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Technology Tip of the Month

February 1998: Virtual Travel

by Deborah Healey
Eiffel Tower

One common activity in a language class is a field trip. Somehow, those 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 classroom resources.

Getting Ready

Dixieland BandSearching 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 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!]

On-computer Activities

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: 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.

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 as Yahoo Travel (via Sabre) that will let you plan your airline travel, as well. (Watch out for fees.) This could turn into a real operation!

Post-Internet Activities

So many possibilities! A few include: Globe

Bon voyage!

See Other tech tips

If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
Last updated 26 June, 2009