Published 2nd September 2016
Every day, as English as a Foreign Language teachers, we walk into the classroom, teach our lessons, and walk out the classroom. And our students do the same – walk in, do the lesson, walk out. The classroom acts as a kind of bubble, separate from the real world which we leave at the door, suspended until we are finished our EFL lesson. While routine is definitely a good thing, on the other hand we don’t want to get stuck in a rut, our lessons floating in the classroom, language seemingly unrelated to English in the real world.
One way to deal with this is quite simple: take the learning out of the classroom. Students generally love a chance to get out of the classroom and taking your students on an excursion will help them relate what they learn in the classroom to the usefulness of English in the real world, thus increasing motivation.
There are many possibilities for excursions: interviewing people on the streets, conducting surveys, practising roleplays, visiting museums, going on guided tours. Any of these excursions will provide your students with the chance to speak to English-speakers and utilise their language skills in a real-world setting if you are in an English-speaking environment. In other words, they will be able to test their English skills without the safety of the classroom and the teacher. Through authentic communication they will realise their true level of English and either gain more confidence in their abilities or ascertain where there is room for improvement.
If you are not in an English-speaking environment, there is still value in taking students out of the classroom. Though they may not be able to practise their English with other speakers, they will still be able to respond to real world stimuli and use authentic situations as the basis for language learning.
So we all agree that excursions can be useful. However, as with any and all EFL lessons, excursions need to be planned and organised so that they are effective learning situations and not simply a fun, irrelevant outing. You need to makes sure that the excursion relates directly to a topic that is being covered in class. Then it needs to involve language which has been dealt with in previous lessons – in other words, it should provide an opportunity for the students to use the target language in a free, authentic environment.
One topic which lends itself very well to excursions is art. Vocabulary relating to art can be covered in class and discussions on art can be co-ordinated so that students have a good grasp of the topic. However, looking at pictures of art is one thing and seeing art in real life is a completely different experience. Taking the students to an art gallery or art exhibition will let the students appreciate art in its natural environment, so they will be able to get the full effect of the artworks. What’s more, using art in the classroom requires the teacher to pick and choose which artworks to make use of, with the very real possibility that your students do not find them interesting. By taking them to an exhibition, there is bound to be an artwork which appeals to all of your students. You could also find a local art school and arrange a guided tour of their exhibitions or your students may be able to attend a workshop by a local artist.
Language-related activities can be incorporated to supplement the lesson. While there will have been a language focus in a lesson before the excursion and the excursion will provide practice and implementation of the language, after the excursion there should be a few activities which allow the students to respond to their experience. This can be in the form of a personal reflection essay, a ranking activity or an opinion-based discussion.
Taking your students out of the classroom provides a welcome change both for your learners and the teacher. Provided you set up the excursion appropriately, there is no reason why excursions should not be a regular part of your EFL lessons.