This is an updated version of a task that I first posted on Freeed last year. https://www.freeed.com/articles/855/off-the-beaten-track-a-task-based-on-atlas-obscura
The website Atlas Obscura (https://www.atlasobscura.com/) is something of a digital Aladdin’s Cave, packed with surprises and curiosities. You can find content related to a wide range of countries and cities, with descriptions of lesser known obscure attractions for tourists (or locals) to visit: places that are off the beaten track.
In this task, learners read about local attractions they are less familiar with, present what they have found, and then choose which ones they feel are worth visiting, and why. The following procedure is based on Budapest; naturally, the idea is to choose a location of interest to your students.
You may be thinking: a task involving travel and tourist destinations during lockdown? Well, yes: I don’t know about you but I cannot wait to leave the confines of my flat and to experience the city where I live anew. So think of this task as giving students something to look forward to it when social distancing is a receding memory.
1) Ask the students some of the things they miss about their city now they are mostly in lockdown at home. Where would they visit if they had a free afternoon? Then give the students a minute on their own to note the top five tourist attractions in Budapest, before asking them to agree in breakout rooms on the three or four they feel every tourist should visit. Feedback on this as a class – agree on the top two or three attractions they feel tourists should visit, asking students to explain why.
2) After this, ask students if they can think of any places worth visiting in the city (or country) that are less well-known – is there anywhere interesting in your neighbourhood, or in parts of town that tourists don’t usually visit? Give them a minute or two alone to note some examples; or, if you have time, quickly put them back into the same breakout rooms to share ideas. Then feedback on these: pool the top two or three ideas.
3) Ask students which websites they use to access information before they travel. Ask if they have heard of Atlas Obscura – display the places page using the screenshare option (https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/all-places-in-the-atlas-on-one-map). Orientate them to the site, taking them on a brief tour, letting them know that it lists different cities and countries, recommending places to visit that are less well known to tourists; it functions as an alternative guidebook.
1) Ask students to look at the thumbnail descriptions of the recommended attractions https://www.atlasobscura.com/things-to-do/budapest-hungary/places. In this linked page for Budapest, there are three pages of thumbnail descriptions; this will vary depending on the location chosen, so determine in advance how many pages to use for your groups. Have the students skim these brief thumbnail descriptions with an appropriate task: are there any attractions you have not been to yet? Which would you like to visit? Ask them to share with a partner in breakout rooms, before reporting back to the class. In feedback, pool the most popular attractions.
1) Now ask the students to imagine either:
(choose / adapt as appropriate fo your lesson)
a) someone they know is coming to visit your chosen destination. This person has been to Budapest before and has seen most of the typical attractions. This time they would like to visit a few places that are off the beaten track;
b) your students are selecting a post-lockdown tour they would like to enjoy with friends. They are looking forward to experiencing the city anew! Which less well-known attractions do they feel they and their friends would like to visit?
2) Put students in pairs or small groups into breakout rooms. Ask them to select one of the different attractions. Note that each individual city page has thumbnail links to about sixteen attractions; each breakout room can choose more than one if it makes sense to do so in terms of lesson length and the level of the learners. But make sure each pair or group in the class chooses different attractions.
3) They should then individually read the description of the attraction they have chosen. For example, the Gyermekvasút (Children’s Railway: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/gyermekvasut). Remind the learners:
- they will be presenting their reasons (in stage 4). It is also important to emphasise that they will likely not understand everything in the text: they should identify key words and phrases.
- they should highlight reasons for visiting this attraction: ask them to highlight their reasons in the text of the article.
After each pair has read the description and underlined reasons, ask them to check their ideas with their partner(s). Monitor this as you move through the rooms, helping out with vocabulary as needed.
4) Regroup the students so they can report their reasons for visiting the attraction. For example, if there were four pairs in breakout rooms in stages 2/3 (e.g. AA, BB, CC, DD) put them now in rooms with groups of four with one from each pair (ABCD). They should take turns to outline why each attraction is worth visiting. After all students have presented their reasons, the group should decide which attraction (other than their own) they would recommend to a visitor; or if your students prefer, they can comment on what seems more / less interesting about each attraction they heard about.
The task focuses on practising reading and speaking – there is no pre-selected linguistic agenda. I’d suggest being attentive throughout the lesson, feeding in and reacting to learner output, both in the main room and when monitoring breakout rooms. Some options for language focus:
- Emergent Language: monitor the reading and presentation preparation stages, letting students know you are available to help clarify phrases from the text and feed in phrases they need to present their ideas.
- Text-mining: build in a stage after the Task 2 stage 4) above: ask the learners to identify 5+ new phrases from their text. It is probably worth focusing this somehow e.g. phrases / adjectives that positively describe the attraction, use of the passive etc. Ultimately, though, try to make yourself available to help students with any phrases they are genuinely curious about.
- Homework: instead of doing the above immediately, ask the students to research and present 5 or 6 phrases in the next lesson. They can then peer teach these. With particularly motivated students, ask them to click the links and read about all attractions they heard in the lesson, noting new phrases they are curious about.
- In the next lesson, students recall the details of the attractions and reasons why each one is worth visiting.
- Ask the students to reconstruct the reasons to visit the attraction(s), in another genre e.g. email / message to a friend, Tripadvisor review etc.
- Select another city / country and choose one attraction to present to the class.
- Live listening or recording of your own choice of attraction for students to listen to, take notes, and ask follow-up questions.