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Feeling Lost – Get Your English Directions Lesson on Track with These 5 Teaching Ideas

Feeling Lost – Get Your English Directions Lesson on Track with These 5 Teaching Ideas

Feeling Lost – Get Your English Directions Lesson on Track with These 5 Teaching Ideas

Navigate a Meaningful Map

Asking for and giving directions is one of those hyper-practical, necessary English skills. However, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.

In this versatile activity, ESL learners get to talk about their favorite places to go in town, and you have the opportunity to teach about different cultural landmarks in English-speaking countries.

Here’s how it works: you’ll provide a map of a meaningful place. Then students will use that map to give one another directions with key vocabulary. 

After setting up the map, introduce a list of base vocabulary for students to use throughout the activity. For example:







Where is the…?

Ask them to choose three to five of their favorite spots on the map to give directions between. For example, a student may choose to give directions from their home, to their best friend’s house, to their favorite store, to the movie theater.

If students are more advanced, you can add reading comprehension exercises about the English-speaking cities and landmarks they’re practicing directions with.

This may be especially satisfying if students will be traveling soon. Imagine knowing how to get to the best crumpet shop in London before even arriving there!

“I’m Lost!” Role-play

To start, choose everyday situations those roaming in a foreign city might find themselves in. Here are some ideas:

Getting directions to their hotel

Finding a specific landmark when wandering the street

Going to a friend’s apartment

Finding an address from the subway or train station

Designate one person to play the lost traveler. They’ll have to approach the other actors to ask for directions to their location. Don’t worry about keeping the directions accurate like you did in the map activity above. The actors can make the directions up as long as they’re using key vocabulary, and the traveler follows accordingly.

Once your direction-givers reach intermediate level, it’s time to improvise. One idea is to do the same scene in many different genres. For example, the first run-through could be a regular interaction giving and getting directions. 

This is a fun exercise because it reinforces and repeats the content without being boring. It also encourages creativity and the incorporation of other vocabulary the students might know.

Of course, make sure that they’re equipped with the necessary vocabulary for the situations you have them improvise. Depending on your students’ English level, this may be necessary or only necessary for certain improvisations.

It’s also good to know how to manage when you don’t have all the vocabulary (as this happens to everyone when traveling, even native speakers), but everyone feels safer and more confident with a helpful list of words.

Listening Exercises with the Locals

It’s all well and good giving and getting directions between classmates and people you know.

But what about when you ask directions from a random native speaker on the street who speaks quickly and doesn’t articulate words perfectly?

It’s important for ESL learners to practice listening to native speakers giving directions. Even if they don’t understand everything, they can learn to pick out key information.

As a teacher, you can help them along by showing realistic yet level-appropriate videos to get used to a real-life interaction.

After playing your chosen video (or a segment of the video), give students a list of basic questions to answer about it, such as:

Where does the person want to go?

What landmark does she need to pass?

How many blocks away is it?

TPR Directions

Not everyone can learn only by writing and listening. Some need to get up and move.

Total Physical Response (also known as TPR) is a dynamic teaching technique that involves incorporating kinetic learning into the classroom. It makes vocabulary immediately relevant, and therefore more memorable.

So what does this look like for ESL direction lessons?

Do you remember the game Simon Says? It’s kind of like that, but start out just giving simple directional commands. For example, you’ll say “Go right,” and students should turn right and walk. Then you could say “Go across the street” and students, well, imagine the boundaries of a street and cross.


You can use mapmaking as a fun exercise for your students who are visual learners. Who knows, you might even inspire a new career goal in some of your students!

For beginner classes, provide maps like in our first activity. However this time, have students draw routes on their maps while their partners dictate directions. To give an extra boost to memory, color code directions. 

For more advanced classes, you can have them make their own maps from scratch. Provide directional information about the streets, landmarks or other locations you’d like them to include in relation to one another. For example:

The library is located in the center of town. The movie theater is eight blocks west of the library. The school is next-door to the library on its west side. 

As you can see, this activity is particularly well suited to teaching cardinal directions.

Since this is a relaxing activity that reinforces vocabulary, it can be a great warm-down for an ESL directions lesson.

Brief source: FluentU

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