Building Directions Vocabulary: An ESL Lesson Plan

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Teaching Vocabulary for Directions

Students will need to know the necessary vocabulary to be able to give and ask for directions in the information gap activity. There are a number of ways to teach vocabulary in ESL but one of the most common and successful is through brainstorming. You can write the word “directions” in the middle of the board and ask for students to give as many words as they can think of related to directions.

Brainstorming is an excellent exercise for revising and learning new vocabulary. A variation of the classic brainstorming activity is to divide the class into groups with the brainstorming activity used as a competition to see which group can come up with the most words.

While every class is different and some may know more words or think of more original vocabulary than others, the most common vocabulary related to teaching and learning directions is:

  • street or road
  • street corner
  • pedestrian crossing or zebra crossing
  • traffic lights
  • building
  • crossroads or intersection
  • roundabout or traffic circle
  • bridge
  • pavement or sidewalk
  • go straight
  • turn left / turn right
  • continue
  • on your left / on your right
  • in front of / behind
  • until you get to
  • cross the road
  • opposite
  • next to
  • at the end of

Direction Lesson Plan

There is no need to make the task of creating resources for an ESL class a difficult one. Most resources can be easily found in everyday life. Teaching ESL means putting students in real-life situations that they are likely to encounter outside of the classroom and preparing them to be able to communicate effectively in these situations.

Street and tourist maps can be found in tourist offices as well as printed out from the Internet. If you do not have access to either of these resources, then you can use the knowledge that students have of their own town as a resource. The lesson can proceed as follows:

  1. Students must be put into pairs and be given photocopies of the same maps. You can either leave the maps as they are or erase different information from each map so that each student has a map with different missing information.
  2. Each student has a list of destinations for which they must ask directions from their partner. At the top of this list, write the following sentences: “Excuse me, can you tell me the way to…?” and “How can I get to…?” to help students form the correct questions.
  3. If you don’t have maps, then let students use their own hometown as a reference, which makes the exercise even more like a real-life situation. Students can pretend to be English tourists who are lost and who stop someone in the street to ask how to get to a certain place. As students know how to get around their own hometown, giving directions can be fun and very useful in a future situation.
  4. It’s best to give students destinations to ask for that are commonly visited in everyday life like the supermarket, school, municipal swimming pool, bank, railway station, police station, garage, shops, post office, restaurant, and hotel. This builds up useful vocabulary and makes the exercise useful and practical.

While students are asking for and giving directions, you can walk around to make sure they are using the correct vocabulary, sentence and question construction. The entire lesson, from the brainstorming activity to the end of the direction asking and giving activity, should take approximately one hour.

An ESL lesson plan for building direction resources as well as the activities can be easy and fun for teachers and students alike. This activity is related to a practical real-life situation that students will most certainly find themselves in either while traveling or when encountering travelers in their hometown. In addition, this activity will improve students' English listening skills and make the teaching of directions an important and useful ESL lesson.