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Making connections: Connecting places through reading

July 11, 2022 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

When we thought about the past year, both on this blog and in our daily lives, one thing stood out as being especially important - the connections we forge and keep. So this year, we have decided to delve deeper into the theme of CONNECTIONS, looking at it from twelve different perspectives. Each month, we will explore the connections in stories, learning, relationships, and many other aspects of our lives, and we will show you how to develop them with your students. We will do this through language-based activities and stories so that you find plenty of opportunities to develop your students’ English language skills while guiding them in establishing connections and supporting their own learning. 

When we think of connections, E.M. Forster’s famous line ‘Only connect…’ comes to mind. What exactly does this line from the 1910 novel, Howards End, mean? The full quote goes like this: ‘Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.’ Reading these words in the context of the novel, we realize that the real value, and often difficulty in life, is making healthy personal relationships. This basic human need to feel connected gains special significance today. The more time we spend in digital environments, the more we need to make connections, and the more we realize that they come in many shapes. 

In January, we focused on connections in stories and the literary concept of intertextuality. In February, we looked at connectedness in reading, thinking, and wellbeing. In March, we focused on connections between different types of knowledge: abstract ideas/concepts and experiences. In April, we have a special interview about environmental education with ELT materials writer and trainer Harry Waters. In May, we focused on connecting people through sharing ideas. In June, we recommended 30 ways of connecting school and holiday learning. In this post, we’ll talk about connecting places through reading. 

The easiest (and most sustainable) way to travel the world is through the pages of a book. We can travel to faraway lands, experience well-known places from different perspectives, and travel back in time or, into the future. All stories set in the past help you travel both in space and time. This also gives us the opportunity to compare life in the past in different times and places. There are endless ways of travelling through reading. 

1 Make a reading map

Students can either print a map or create an online map (for example in Google Maps) in which they mark all the places they have visited while reading. They can take notes of things they learnt about these places. You can expand on this with the journal activity detailed in the next point.

Here you can find story suggestions based on Helbling Readers Red and Blue series titles.


2 Make a travel reading journal

Writing a travel reading journal can be an engaging reading approach for the holidays or the new academic term/year. Students imagine as they read, that they are ‘travelling’ through the book and keep a travel journal. The tone of the journal can be either personal, or it can resemble a travel blog in which students address their friends. Here is an example of a personal journal (based on The Call of the Wild):

7th July 2022

Today I start my journey to Yukon Territory in the North. It will be a long and exciting journey. I need to be prepared because it will be cold and snowy there. I can’t wait to make some new friends on this journey.

And here is another example (based on Heart of Darkness): 

7th July 2022

I am setting off on a trip to Africa. It will be a difficult and dark journey, and I might meet dangerous and cruel people on the way. The story I will be travelling through is called Heart of Darkness and I will take a steamboat on the Congo River. I need to find out more about the Congo River. How long will my journey take? How dangerous will it be? I’m going to find out soon.


3 Make a time travel poster or presentation

When students read a story set in the past, it is always a good idea to compare life at the time of the story to life in the present day. Get students to prepare ‘THEN and NOW’ posters or presentations in which they introduce the text and then describe the setting, way of life, etc. Ask them to highlight differences in the environment, technology, social conventions and relationships. For example, they can compare London at the time of Sherlock Holmes and now, or New York at the time of The Age of Innocence - around the 1870s - and now. Ask them to look for photos or illustrations to represent their findings.

You will find more time travel project ideas in these posts:


4 Visit imaginary lands

There are several famous imaginary lands in classic and contemporary literature, but most of us will agree that most enduring ones include Neverland in Peter Pan, Wonderland in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Land of Oz in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels

What do students know about these places? Ask them to present them as if they were real countries. How big is it? What about its population and official language(s)? What is the climate like? What are the most famous locations? Students can create a short guide for visitors to these countries. 

Then ask students what other imaginary lands they know from literature or film. 

If you are interested in connecting travel reading and language learning, check out our series ON THE READ in which we visit five destinations before heading home. 

We have location-specific lesson and project ideas:

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