It’s always a good time for your students to tell you about their summer holidays. Many of us will probably be covering the Past Simple at some stage in the first term before Christmas, so why not combine this with something your students really want to talk about. You’ll always get a response from teenagers when they have the chance to express their own personal experiences and feelings and what better opportunity than to talk about their own holidays. Of course a discussion about one’s summer holiday can be over in a flash, so it is important to harness this personal experience and turn it into a learning opportunity by creating a product that can be shared with the rest of the class.
Here are 5 ways you can harness your students’ holiday experiences in class:
1. Class holiday survey
This is a speaking, notetaking and report writing activity. We assume that you have already introduced and practised the Past Simple. The end product for the class survey is a report about where your class went on holiday last summer and could cover include the following measurable fields:
Where: abroad (country) at home (province/resort)
Type of holiday: beach, adventure, sight-seeing, visiting family
Activities: sport, museums, excursions
The final report can be written up with graphs, for example a pie chart showing the percentage of students who went abroad on holiday and the percentage of those who stayed in their country. To set up the survey, get students to ask about your holiday. Here you can elicit and drill the questions needed to ask about the past and establish the fields you want to cover in the survey: Where did you go? When did you go? Who did you go with? What did you do? Students then design the questionnaire they will use to make notes when they interview each other. Once the interviews have taken place, the data can be pooled on a master sheet on the board, in a poster format or on an excel spreadsheet. As a follow up activity get students to write a summary report in small groups. Give students some model sentences before they start: 20% of the class stayed in Spain. Most students went to the beach.
2. Holiday snaps
We’re living in an age where practically every teenager communicates with images and uses Instagram, WhatsApp, etc. You can allow students to switch on their mobile phones for this activity. Ask them to select a representative photo of their holiday last summer. Tell them that they will use this image to send a message to a friend via social media. In their notebooks they draft a few sentences about their photo to cover the following areas: where, who with, best thing about the holiday. Make sure you provide a model with holiday image on the board beforehand. The model will help them construct their own messages: Hi Gemma. This is me, last summer with my friend x. We were… Once students have completed their own personal messages, they can either show their photo to a partner and read out their message or send a live message via WhatsApp, etc. If you are set up with Wi-Fi and projector or whiteboard, you could get a sample of the student messages and images and share them onscreen with the rest of the class.
Get students to imagine that they are still on holiday and tell them that they are going to write a postcard. Start by constructing a model on the board based on your holiday. Elicit language to include in the postcard: salutations, holiday details, weather etc. You can focus on post card conventions and the use of different tenses here: We’re having a great time. We went to Water World yesterday. Tomorrow we’re going to Alicante. With higher level classes you could do some work on the use of ellipsis in postcard writing: Having a great time. Went to… Students then write their own postcards based on their own real holiday experiences. To create final products, students design up their work on pieces of card with an image on one side and postcard format on the other side where they write their text. Place the finished postcards on a table so that students and browse and read them at their leisure.
4. An email to a pen friend
For intermediate to advanced level classes more extensive practice of narrative tenses can be achieved in an informal email. Students write to a pen friend in another country about what they did during their holiday. They can talk about their real holiday experience but should add an extra imaginary element. Tell them that they have to write about something weird or extraordinary that happened to them on their holiday. The email can cover information about: where, when, who with, something weird, highlight of the holiday. You can also feed them a line which they have to include for example: I had been drinking my coffee for a few minutes when I realised that x was sitting on the next table. Yes, it was (celebrity name)! Something similar can also be done as a simple story telling speaking activity. Get students to share a story with at least three other students about their holiday including an imaginary element; at the end of the task they should report back on the most unusual story they have heard.
5. Holiday blog or presentation: 5 reasons to visit…
This doesn’t necessarily need to be based on what your students did last summer, but based on a place of historical interest or natural beauty that they have visited. The aim is to write an article for other students to read and comment on. You can post the final products on your school website or make them into wall posters with images and captions. The article could include the following: background information (history, geography of city/area), places you visited, highlight of your trip, other things you enjoyed. Alternatively, this information could be used for a class presentation: Today I’m going to talk about 5 reasons to visit Rome. Work on presentation language and ask students to focus on 5 reasons to visit a certain place. They should include images and mention their own personal experiences. They can create the presentation in PowerPoint. The best presentation can be posted online or presented in front of the class if the individual student is happy to do this.
Whether you are planning a writing or speaking lesson around your students’ holiday experiences, it is important to work with a model, some ‘useful language’ and focus on one or two characteristics of the interaction type you want them to reproduce e.g. use of linkers, narrative tenses, informal style etc. Your course book can give you packed learning points which you can use as a foundation to help students articulate their own experiences. With lower secondary students, all the suggestions mentioned above can be combined with writing lessons in Next Move. Writing lessons in Next Move include: a field trip report, a description of a town, a blog, an informal email, a questionnaire, a description of a picture, and many more writing types. There are also a wealth of class presentation tasks and projects with supporting ‘useful language’.
For upper secondary students, you can also open up your students’ holiday experiences after using writing, speaking and project lessons from Focus 1 and 2. Writing and speaking lessons in FOCUS feature: a model, a writing or speaking focus, useful language and guided tasks for production, check lists plus example answers.
Everyone wants to talk about their holidays. This is something we can talk about every year, every term and after every bank holiday! Tap into your students’ holidays, help them relive them and to share them so that other students can travel to different places in class.
This blog first appeared on the ELT Learning Journeys blog. To read more excellent strategies and tips for teaching English, check out the blog here: eltlearningjourneys.com