Guided tours on Google My Places and Google Earth


The great thing about many of the online resources we have available these days is that they are not just resources in a static sense; they are also spaces that we can continually re-source for all kinds of student activities.

Russell Stannard recently spoke at IATEFL about the connected classroom, where we find ways to bridge the gap between what students do in class and at home. As language teachers, this can be tricky: there is no guarantee, for example, that even students living here for long periods will practice English in the supposedly immersive environment of the host country. Just doing homework ‘exercises’ is not really enough.

As Russell points out though, this is where new technologies come in. Homework activities can become more like multimedia projects, set up in class and carried on in the students’ own time. More connections, more possibilities; a couple of which I’d like to share with you in this post.

The convertible classroom: my mapping London

I remember in the old days we used to practise the language of directions using pretty uninspiring photocopied maps of fictitious places. Not anymore, thanks to Google My Places. Students can now go out socially, take photos and videos of places they like, give directions and recommendations, and post these all online to share with their classmates and beyond. It’s a pretty big difference!

I call this the convertible classroom as learning is not limited to the four walls and ceiling of a school room; the roof is opened up as their experiences out and about in the world are directly integrated into their learning. Here’s what we did for this particular activity:

1. We looked at the language of places and directions from the course book and linked this to contexts of use, e.g. giving advice and recommendations.

2. Students were then shown a model of a Google My Places: my tour of the Southbank (you can click on the different places in the left panel to navigate the tour).

3. Next, they got into pairs or small groups and chose an area of the city to explore and feedback on. This involved some discussion and online research of which areas sounded cool.

4. Before they went out, I also showed them the ropes on creating a custom map and gave them links to various instructional resources, such as this tutorial video from Google.

5. Students then had a few days to get out there and do their thing, before we then shared their maps in class.

My PlacesWhat did they get from it? I think many things. First of all, they got to discover the city in new, personalised ways, and to share these discoveries with each other. Secondly, this social learning experience saw language practised in meaningful, authentic ways for real communication: not just practising language in class to one day use, but actually using it now!

Here is one example of our pre-intermediate students’ work: a central London tour. It is still very early days in our own exploration of this tool, but I feel it has great potential for the further development of our convertible classroom model.

From local to global: tackling world issues with Google Earth

This is an idea for a very different kind of guided tour using the Google Earth programme, which you will need to download onto your computer (you can get it freely, safely and quickly here). Google Earth allows us to explore the world’s geography and access all kinds of information about our planet. It also allows us to design and record our own world tours, based on any topic we like, from art museums to earthquake hotspots. Tutorials for all the features can be found in the Learn section of their website. There is also a useful section for Educators.

We decided to link Google Earth tours with a unit in our course book on global issues and trends. The explicit language focus was phrases for cause and effect (leads to, results in, is due to etc). The idea was that students would research positive and negative trends in different places around the world and then summarise their findings in a recorded audio-visual guided tourThere are far more exciting visual possibilities in Google Earth, where you can zoom right into cities, even specific streets and buildings, but the focus here was on a wider country level. See one of our student’s projects in the video below:

The activity worked really well and provided a rich learning experience for the class. They developed their research and summarizing skills in an authentic way, having to decide on which key points they should use for their narration. They also gained valuable speaking practice (recording a number of times until they were happy with their performance) and increased their awareness and understanding of global issues and trends.

Lastly, and this applies to the Google My Places activity too I feel, they got lots of meaningful practice of the language. In context and in colour.  Outside, inside, and worldwide.

Next week: Trending with IELTS Task 1: a web journalism project! (Monday 21st May)





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