How Can I Bring Personal Travel Experiences into the Classroom?


(click on the photo to enlarge and read)


There is a part in me that objects to the question I myself have just posed. Being on vacation, traveling (or doing something totally different from ones daily activities) is important to any person’s well being. There is no need to translate everything into classroom terms – I believe that a happier teacher is a better teacher!

And yet…

I saw the sign above, with the poem, on the very first day of our family trip to Alaska. Beluga Point was our first stop after leaving Anchorage. I found that the poem “stuck with me” throughout the trip, because it connected to the very strong sense of awe I felt while visiting Alaska. We are not intrepid backpackers who spend a week in a tent in the rain or hike in inaccessible areas. We stayed in cabins or B&B’s with hot showers and went on hikes on familiar trails.

Nonetheless we had awe inspiring experiences.

Not only are the vistas along the roads stunning, the close encounters with glaciers incredible, the bald eagles whizzing past majestic (and of course there are the bears and the moose!) consider experiences such as the following:

* On a guided boat ride in Kenai Fjord we saw humpback whales collaborating together in what is called bubble-net feeding. They all exhale at the same time and create a bubble that sucks in the fish.


* On a small hill next to the B&B we were staying at, we saw (at close range!!!) a herd of about 400 caribou migrating from their calving area to their winter area. The next morning we saw them fording the river.

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So, I think it is clear why the feeling I feel the strongest from this trip is a sense of awe.

If I want to think in classroom terms I need to define what is it exactly I want to share with my students and a sense of awe regarding nature is not a very clear definition to work with.

I’ve had an unsuccessful experience with travel tales in the past.

A year and a half ago our youngest son went on an amazing youth trip to the ANTARCTIC!  After our son returned, he made a slide show and lectured in different classes at his high-school. In the slide show you could follow the stages of his long journey on the map, see icebergs, penguins and life on the boat. So, I decided to create a suitable worksheet (with answers to be found in the slideshow) in easy English for my pupils and bring it to class. The level of general knowledge and world geography knowledge is pretty low in many of my high-school groups of deaf and hard of hearing students.I had hoped that the fact that this is a true story about my own son would capture the student’s interest and something about the Antarctic might sink in.

The results were mixed. Some pupils did react as I had hoped. But others basically only reacted to the fact that the teacher’s son was lucky enough to get a full scholarship and THEY would never be so lucky (luck, yeah, my son found the organization himself, filled out forms, wrote essays, got recommendations, got the scholarship only the second time round, but for them it was like winning the lottery). They weren’t interested in the rest at all.

So, any suggestions (beyond sneaking some of these photos into online worksheets) on what to do in the classroom with my strong sense of awe of the natural wonders of Alaska?

9 thoughts on “How Can I Bring Personal Travel Experiences into the Classroom?”

  1. I don’t know if I can contribute any usable ideas as we work in very different contexts, but what I can say is this: I just finished a week watching trainee teachers sharing personal experiences as live listenings and/or readings with students as part of a training course. The students have consistently been riveted and highly motivated to talk in response to these stories. I think (but cannot prove) that it is because of the authentic and personal connection that a shared story creates. This is, for me, their value. So why not simply share them and see?

    Thank you also for the beautiful images and insight into a place that I would love to visit!

  2. Anthony!
    Thanks for stopping by!
    You used the term “shared story” – that’s just the root of the problem I’m concerned about.
    I had a skin allergy a few years ago and came to school with red blotches on my face and arms. I told the kids truthfully about it and they were very sympathetic and shared tales about how they once had reactions from a detergent or a bee sting.
    The point is they could relate to my tale because it is part of their world too.
    Alaska could be a sci-fi story for some of these kids. To give an extreme example, I could not get some of the weaker kids (high school!) to pay any attention to anything related to the Japanese Tsunami a few months ago…

  3. When I say “shared story” I mean “a story that has been shared.” sometimes these are familiar, but today, we had a story about a traditional Fijiian cooking tradition – quite Allan for most of the students (German, eastern European and some north African/middle eastern students). I guess maybe adults have a more strongly developed ability/desire to project themselves into other contexts.

    But the alienness of Alaska would seem to make it strangely familiar territory for kids, I’d have thought. The weird and the wonderful always caught my attention – but maybe I’m simply not representative! Reminds me once again that what works for me here and now has no guarantee of working elsewhere.

  4. I see what you mean now. I think the difference between adults and teenagers is meaningful. While there are many kinds of adults and many kinds of teenagers, adults tend to say “why should I care” or “so what” less than teens!

  5. What a great trip you took! How about asking students what they are in awe of? What makes them feel this way about? Give your travels as an example, but you could do so as though you’ve read about it if you feel they’d be saddened by their lack of opportunity.

    Alternatively, maybe this idea like your son traveling, could be shown as an example of what hard work gets you…

  6. Tyson thanks!
    I looked up the definition of “awe” – quite a complex and abstract concept! But if I accept it also as “something that makes me say “WOW” then posing the question you suggested could lead to some interesting answers.

    Since we don’t talk in English in class I have to figure out how to add some written English into a discussion (assuming one develops).

  7. Hi Naomi,
    Sorry I’m a bit late on this – have been catching up with blogs after the past few days.
    How imaginative are your students? Perhaps you could encourage them to create their perfect trip – it doesn’t have to be abroad – it could even be around their neighbourhood. You can show them how your trip to Alaska was ‘perfect’ because it made you go ‘wow’. The written English part could be a poster with pictures of the places they want to go. Or you could use for the students to create a map. You could start off with your map.
    Hope that’s not too late!

  8. Ah, imaginative – now there is a touchy subject with some of my students. Again, some ARE very creative and imaginative. But, if you think about it, a lot of what we use to build imaginary situations has to do with language and general knowledge and those same pupils that don’t know that zebras came from Africa won’t imagine seeing them there.
    But I DO most certainly agree with you about asking them where they would like to go. In fact, we have an exercise in our curriculum where they have to learn to write a postcard from somewhere. We have a big map in the class and when they pick a destination I try to suggest activities that might be done there.
    Thanks once again for the link – I have learned about so many useful sites from you! Will check it out!

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