Many teachers are avid world explorers. We can use our travel experiences in the classroom to create wonderful opportunities for learning. Through my own trips I've transported my students to Mayan temples deep in the jungle and to Roman ruins on the Mediterranean coast. I know teachers that have brought their classes to the frozen Arctic, volcanic mountain tops, and mosquito-ridden swamps. We’ve celebrated Semana Santa in Mexico and Ramadan in Egypt.
There are many ways to use your own love of travel to enrich your lessons. Next time you head out during a school break, think about using some of the following ideas once you get back to school.
1. Write a travel narrative
Children often enjoy learning about what their teachers did during vacation. Share a written description of a place you have traveled to and then have students write their own describing some place they have been. It doesn’t need to be an exotic location. Everyone has traveled someplace new, even in their own city or town.
2. Comparing holidays
Have you ever visited a place during a holiday that is also celebrated in your own country? Different cultures often celebrate the same holiday in different ways. Show pictures or videos you took and share descriptions of it. Perhaps don’t reveal what the celebration is and challenge your students to identify the holiday. This is is a great way to showcase cross-cultural similarities and differences and challenge your students’ assumptions. Ask them why they think these cultural differences exist and have them research their origins. Education World has many great lesson plans centered on the December holidays so you can discuss your travel experiences in the classroom.
3. Authentic language learning
If you teach a foreign language and travel to a place where that language is spoken, record brief interviews with native speakers. My high school Spanish teacher would play recordings of conversations she had with taxi drivers, waiters, and people on the street from her travels. It was a great way to listen to different accents, regional slang, and get a sneak peek at what our teacher was up to over the holidays. This is also a great way to meet people while you travel!
4. Put those souvenirs to use
The souvenirs that you bring home are a great way to pique your students’ curiosity and inspire further investigation. Elaine Rittershaus, a technology teacher in Massachusetts, never fails to bring her travels back to the classroom. “I bought a bronzed chess set [in Athens] of all the original Olympic athletes and my kids loved that during one of the Olympics. I brought elves and gnomes from Sweden and Finland for folklore studies. And music CDs from the Sami people in the Arctic circle to compare with Native American drumming and songs. I brought back Belgian chocolates from Brussels, we made the connection with King Leopold, colonization, exploitation and Africa.”
5. Explore your roots
Students often take pride in sharing their backgrounds and culture. Whether they are immigrants themselves or descended from immigrants, so often they like sharing their heritage with each other. Let them share their own travel experiences in the classroom. Have them conduct research and gather material both in the form of internet/library research and family interviews to write descriptions and create presentations of the country their family is from.
6. Geologic exploration
Going to the beach? Bring back samples of sand from different places so students can analyze the grains to make predictions on what type of the environment the samples are from. You can even ask students to collect their own samples if they travel too. The Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence has a great lesson plan to use with this activity.
7. Plan a dream vacation
You can use your own love of travel to inspire your students to plan their own dream vacation. Check out this lesson which challenges elementary students to plan every aspect of a vacation, from investigating geography to making a budget.
8. Different currencies
Children are often fascinated by different types of money. Whether it’s a trillion dollar note from Zimbabwe, donut shaped coins from Japan, or a Mongolian Tögrög, use your spare change from other countries to inspire students to make mathematical conversions along with this lesson from Math Is Fun.
9. Create a travel brochure
Students can study historical periods by creating a travel brochure for “time travelling” tourists. What would a visitor to 1st Century Rome or Pre-Columbian Peru need to know? Gather brochures and flyers from hotel lobbies or visitor centers as examples for students to examine what makes a good brochure.
10. Comparing literature
Foreign language teachers can pick up some children’s books when traveling. Children will enjoy experiencing what kids in other countries read and the language in children’s books is usually simple enough for students of all ability levels.
11. Bring along something from the class
Does your classroom have a mascot or familiar toy? Take a picture in front of Notre-Dame or the Taj Mahal with it. Not only will it make the location feel more real to your students, but will help them get a clear picture of the size and scale of the place.
“Story Duck” meets the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.
12. Bring questions from your students
Before going on a trip, middle school teacher Sara Krakauer likes to have her students come up with questions she can ask people while traveling. She then presents locals with the questions and records a short video of the answers. It’s a fun way for students to engage with people in other parts of the world and learn something about their culture. Check out her class’ questions from her trip to Ireland.
13. Challenge your own cultural assumptions
This one may be a bit more intangible, but still very important. Any frequent traveler knows that getting outside your norms and cultural comfort zone forces you to question your own assumptions. Bring this perspective back with you to the classroom.
Alysa Escobar, a former school counselor and theater arts teacher says that “when I travel there are opportunities to connect with new people and understand myself more deeply. But also there are moments of being lost and confused. And that experience has helped me have more empathy when a new student walks into my classroom, especially a student whose first language may not be English and is learning a whole new school culture. Travel experiences have helped me learn the importance of making my school and classroom a place where everyone's identity, culture, and language is represented and respected, making it clear that they belong and are welcome.”