Technology Tip of the Month
February 1998: Virtual Travel
by Deborah Healey
One common activity in a language class is a field trip. Somehow,
classroom dialogues get much more interesting when you're someplace other
than sitting in your seat. For those who can't go quite as many places as
they'd like, the Internet provides a number of "virtual travel"
alternatives. This month's tip focuses on Internet resources for travel
planning, giving another dimension to "Where do you want to go today?" in
the language classroom.
The inspiration for this activity came from a recent teacher training
trip to Brazil, where a teacher's interest in planning a (real) trip to
France led to a discussion of how you could turn certain sites into
Searching the Web is not one of the most
productive activities for beginning and intermediate language learners,
so it's best if the teacher starts by selecting the sites that students
will visit. A good approach to take is through Yahoo or another category search engine,
where you can start with "Leisure" and get from there to "Travel," then to specific areas of the
world, then to the region that you're interested in. Let's take New
Orleans as an example -- after all, Mardi Gras is coming soon! On Yahoo,
you can navigate to travel.yahoo.com/Destinations/North_America/Countries/United_States/States/Louisiana/Cities/New_Orleans/
to see a range of links for lodging, dining, activities, news and
events, etc.-- plenty to start with.
You might want to start by creating a handout with interesting
pictures on it, gleaned from your website visits. As long as you just
create a handout for your students for short-term use, you should be
within the "fair use" copyright guidelines. It's best to contact the
sites themselves to ask permission to use their graphics before you think
about putting someone else's pictures up on your own website or using
them repeatedly, term after term. See the Tech Tip
for April, 1996 for more information on putting online graphics into
text to create interesting handouts.
[A quick cautionary note: make sure students know not to give
a credit card number online. Most of the places they will go will offer
online sales or reservations; it's much easier to avoid making an
unwanted reservation than to undo one!]
Now let's find a place to stay. We can go back to our Yahoo New Orleans
link, and take a look at lodging.
Here we see a series of links to bed and breakfasts, hotels, motels, and
other lodging information. Students can be grouped and
each group given a set of these to look through, with the idea that they
will compare notes afterward. They can also bookmark the links they like
for display on the computer. Many sites offer graphics of hotel rooms,
and some are even "VR-enhanced" with a "virtual reality" plug-in that
lets you change your viewpoint as you move the mouse to get the sense of
looking around the room. If you have a slow connection, VR sites are
likely to cause your computer to hang (a good time to introduce the
computer idiom, "to go out to lunch"), so should be avoided.
Here's an example of lovely hotel prose, courtesy of the Bourbon Orleans hotel:
The Bourbon Orleans Hotel is a French Quarter Hotel offering all the
of tomorrow with the traditional soul and grace of 19th-Century
Doesn't that just make you want to create a paraphrasing exercise? If
nothing else, be sure to have students grab a dictionary (Merriam-Webster is one that's
online) and an encyclopedia.
Located on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, our guests can
step out onto a
quiet balcony and listen to the sounds of Dixieland Jazz echo in
where it was born, sip Sazerac in the courtyard where Jean Lafitte
smell the soft jasmine on the warm evening breeze.
We invite you to indulge in the luxurious ambiance that will take
you back to
another, more relaxed and gracious age.....
Intermediate and advanced-level students can look at a local
newspaper to check the weather and local activities. While the Yahoo
Travel site that we've been exploring has some news links, for online
newspapers (primarily in the US) you can also look at the Newspaper
Association of America's links to online papers at
You can look for online newspapers by region as well as find links to
national and international newspapers, such as USA Today. Do note
that many newspapers require a subscription, so make sure you try the
site before you send students there.
Most locations, particularly in the US, have some sort of Chamber
of Commerce information -- general information about a city put together
by local businesses. Students can be asked to paraphrase what they find,
to create a suggested tour, or to begin to put together a tourist guide
to the city. With some advance planning, you can even try to set up an
email exchange with students from the target location. Go to Kenji
Kitao's Keypal Opportunities for Students at
or the Student Email Connection at Dave's ESL Cafe
to look for potential keypals. If nothing else, students can be asked to
pose one question about the city to the Chamber of Commerce or other
local link found on the webpage. They need to be aware that the person
may not reply to their message, however.
For those really interested, there are online airline guides such
Travel (via Sabre) that will let you plan your airline travel, as
well. (Watch out for fees.) This could turn into a real operation!
So many possibilities! A few include:
- Describe and compare hotel rooms and prices
- Create a budget for the trip
- Discuss the best places to go with each other
- Create an itinerary with daily activities
- Put together the information into a tourist guide
- And many more...
If you have questions, comments, or for more information,
contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
updated 26 June, 2009