. A problem I often find with these kind of “we’re going to the computer room so you can do some research” activities is that there is often very little communication going on in English between students. To a large extent, an overuse of L1 is sometimes unavoidable, although this is also true of activities conducted in the classroom. At the same time, there is a tendency for students to look on websites written in their own language, or to simply copy and paste text without even understanding the gist. To avoid this, it is important to give students clear tasks with tangible outcomes. For example, in this activity, where students are being asked to look at different websites to gather information, I tend to give them the url’s for a small number of sites via a sticky wall (see below) and tell them to use only these few sites to conduct their research.

paulbridge3This avoids long periods of time spent on Google looking for relevant sites. There is still the issue of understanding the content, but if students choose the ‘copy & paste option’, you should build in activities that focus on some of the vocabulary and also allow for students to develop their summarising skills.

Once your students have made their relevant notes, either on their own virtual sticky wall or in their notebooks, tell them that they are going to create a virtual display highlighting FOUR key facts about the city they have researched.

Go to which, if you don’t know it, is a fantastic online mindmap resource. It is incredibly simple to use and is free! In the computer room, if you are still there, or in the classroom if you have an IWB or data projector, demonstrate the different features to the students by building a mind map for one of the locations the students didn’t choose as in the popplet below of Tokyo

paulbridge4If you are still in the computer room, give students time to sign up for an account. Go through with them again how to use the site and then give them a time-limit for creating their Popplet. Ideally, it should include some video content and images as well as a small summary sentence to go with each image or video.

Stage 3

Explain to your class that, now they have compiled interesting information about their chosen location, they now have to get back home. Tell them this is not as simple as getting on a plane and flying back to their home town.

In order to get back home, they need to travel by four different means of transport.

Elicit the different possibilities (boat, train, plane, bus, hot-air balloon(!), etc.).

Tell them that each group will be competing to see who can travel home the quickest using the different forms of travel and also spend the least money. Obviously at this point, any students that have chosen Venice, for example, will be smiling at those who chose Vietnam.

If this happens and you have groups travelling back from a nearby country, make sure you give any group that chose a nearby destination 4-6 hour penalty as well as a suitable amount of your country’s currency as a forfeit.

Students should plot their journey home on the Popplet they have created and demonstrate they have researched travel options by explaining how they travelled, how much the journey cost and how long it took as well as one interesting fact about each place they stop (see example Popplet below).

paulbridge5The nice thing about Popplet happens that you can share your canvas with anyone who also has an account and allow that person to edit it. This makes it a perfect activity for students to do at home if you run out of time in class or if you are teaching online. If you look at the different ‘popples’ on the popplet, you can see the name of the person who created it, so you know (if it is a homework task) who has put some effort in and who has slacked off!

Anyway, once students have finished their journeys home, ask them to give a small presentation outlining how they travelled and some of the interesting information they came up with. Total up their full journey time and cost and announce the winners.

What I like about this activity

  • There is a lot of room for personalisation. Students are able to ‘choose’ at pretty much every point – which image do they like? where do they want go & why? Travel options, choice of information to represent on the popplet…
  • A lot of rich language emerges from the activities – describing the pictures (useful for exam classes), travel & transport vocabulary, sequencing events (we started in… then we travelled by boat to… after we had arrived in… etc.)
  • A number of skills are used (reading for gist, summarising skills, presentation skills, agreeing/disagreeing, working collaboratively (either face-to-face or remotely), selecting & justifying.
  • There is a harmless competitive element to the final activity which motivates the students to do the task well.
  • There is the option to spend time at the popplet-creation stage to focus on copyright and copyright-free images that can be used.

(For an earlier Take a photo and… post on using the Bridges set with ESP learners, see here.)

eltpics used in ‘bridges’ worksheet

  • NY bridges by @shaunwilden
  • Rainbow bridge, Tokyo by @pacogascon
  • French bridge in Vietnam by @elt_pics
  • Venice by @mkofab
  • Bosphorus bridge by @arzuteacher
  • Dublin by @mkofab

Images used in Popplet

  • Tokyo Tower by Another side of yukita
  • Kimonos by starfires
  • Cosplay Parade by chooyutshing
  • Lunch at the station by @grahamstanley

7 thoughts on “Interactive techno-travels

  1. Lovely activity, Paul, with a lot of interactive activities and language production with the great help of a wonderful tool, Popplet. Thanks for sharing your lesson plan with us.
    Cheers from Brazil.

  2. What a great post Paul! And you’ve explained the different stages (and tools) so clearly. I’m sure students will love it (and teachers too as it’s one of those – ready to take into the classroom plans!)

  3. Pingback: Interactive techno-travels | TeachingEnglish |

  4. Hi Carla & Ann – I’m glad you like the plan :-)… It’s definitely a ready-to-use activity and always seems to work well in a way that combines tech with encouraging learners to be creative.

  5. Pingback: Recap of Resources and Interesting Blog Posts – 7 March 2013 | Stop Complaining – Enjoy Teaching!

  6. Tip: Set a time limit to make sure students talk to as many people as possible. Announce when it is time for students to introduce themselves to someone else.

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