Learners might go to a summer camp to improve their language skills, but the experience can mean much more to a teenager. British Council teacher and trainer Melissa Thomson shares memorable learning activities.
The American Camp Association found that summer camp helps teenage learners make new friends, build confidence, feel good about themselves and learn new activities they'll continue long after summer has finished.
Why not make your English language lessons relevant to their experience?
Here are some memorable and creative English language activities to help teenage learners talk about their camp experiences, to express their feelings and to preserve memories.
Make a 'museum of me' on the first day of camp
The first day of summer camp is a chance for learners, many of whom are meeting for the first time, to decide how they want to present themselves to new people.
In this activity they will introduce themselves to the class through photos and objects, which can be less scary than standing in front of new people to talk.
First, ask the learners to find two or three photos of their family, friends, school or town on their phones, that they won't mind showing to the class.
Then, ask them to find two or three objects that mean something to them, or represent something in their lives. They might choose a book they brought, or their membership card to their local sports team. These photos and objects will become their 'museum of me'.
But first, they need five to ten minutes alone to prepare a sentence about each item. Depending on their language level, you can give them this useful language:
- This is something that I bought when…
- This object represents the fact that I play…
- I chose this because I love…
- This photo is important to me because…
Now, divide the class into two groups, A and B. Each Learner A displays their museum on a desk while all of the Learner Bs move around the room and ask questions:
- Why did you choose this photo?
- Why is this important?
Write follow-up questions on the board for learners to ask:
- When did you start….?
- How often do you….?
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Write an email to your future self on your last day at camp
FutureMe is a web tool that sends an email to an address of your choice, at a future date of your choice.
Learners will have memories from their time at camp, and will have learned a lot of vocabulary too. Your class can use FutureMe to produce a final piece of work that will bring this together.
Each learner will need their own device to do this.
First, explain what the web tool does. Ask learners to set the send date to at least a month after camp has finished.
Now, ask learners to follow this frame, or invent their own:
Dear Future Me,
I want to start by saying __________ (something we always said at camp).
Do you remember the day you ___________? What an amazing day!
I hope you have stayed in contact with your new friend __________. Why not send them a message now?!
At camp you learned how to ___________. Are you really good at it now? I hope so!
Finally, I want you to remember _________.
Lots of love,
Warning – this activity can cause emotional tears!
Make a video tour on your second day at camp
Learners might be sleeping away from home for the first time, and might have their first experience sharing a living space with other teenagers. Help them capture these memories to share with friends and family at home.
Learning doesn't have to be confined to desks at camp. You can get out of the classroom and make a camp tour video. Learners can take the viewer around their bedrooms, the bathrooms, the dining room, and classrooms of their new camp.
First, you could show your learners some videos as models. Try searching for 'summer camp tour video' on YouTube.
Then, divide learners into groups of two or three. Each group needs a mobile phone or tablet to film with.
Learners choose where they'll visit and in what order, and choose roles of director, camera operator and presenter.
The class will need two hours to plan, script, rehearse and film.
Spend around one hour in the class planning and scripting, then you or another group of learners can give feedback on scripts.
Then, give learners another hour to rehearse and film. Monitor and help them to manage their time, especially with younger learners.
Director/camera operator language for all levels:
- Three, two one, action!
- Cut! That was wrong/too quiet/too loud.
- Let´s do that again. Stand here next time.
- Are you ready? Take three!
- That´s a wrap! Good job, team.
Presenter language for lower/higher levels:
- First, let´s go to the bedroom…/ First, let´s check out what there is in our bedrooms…
- Here is the dining room…/ Behind me you´ll find the dining room entrance…
- There are two shower rooms… / Here at camp we've got two showers…
- Here we do activities like…/ This is where we take part in activities like…
- Next we´ll go to the classroom…/ Now let´s move on to visit where we have lessons…
Try to use an 'all in one take' approach, where they run from place to place. This works best because learners won’t get stuck doing perfect takes of every small scene. It also means you won’t have to edit the takes together.
If you are going to film, make sure that parents and children have given written permission. Anyone who doesn’t have permission can’t have a role on camera.
Present a news report during camp
For this video activity, I use the Apple app Telestory.
Users record their own breaking news story with their camera on selfie mode. They'll see themselves as a news anchor with a grey moustache and glasses, or a weather forecaster complete with yellow rain-hat.
First, let learners practice with the app in small groups, to see the themes that are available.
Then, assign them each a scene and/or a role. One confident learner can be director, and the others the presenter, the news anchor, the sports reporter, and the weather forecaster.
Then, in groups, they must storyboard what they want to report on. The camp twist is that each scene must relate to the camp, including:
- important events that happened or are about to happen
- sports wins or defeats.
As a class, you might brainstorm language to introduce each segment, like:
- Coming to you live from_________, I´m _____________.
- Hello from outside the dining hall, where I´m reporting the story of________.
- Now let´s go to the weather with _______.
- Back to _________in the studio with a report about_________.
Finally, they will need about one hour to rehearse and film. The Telestory app splices it all together to make a full news broadcast that looks professional and fun.
With learners' permission, you can link their devices to a screen and watch their videos together as a class.
Role play as tourists and tourist information employees
Are your teenager learners on a summer camp in a new country or new region? Are you going on any trips to nearby towns, museums, or parks?
If you can, visit the local tourist information centre and ask for leaflets in English about places you might see on your trips.
Each pair of learners in your class will need a leaflet to work with. You´ll need at least two different leaflets, or a leaflet that you can cut into two parts.
If you can´t get physical leaflets, look for promotional videos or text on the town's social media sites or website.
Divide learners into pairs. Assign each pair one leaflet or site. Tell them that they will be working at the tourism information desk, and they´ll have to advise tourists about what to do and see.
First, they have to learn about their place. Tell them to write down the welcome speech frame, and complete it with the information they have about the town.
- Welcome to ___________. This is the best ____________ in __________!
- We can highly recommend the _____________because…
- Also, if you have time, why not visit the _____________.
- Please ask us anything you want, we´re happy to help!
Then, ask the class to brainstorm questions to ask the tourist information desk on their trip. For example, typical questions for a museum might be:
- What time do you open?
- How much is the entrance fee?
- How long do people normally spend there?
- Is there anywhere to get something to drink?
- Are there any special events on at the moment?
Now, they are ready to do the role play, so ask them all to stand up. Half the class will be wandering tourists, and the other half will stand behind their desks (the tourist information desk) ready to say their welcome speech frame and to receive questions. Then, swap roles.
Extension activity for brave learners: Ask the tourism office about quiet times and whether they would mind if your learners practised with them. Learners can phone or visit the real information desks to ask the questions.
Create a sensory diary
Learners might want to capture the sights, sounds and even smells of where they've visited. You can help them do that in English, in class, by recording the sensory memories of each trip in a poster diary.
After a few camp trips (or afternoon activities), choose one trip to focus on. Ask learners to close their eyes, breathe deeply and think of sounds from that day.
Next, together as a class, list all of these on the board.
Examples of a trip to a zoo could be:
- the monkeys laughing
- the swan´s wings flapping
- the song in the cafeteria
- the train stopping.
This brainstorming phase prepares them for the next part.
Ask learners to draw three circles on a page. Then, ask them to fill the circles with sounds, smells and sights from one trip. Touch and taste are more difficult, but if you have a creative class, add two more circles and give it a try.
You will need to monitor and help with vocabulary and ideas.
Now, they are ready to make their sensory diary poster. They should divide their poster into three or five sections. They can write their words and phrases in each section, and decorate them with colour, drawings, magazine or leaflet cut outs, and realia like chocolate wrappers or bus tickets.
For a fun variation, ask the learners to choose a trip but to keep it secret from the others (and to not mention it on the poster). Then, when you display the posters around the camp, the other learners will have to guess which trip the poster is about.
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This article includes advice for using the internet in classrooms. We also recommend that teachers use the 360safe online self-review tool for a whole-school approach to online safety.