Conducting an Alternative English Language Lesson

by : DeLise Finley-Vaccino

I love to teach and have always had good teaching experiences. I love inventing ways to get my students to speak English. I organize intercultural exchanges with English speaking students along with travel and special events. I believe that students enjoy learning a language more when they are put directly in contact with it. Here's a fun and practical way to make the language live for your language students.
I teach at the University to students who are both from the city I live in and from other cities around the island. Some of them know the city but have not ventured out into it as a tourist would. Others are here to study and go home on the weekends and never have the chance to sightsee and get to know the special places that tourists all over the world come here to see. I recommend this exercise for levels from pre- intermediate to advanced students.

Pick a date and a route to take for your tour. The sites in a walking tour should be all within just a few minutes walk from each other. All our sites were in the historic center of the city and therefore easy to get around to.
Make sure you contact all the museums on your, "to see list", to get opening hours and information needed for group admittance. Many museums and theaters require a list of the students attending sent by fax on the university's or the school's letterhead. Prior to the date of the tour.
Organize your tour stops according to the opening hours, the order in which you want to see the sites, the distance that you need to cover and the direction you want the tour to move in. Set a time schedule to see each site, 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, according to the material to be covered, and don't overstay your time in one place and have to cut time off of another. Remember your students have put a lot of work into this assignment and should have ample time to present all that they have planned to tell you.
Assign a specific monument or site of interest to each student if your group is small. If the group is larger assign one place of interest to two or three students. For example I assigned the home of famed musician Vincenzo Bellini to three students. One researched his most famous works, what was happening in his life when he composed them etc., the other researched his childhood, beginning of his career etc. and the third researched the actual house , the history of the house and its rooms at the time of the family's occupation. Other students working individually took monuments such as the famous Fontana Ammenano or the little known Terme Achilliane, the ancient Roman baths under the center of the main square and the main cathedral.
The research is all to be done directly in English. No translating material. Translating material from the mother tongue to the target language only takes up time and can cause confusion.
Set a firm cut off date for all research material to be completed and turned in so that you can go over the material with them individually. They will make their presentations in their own words , using the information researched, and they will need help with pronunciation and arranging their information in proper English structure.
Each student must prepare some questions to ask the other students on the tour while they are listening to their classmates presentations.
Schedule a break at a quaint cafe or in front of one of the Monuments being visited.
Assign a student to photographic duty, there will always be someone happy to take the group pictures.
Students are tour guides for a day- During the tour each student plays tour guide and explains his or her monument or site of interest.
In English. Giving details about the artwork inside the cathedral or specifics on the area's domination during the period that this particular structure was built. The other students ask their English questions and guides are required to be able to answer them in English.
Of course mistakes will be made and they will need your assistance in some things.
After the tour and the students are asked to write about their experience as an additional assignment. These writings are then edited into a class newspaper and placed alongside the photos of the group at their various destinations. This work is done completely by the students with the guidance of the teacher.
The finished product is a journalistic and photographic memory of their experience.
The students enjoy the day and have put their hard work and language study to an interesting and informative use.
By DeLise Finley-Vaccino