There’s nothing like being home all the time to make you think about travel. Last night as I was studying Slovakian and perusing my favorite Slovakian Instagram travel feeds (by the way, are we hanging out on Insta yet?), I got to thinking about how meaningful armchair travel is right now. Just as books can take us anywhere in our imaginations, so can research.
This winter just might be the perfect time to let your students explore far-off places through a virtual travel research project. Today I’m going to propose a project for you that taps into students’ interest in social media, modern platforms, and authentic audiences, while tucking in research and writing skills along the way. A project I believe can help brighten up the pandemic winter we’re all nervously awaiting.
Listen in on the podcast player below (or on your preferred podcast platform) or read on.
I’ve long loved travel writing, and I’ve read a lot of it. I did an independent study in grad school on travel writing, which gave me the opportunity to explore travel-themed nonfiction and short stories, travel blogs and modern and historic novels with travel themes. I read them while living in Bulgaria and traveling with my husband to over twenty countries on what we came to think of as our extended two-year teaching honeymoon. Now, on the cusp of moving to Slovakia with my family, travel is again top of mind, though I’m solidly stuck at home for the moment.
If you’re diving into any books or short stories this winter that relate to travel (The Odyssey? The Sun Also Rises? Into the Wild? Anything by Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux?), you can easily connect a travel research project to your reading. But if not, that’s OK too. I think this project could easily be done without a companion text. Which just might be ideal for you if you’re having a hard time getting texts into your virtual students’ hands.
So here are the project steps, as I imagine it. This is very much a choose-your-own-adventure project, and I know it will look different in every creative teacher’s classroom who decides to give it a whirl. The end result though, I hope will be the same: a set of QR code posters your students can put up around the school (or the community) that will give passers-by a chance to visit a beautiful place somewhere in the world by scanning the poster.
Step #0 (optional): Mentor Texts
If you wish, you can begin by introducing your students to a set of travel media and literary travel excerpts, potentially through short stories, novels, articles, podcasts, Youtube channels, poetry, television clips, Ted Talks, or guest Zoom speakers. While I think this unit would be a blast to put together, it’s totally optional for the project.
Step #1: Choosing a Destination
In this step, students choose a destination around the world to explore by perusing the Instagram travel accounts of young solo bloggers and photographers.
So many teens are interested in the role of influencer – whether through Instagram, TikTok, or Youtube. Tap into that interest by showing them how some young people are making travel journalism on Instagram part of their careers.
Here are some accounts you could share with them. Because Instagram feeds change constantly, I can’t promise there won’t ever be a controversial photo or caption on any of these. But I have perused them all and enjoyed them all today. I suggest you choose several to share with your students and just give them a one minute once-over the day before you share the links with your students.
I expect this step to be a lot of fun for students! Travel Instagram is full of stunning visuals, and the writing in the captions has an important role to play too. Social media is increasingly an extension of many careers, and it relies heavily on the skills of ELA. Reminding students that each of these photographers or bloggers is writing regularly to share their travel destinations, identity, and experiences with their audience is a nice way to remind them that good writing plays a big role in the social media they are immersed in.
Step #2: Research
There are many ways to research a travel destination online. Podcasts and Youtube channels have a lot to offer, but the easiest place to start is probably with the big travel websites. Below, you’ll find a few great places to start.
Many if not most major destinations will have their own specific site. For example…
As students research, they should be keeping track of their sources, and saving favorite pictures and links, as well as noting key information about their chosen destinations. Their eventual project will be a multimedia showcase of their destination. Share your requirements for the final package from the get-go so they know what they’re looking for (read on to get my ideas for this!).
Step #3: Curation
I love what Jennifer Gonzalez has to say about curation projects over on her website, Cult of Pedagogy. I think a curation project is an ideal way for students to share what they learn. You can decide what elements you want them to include in their final project, but here is a set of Google Slides templates giving them space to include an introduction to the destination, a set of photos with captions, a video, a podcast, a top ten sights list, and a sources cited page.
Here’s an example of what a finished page within the project might look like. In this case I used my own photos, so I didn’t need to link to any sources. This is, of course, an option for students who choose to feature a place they have visited.
Within these pages, you can ask students to either share links and media that already exists (curation) or a combination of curation and original work. For example, maybe you have students write their own introductions, top tens, and photo captions (for four curated photos), but you have them share the best podcast and video they found featuring the destination. Or maybe you have them write and record a podcast about their chosen destination and create their own short video, but link to fun travel articles for the top ten sights and pull excerpts from those articles to go with the links.
Step #5: Publish to the World
Once your students have chosen their destinations, researched them, and curated and created their final projects, they can go through a round of feedback with their peers and one with you. At that point, they’re ready to publish their project to your school (or local) community through a QR code poster. Invite students to set their slideshow to “anyone with the link can view,” copy their link, and plug it into a QR code generator. Use these templates to create a collaborative poster slideshow where students can drop in their QR codes, and you’ll soon have a poster set featuring easy QR code links passersby can scan to go on a virtual trip, courtesy of your students!
#6 Hang up your Posters!
While it may still be a while before we can begin traveling again, this project can give your students and their peers a break from winter at home through a fun virtual journey. It might even give them some inspiration to study or work abroad, or go on a trip someday that they never would have been interested in otherwise.