Alastair Lane is co-author of International Express Elementary and Intermediate levels, the all-new, five-level course for adult professionals, publishing in January 2014. International Express includes plenty of coverage of the hotel and travel industry. Here, Alastair shows how you can bring the subject alive with a real-life writing task.
“To whom it may concern. I am extremely unhappy with the service I received at your hotel during the week of 1 September to 7 September 2013.”
Those were the days. When customers received bad service, the typewriter would be out in a flash and our disgruntled customer would be bashing the keys in fury. However, today the idea of a letter of complaint is so old-fashioned that we might as well be teaching our students how to write a telegram.
Things are different now. If you go to a hotel or a youth hostel and the service is bad, when you get home you have a chance to complain to the whole world. You might put a negative review on Trip Advisor. Alternatively, if you booked it through a website like Booking.com, you will be invited to place your review on the site.
This is the kind of task people are doing in real life, and it’s the kind of writing task that we should be using in the classroom. We can ask the class to write a review of a hotel that they have stayed at, a fictional hotel, or a review of a hotel that they can see online. Students immediately see the purpose of the task because it replicates something they would naturally do in L1.
Writing a hotel review can work at any level from Elementary upwards, because online reviews can be as short as a single sentence.
Students can go straight to the Internet to find real-life model texts. Sites like Booking.com are particularly good for this. Firstly, they provide an automatic model for writing because users are asked to complete two sections: one for good points and one for bad points. That helps lower-level students organize their texts.
Secondly, users can filter the results to read reviews from people like themselves. If you have an older class, you can look at reviews posted by ‘families with older children’ or younger students can look at reviews by ‘groups of friends’.
When writing an online hotel review, students can write a fifty-word text and it still looks as real as any other entry on the sites. Students don’t have the sense that the task has been artificially simplified to match their language level.
A writing task of this nature also allows you to practice reading skills. Students can exchange their reviews, without the number of stars. The next student or pair has to decide whether the review is a one-star or five-star one. After all, we also want to practice praising the hotel in addition to the language of complaint.
With higher level students, you can ask them to write the review as if they are a particular group of travellers e.g. ‘mature couple’, ‘solo traveller’, ‘business traveller’. They then have to pass their text to the next student or pair. Once again, the next students have to guess which type of traveller wrote the review. This is a particularly good way of reviewing the language of facilities, as a business traveller will have very different needs to a 21 year-old travelling alone.
The short nature of writing online and the fact that users tend to write for an international audience in English provides a huge number of opportunities for the classroom. So let’s forget artificial tasks like the letter of complaint and start replicating what students are actually doing out in the real world.
Alastair Lane has over seventeen years’ experience in English language teaching. Currently based in Barcelona, he has also taught in Finland, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Alastair is co-author of International Express Elementary and Intermediate levels, part of the five-level course publishing in January 2014.