I can be a bit directionally challenged at times. It’s not that I can’t read a map–I am actually fairly proficient at that. It’s also not that I can’t get to where I need to be–I’ve circumnavigated the globe multiple times without a problem. It’s just that when I’m not paying attention to where I’m going, which is fairly often, I have a particular talent for getting lost. For example, how many people do you know who can get lost driving home from work? When they’ve been driving the same route five days a week for over a year? And it involves a total of three turns–counting out of the school driveway and into your own driveway? Yeah, that may or may not have happened to me.
The positive side of this dubious talent of mine is I am very aware of the need to teach students how to give and understand directions. We spend a lot of time on vocabulary for community places (I have an entire vocabulary practice pack, a Guess the Word PowerPoint Game, and a task card assessment) and prepositions (see these blog posts for more: Picture Perfect Prepositions, Mousy Prepositions, More Preposition Fun), but eventually we need to put this vocabulary into use. That is when I pull out Directions Around My Town.
Directions Around My Town
This is a board game I made up to help students practice giving and following directions. You’ll need a few basic supplies to play: a general game board and pieces (Cutes & Ladders, Pay Day, and Candy Land are some of our favorites, it’s not necessary for every group to use the same board), a single marker of some type (this can be anything, we often use a milk jug lid), maps of your community (check with the tourism board or local business bureau, they’re usually free), and business cards from local businesses.
When first starting the game, give each group of 2-4 students a set of the supplies mentioned above. Students should choose their playing pieces and place them on the starting space of the game board. They should also choose a business card at random and place the single marker on that particular business on the map. The other business cards should be placed in a pile near the map or mixed in some type of container (empty tissue boxes work well for this).
The first student begins his/her turn by drawing a business card and locating that business on the map. He/she then gives directions to another player, who moves the single marker on the map from its current location to the new one based on what the current player says. Once the current player has successfully guided the traveler to the new location, he/she rolls the die and moves his/her piece on the game board. The second player then takes his/her turn in the same manner. Play continues until one player reaches finish on the game board.
This game can be extended by having students practice conversations at each location. The player whose turn it is pretends to be a person out running errands and another player pretends to be the business owner. The current player holds a conversation with the business owner and either makes a purchase or arranges for a service to be performed. (For a game 100% focused on the conversation aspect, see What Are You Doing At…?) I adjust this part of the game based on my students’ proficiency level. For lower proficiency students, I ask them to simply state a sentence or phrase to describe what they will do at the location (i.e. at the drycleaner: I need my dress cleaned.). I increase what I ask them to do, up to my advanced students having full conversations that last at least 60 seconds.
An alternative play option, particularly if you live in a small town, would be to obtain tourist maps and brochures for a popular destination (New York City, Chicago, London, Sydney…) and have students use those to play the game. A third option, to focus on a wider geographical area, would be to use state/province maps and card with city names on them.
Directions Around My Town is one of those games that I didn’t know how it would go when I first came up with it. Its original conception was, quite honestly, out of desperation–I had to teach a lesson on giving directions, had no resources, little time, and no money. Since I was living in Sydney at the time, I just went to the closest tourism office, explained what I needed, and was able to walk out with multiple sets of maps and brochures. The next day in class I tried the game, my students enjoyed it, and I’ve tweaked it based on their comments a few times since. It’s been more than ten years since I first played it with a group of adult students and it’s been a success with every group, including my middle schoolers, since. I hope your students enjoy it as well. Happy teaching, everyone!
Here are links to get those vocabulary activities I mentioned. All of the preposition games are free!!