Maps, string, postcards and cafe society

Any overseas visit is an opportunity for learning. Tony Elston offers tips for helping pupils make the most of their time abroad

As you scrabble about for missing E111 health forms and frantically check whether Johnny in 8A has returned his indemnity form, the last thing on your mind is the trip itself. Nevertheless, planning for the many learning opportunities offered by a trip abroad makes the visit more enriching and memorable. Here are some suggestions for helping pupils get the most out of their trip.

Maps: Give pupils a photocopied map of the route. Highlight main towns en route. Enable pupils to work out distances for themselves by including a piece of string to use with the map's printed scale. A plastic pocket makes the map more robust and provides a home for the string.

Art: Pupils will have come across the work of European artists in their art lessons. Check with the art department which artists from your country of destination the pupils are familiar with and the main characteristics of their work. Laminate pictures of a few of the artists' key works to pass round the coach at an opportune moment. Alternatively, look out for postcards of artists' most famous pieces at the souvenir shops you visit.

History: If your trip is to a European destination, the Romans got there first. Ask your history department which key aspects of the Romans you can reinforce. Give pupils a historical context in which to set key events, such as the first and second world wars, by providing printed details of important dates in the history of the country you are visiting. If time and route allow, stop at a war cemetery and battlefield.

Geography: Ask your geography colleagues which aspects of the places you are travelling through would be most useful to reinforce. Some will lend themselves particularly well to simple target language commentary:

"Manchester, population: un million. Londres, population: dix millions."

Maths: A few written key amounts in pounds and pence and the foreign currency will help pupils to master the basics of currency conversion. For pupils who find it difficult to convert, have questions ready: how much is eight francs worth? Ten francs is a pound, so is eight francs more or less than a pound? To help pupils convert kilometres to miles, write down that eight kilometres is equal to five miles and one kilometre equals five-eighths of a mile. Remind pupils that this fraction means dividing the number of kilometres by eight then multiplying the result by five to work out distance in miles.

For those pupils who are unclear what a mile or kilometre represents, cite places they know well that are respectively a mile and a kilometre away from school.

PSE:Ever since I heard a talk by a doctor who attended serious road accidents, I have seen it as my duty to remind pupils constantly about ther own safety and their responsibility towards other road users. The slightest concentration lapse by a pupil crossing a road could result in serious injury or death. I quote the doctor who stressed that when you are hit by a car travelling at 40mph you die. No ifs, no buts. Reinforcing this should not only make pupils more wary as pedestrians - doubly important when traffic is coming from the right - but will encourage them to respect speed limits when they become drivers.

Using the target language: Unless the trip involves an exchange element, pupils can spend a week abroad without speaking a single word of the language. If we want them to speak a foreign language, we must create opportunities for this:

* Use the target language as much as possible yourself and ask permission to use English when necessary: "Kann ich jetzt auf Englisch sprechen?" When providing a commentary, use simple target language, pausing periodically to check understanding: "Et a gauche il y a la gare SNCF. Qu'est-ce que c'est 'gare SNCF' en anglais?" * Demand target language. This is easiest when pupils need something from you, for example if you are looking after their money: "Je peux avoir mon argent, s'il vous plat?" A phrase to ask what they are doing today - "Was machen wir heute?" - will also bear frequent repetition.

* When a pupil asks something in English, answer in the target language.

* Encourage individual pupils to negotiate transactions on your behalf, for example, by finding out for you how much it costs to send a postcard to the United Kingdom.

* Budget for a cafe visit in the cost of the trip. Avoid busy times and places, such as mid-morning on market day in the town square. Find a quiet cafe and ask the owner if you can bring in your group, and if he or she does not mind getting each pupil to order individually in the language (otherwise you risk being given a pad and pen and asked to take the orders yourself). Offer a model dialogue: "Vous desirez, mademoiselle? Coca, Coca light, limonade ... Le jus d'orange, c'est pour qui?" Thank and tip the waiter.

* Offer a small daily prize for the best effort at using target language, such as small notebooks or exercise books from the country visited.

Awards ceremony: To break up the journey home, hold an awards ceremony. Using a list of all the group members, jot down with colleagues an award for each pupil. This can be genuine - daily quiz winners, for example - with some real prizes, or funny - best sleeper for a pupil who everyone knows was repeatedly caught out of bed at night. You will know which pupils will enjoy attention being drawn to their foibles and which pupils to treat more sensitively.

Tony Elston is head of languages at Stretford high school, Manchester, and co-author with Patricia McLagan of the key stage 3 French course 'Genial' (Oxford)

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